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hello and thank you for joining us I'm Wilson Stribling welcome to another

edition of @issue where we discuss and debate the issues facing the state of

mississippi and how these issues impact you tonight we take a look back at the

career and impact of former state representative Robert Clark this year

marks the 50th anniversary of Clark's momentous election becoming the first

African American voted to the Mississippi legislature since

reconstruction his election paved a trail for other African Americans in the

state to hold public office mr. Clark is here with us and we will speak with him

in a moment but first here's Mpbs Desiro Frasier the method in which I'm taken

now yet in various positions where you will be able to do things political

power and economic power Robert George Clark jr. was born in Holmes County in

1928 he was a graduate of Michigan State and Jackson State he was a public school

educator from holding office by the constitution of this state in 1967 Clark

won election to the Mississippi House of Representatives becoming the first

African American to be elected since reconstruction I think that the

governor's wishes at this time are very inappropriate for the best interests of

the state of Mississippi I feel that this time that leaders should be trying

to lead in the correct direction rather than trying to see what the sentiment of

the people of the state of Mississippi are may it be right or wrong and going

up the road and getting ahead of the people and leading them in that

direction even if it is wrong and I saw in the field that this recommendation

was a step in the wrong direction and I feel that this is unconstitutional

it violates the Fourteenth Amendment and it should not even be considered by the

legislature as House Education Committee Chairman he helped pass the Education

Reform Act in 1982 Clark became the first african-american elected by his

peers to House Speaker pro-tem he held the position until his retirement in

2003 today there are more african-american elected

officials in Mississippi than any other state Clark son Brian Clark carries the

family name at the State Capitol representing the same district in the

house as his father first did 50 years ago this summer a ceremony was held at

the old State Capitol to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Robert Clark's

historic election several state dignitaries were on hand past and

present I was proud in 1982 to cast my vote as a member of the House of

Representatives for Speaker pro-tem Robert Clark it is somewhat understood

that the speaker helps us small members of the house make our mind Mr Speaker

when it comes to the selection of the Speaker pro-tem

but it didn't take much for then great speaker Tim forward my dear friend to

convince us that Robert Clark was indeed the man for the job the man that could

take the podium of the House of Representatives and help Lee the man

that could bring coalition's together with its warm enthusiastic personality

and its knowledge of the issues that affect all Mississippians so Robert

Clark is an icon to be honored to be held up to be an example to all of

Mississippi's children and leaders and both elected and appointed positions

throughout this state it it is so important for us to now realize the

sacrifice made of the civil rights leaders and veterans that are among

Robert Clark's peers it is hard for my children to understand or those of the

younger age to believe what took place during those challenging times but

Robert Clark can and has and us offer the example of what true

courage and determination I'm sure sacrifice but I think Christian

love as well can do and how it can change people and attitudes in place

admired his courage in the face of automotive time in Mississippi and in

mending the in our nation people were getting killed for exercising the rights

in Mississippi when Robert Clark was running for office running Damon was

killed the year before and my government Chaney and Schwerner killed two or three

years before and I'm making every was killed in 1963 this these were hard

times but with the passage of the Voting Rights Act and change a Robert step

forward and step forward at a time when when school teachers were getting fired

for involving themselves and in political activity but he stepped

forward and he got elected and that was an inspiration not only to myself but I

think to others Robert is a committed person he gave a lot to the state of

Mississippi I'm proud of him I think you're proud of him

and I'm proud to see this state the 50th anniversary of his being elected to the

state to the state House of Representatives I would like you to know

that when I got elected to the legislature I was so happy and my mom

was so happy if it was this good friend that I had gotten elected but what we

looked at was how in the world was I gonna be there and gonna do that wasn't

gonna be okay but Robert assured my mama and my husband don't worry about her

being up with all the boys I am here I'll take care because Robert is a man

of integrity he's a man of respectability and all of us knew that

they knew that and he made sure that the other part of the

family knew that that's the kind of person that he was so I'm excited to to

kind of be here to say to Robert Clark I thank you for your sacrifice I thank you

for the courage I thank you for the fact that you ran all over this state trying

to get people like me and others elected you did a very good job as they would

say in everything you done so we can look back and share the excitement that

you saw back then in the potential of this state and the fact that we now have

come a long way representative I appreciate what you stand for I

appreciate everything that you have encouraged others to try to be and so

this 50th celebration is in B Robert Clark's legacy I recently spoke with

State House member J Hughes of Oxford and State Senator John Horhn of Jackson

about Robert Clark senator Horne let me start with you don't be in your view the

significance of Robert Clark's election back in 1967 well it was a sea change

prior to that the last person had served who was african-american in the

legislature was in the 19th century during the Reconstruction period the

1890 Constitution wiped out all that so here you have 77 years later there

abouts Robert Clark comes along and it cannot

be overstated how he was able to be elected out of Holmes County the issue

was that there is a lot of land ownership in Holmes County so

people were a little bit more independent of the plantation system and

there was a lot of black land ownership and so it's it's I think pretty natural

that an election of a black man would occur in a place like home scanning

where they felt freer to register to vote as well because of the

circumstances you mentioned and and and there was there was better organization

in the in the community at that time and the staying power he had he didn't go to

the legislature for a short time he was there and got reelected and re-elected

and won the respect of his colleagues even some who didn't respect him or like

the way that he got there in the first well when Robert Clark was a little

first elected no one would sit with him and over time that of course changed and

he gained the respect and the admiration of everybody in that legislature

representative Hughes all these years later what's the impact of that election

and and Robert Clark's legacy there in the legislature it's palpable I never

had the privilege of knowing Robert and Clark personally I've met him but I

certainly know and serve with his son and I can say that who I see in his son

Brian Clark demonstrates a father that was deeply thoughtful knowing

intelligent calculated and the path that he paved for everyone in that to come

afterward is clearly known and I sense it every day and I see Bryant

representative Clark and I think of his father and what an amazing job he did a

representative Clark the son Clark is is now known as the master of the rules

because he would go with his father day every single day and sit in that chamber

and he would read rules and he would learn and he understands that procedure

senator horn representative Hughes thank you both very much thank you here's what

former governor William winter says about Robert Clark one of the great good

fortunes of my life was getting to be associated with Robert Clark I had known

him when he was a teacher in and the public schools in Holmes County

when he was nobody as far as leadership was concerned and in a segregated system

he would not let that hold him back and he realized that the contributions that

he could that he could make that would be most effective would be to use the

opportunities that he had as a teacher as a classroom teachers and

administrators late as a member of the legislature to inspire young people to

make their lives better by virtue of getting the best education they could it

was Robert Clark just just backcountry Holmes County segregationist product

using whatever opportunities he can to make young people understand that their

success in life would depend on the education they got and so he refused to

he refused to let anything hold him back he came along and it was overall

segregated days when he was subjected all kinds of abuse and never fully a

pretty ever fully appreciated the contributions that he was able to make

early on in his career and I don't know of anybody then I think Mississippi Oh

was more to and improving the improvement of his system of education

and we do - Robert club and joining us now is Robert Clark himself mr. Clark

were delighted to have you on at issue this evening it take me back to 1967 did

you decide on your own to run did a group of people recruit you to run for

the state legislature yes yes and the one I touched a cloud

McKenna C for student innovation education

the law was changed my discipline of Education appointed so I couldn't run a

super intuitive education then I decided to run against those who made it

impossible for me to run by introducing local and private and legislation and

making superior education appointed and I was a member of the freedom Democratic

Party of Holmes County which had a very strong organization at the time and I

ran in the general election in 1967 against the winner at a Democratic

primary and was successful and waited of course because you couldn't at that time

become the official Democratic candidate for that office so as a freedom Democrat

you couldn't that was not officially recognized either by the state political

system so you were forced to run as an independent but still got enough votes

to defeat the incumbent Democrat that's right and then you got reelected again

and again after that did you realize at the time that it was a big deal that you

were really going to win and that it was going to be such a big deal in in

Mississippi political history well I knew it would be but I really I really

wasn't thinking about that at the time I was just thinking about getting the job

done I wanted to improve education the education standards in Mississippi I

wanted to do that then 50 plus years ago and I still more to do that right now

and while you were in office education obviously but it was a hallmark of your

of your service and the Education Reform Act of 1982 was passed when you were

weren't you chair of the education education committee when when that

passed I was what was that like to be over that committee at that time which

another it turned out to be another watershed moment in Mississippi history

well it is one of the things that I wouldn't call I wouldn't call it bad

because one of the things tough issues that you just had to work with you just

had to work and and do things that may that's for you to get the legislation

pass let's go back back to the early days again tell me what it was like once

you were elected and it was for real and you were actually going to the state

capitol to represent your district there in the Capitol in the house what kind of

reception did you get from all the other members of the House all of whom were

white men at the time well my first day in the house first of

all I didn't know that I was going to be seated until maybe 15 minutes before

time to convene because they had gone we had gone to court and Marian Wright was

my attorney and the courts had ruled that I had won but my opponent appealed

to the Mississippi House of Representatives you know they had to

file say so or who was sit with them and we were standing on the balcony of the

south side of the Capitol oh that's the second floor and we didn't know until 15

minutes before time of convening on the first day that if I'd be seated as odd

so they came out and and told us some individuals that would be seated

and we went to the interests of the capitals of goal and as far as Marian

Wright to go and when I walked in to the door some reporters was there and those

reporters told me go to the back of a Capitol walk to the back and then come

back to the front we want to get a pitch of you and when we I did that I started

back to the front and low bottom hole here come a big fella may be worried

about 240 and maybe about six feet seven inches tall the guy came to me and a

half shot and me being a former football courts about time I got rid of dropped

my hand dropped my shoulder what as a football blocker would be he stuck his

hand out and called his name and told me where he from called his name

and said I welcome you to the floor of this house who was that that was

representative Marvin Hindley a Philadelphia Mississippi

did that surprise you it did surprise me did surprise me and I will tell you what

I've said sustained and when I felt God in heaven those if I had known he was

from Philadelphia Mississippi I never would let him get that close to me in

touch ah because this was still just what three years after the Civil Rights

works right and Philadelphia had been murdered about 30 years fla who are many

all the people around in my area what people call us I said I didn't nobody to

do that from my mr. cake yeah and but that's what rather than he Lydia

a nice reception from him was that not the exception because once you've got to

your desk tell me the story about what happened

with your desk and your desk mate well I we were seated we was being seated at

that time according to yo the we had districts and the senior person in your

district would select the seats and that was three of us selected from homes in

Yazoo County me from Holmes County and two from Yazoo County was elected and

the senior individual that did the selection the Isles was running the owl

he selected a seat for himself to the right of me across the aisle and the

other enemy he said selected a seat for the other individual to the right of him

that he selected my seat across the aisle from him and that meant that there

were two other seats next to me to the left of me but no one selected those

seats next to me so essentially no one wanted to sit next to you

presumably because you were the first african-american or the only

african-american in the room at the time that was not african-americans that the

count was elected at the time but no Elena vigil selected to seek to sit next

to me and I said next to that for maybe two times before I finally got him in

the visitor set next to me change was slow to come because it was still what

almost ten years I believe was 1976 before there was another African

American elected to the legislature did that surprise you that it took that long

yeah it took about a year before I got another seat me he's from elected from

North Mississippi and he sat beside me we talked a little bit about education

and and the reforms that were made especially in 1982 and there were others

in the other years that you served until the early 2000s how do you feel about

the state of education today in Mississippi and if you were in the

legislature what would you be trying to change I would be trying to find out the

causes when you know every time we see using national statistics the last one I

saw as well Mississippi was ranked at the bottom of the levee and education

that dropout rate is higher a teenage pregnancy rate is high and what I think

of somebody the the state elected officials arson charge of education as

well as a local elected officials they need to assess that particular

situations and whatever we are coming up shortly and that's what we need to look

at and that's what we need to do we are still back to the point for the

education level in the state of Mississippi needs improvement and it's

not going to just improve itself if people do not have the proper human

values to see the value of an education and this needs to be looked at what we

need to do now when I was in the classroom when I went to a particular

school to each one school I taught and one section of Mississippi to Delta

section the students was fair but they had to be out of school half days in the

fall a year for the pick cotton get out of school early and it's rain to go home

to chop and those students was you know average and I after getting fired from

there about seven years I went to school in Lee County and practically every one

of those schools was students was on their level and after staying there for

several years I decided to come back closer to home and law on hold I get

back into this particular system students will just you know they you

know there was maybe on the night on a ninth grade level night great outfit

like grade my I think couldn't do fractions or decimals of whatever you

but use of what I did with students like what I did with students like that

I had to go back start with them where where they are and bring them up and my

prosper at that time somebody and the math apartment summon him and told him I

was teaching I want me on that level and he summoned me to his office and I tell

him you are correct some instances teaching on my levels other instances

I'm not alright and he just said I urge you go but your classroom means that

keeps on level after mr. mcclain is nowhere in the world I can do that and I

explained to him well I had to work with them to bring them up so that they would

be able to know what I was talking about if I was dealing with gel math there's a

like read a first-year algebra and and that's what's gonna have to be done we

are going to have to close it here you can't

first of all students should not get behind

you know if you had proper leadership in the classroom you know your possible in

the classroom or whoever's a leader should know what's going on in the

classroom but you get students who is four and five are grades behind the

great level that they're only just being passed on what do you think the next

fifty years are going to be like in Mississippi and the legislature in

particular I really can't predict now what the next 50 years what it's going

to look like but I wish that could be a tone in the philosophy all the

legislature the president legislature loving going to the legislature working

against somebody go to the legislature working for Mississippi now I can solve

that because I spent 36 years in the legislature and my main interests in in

the legislature was looking out for the welfare of Mississippi and whatever the

weakness of Mississippi was I looked at that time trying to strengthen that I

didn't look at if there was an appellant Democrat or Republican I just looked at

the knee and naturally those needs are sung there's gonna need more than others

and I wish the legislature would do that look at trying to build a stronger

Mississippi we all Mississippi former longtime state representative Robert

Clark we thank you for spending some time with us on at issue

thank you we are out of time don't forget you can watch the program on our

website slash issue and we invite you to join us again next Friday

night here on MPB for another edition of @issue have a good night

The Description of Robert Clark | @ISSUE | MPB