Robert Clark, Mississippi's first post-Reconstruction black legislator was honored on the day that marked the 50th anniversary of his first election.
The ceremony, which was sponsored by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, took place at the Old Capitol Museum, The Clarion Ledger reported.
Clark was elected in 1967 and took office in 1968, a troubling time for blacks in the South.
His first day wasn’t easy. When he arrived at the House, according to U.S. Representative Bennie Thompson, no one wanted to sit next to him.
Clark didn’t let that stop him, however.
Clark said that back then his motto was “striving and working together for a better Mississippi. I was trying to do what I could, not for the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, but for a better Mississippi.”
He work ethic slowly won him the support of his colleagues.
By the end of his time in the House, Clark had become second-in-command of the chamber (president pro-term) and had chaired the education board.
As a member of that board, Clark helped to reform his state’s education policy, and laid the groundwork for the way Mississippi currently educates its children.
Several lawmakers, including an array of retired governors, were on hand to celebrate Clark’s achievements.
“He was a man who helped lead the way,” said current governor Phil Bryant about his former colleague. “Not only did he live through turbulent times, he did it with dignity and grace … he has been a blessing the Lord has given us.”
Current House speaker Phil Gunn echoed the governor’s sentiments, and said, “He was clearly a pioneer and foot soldier.”
Although Clark was the sole black lawmaker in the House when he arrived, he has since paved the way for several other African Americans who aspired to be lawmakers, including his son.
Gunn credited Clark for the current diversity in Mississippi’s capital. There are now 38 black representatives in the House and 13 black senators in the Senate.
Throughout all the day’s speeches, perhaps Thompson said it best: “You have a real hero in Robert Clark.”