Cane River Creole National Historical Park and the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training celebrated African American History Month with a lecture and book signing at the center yesterday on Clinton Clark, a rural organizer who lived and worked in the area in the first half of the last century.
The book, co-edited by Rodney Clark and Elizabeth Davey, is called Remember My Sacrifice and is an autobiographical work written by Clark in 1942 that focuses on his work as a rural organizer with the Louisiana Farmers’ Union. African American, born in rural Louisiana, schooled to age 15 and then self-educated, Clark wrote the story of his life and work and mailed the manuscript to Harlem Renaissance poet and Howard University English professor Sterling A. Brown. The manuscript is held in the Sterling A. Brown papers in the Moorland Spingarn Research Center at Howard University; this book brings Clark's autobiography into print for the first time.
Rodney Clark is the son of Roger Clark, Clinton Clark's older brother. He is a graduate of Southern University and a retired supervisor with the Department of the Interior in New Orleans. Elizabeth Davey has a Ph.D. in American Literature from Cornell University and is a program manager and environmental coordinator at Tulane University in New Orleans.
Clinton Clark grew up in a sharecropper family in Fordoche in Pointe Coupee parish. The first part of his memoir describes his childhood and an ongoing search for work as a young man in the 1920s that took him throughout Louisiana and the Gulf South. He left for California in 1931, when some planters were forcing black workers to work in the sugar cane fields at extremely low wages.
In Sacramento he learned how to organize for relief in a Communist-affiliated Unemployed Council, and he took part in several major hunger marches. He returned to Louisiana and organized sugar plantation workers and sharecroppers on his own, then joined the Louisiana Farmers’ Union when it formed in 1937.
Clark usually traveled by walking between rural Louisiana communities, organizing sharecroppers and plantation wage laborers into locals. He helped tenant farmers gain the benefits they were due from New Deal assistance programs, and he helped get evicted tenant families resettled on to their own land. He was jailed at least twice, narrowly escaping lynching. The first time he was imprisoned for three weeks, the second the closing act of his autobiography for three months.
Clinton Clark courageously organized for economic justice for sharecroppers and farm workers in rural Louisiana during the Great Depression. His imprisonment in Natchitoches in 1940 became a national cause, as civil rights organizations in New Orleans and in Washington, D.C. worked for his release.
His autobiography is both the story of his work in his own words and a first-hand account of the struggles of African Americans in rural Louisiana in the decades before the modern Civil Rights Movement.
Cane River Creole National Historical Park is located 10 miles south of Natchitoches at Oakland Plantation.