Saturday, July 2, 2011

Attain a Higher Standard of Morality and Right Living

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WALTER CLARK 1846-1924

Jurist and editor of The State Records of North Carolina, Walter Clark (1846-1924) grew up in Halifax County, where his family had lived for three generations. He benefited from influential connections and a good education. It is said that, by the age of six, he had read the Bible completely through, “standing at his mother’s knee.” At age sixteen, he served in the Confederate Army, as adjutant for the 35th North Carolina Regiment. He completed his education at the University of North Carolina during the war years. Clark then took a leadership role in the Junior Reserves. After the war he studied law at Columbia University and took up practice in Halifax and then in Raleigh.

Appointed a superior court judge in 1885, Clark was appointed to the state supreme court in 1889 and rose to be chief justice in 1902, a post he held until his death. Justice Clark is said to have had “the youngest mind on the bench” and his opinions, even in dissent, shaped the state’s law. Toiling long hours, his interests led him to edit the sixteen-volume State Records and, in five volumes, the Histories of North Carolina Regiments, accounts by unit of the state’s role in the Civil War.

Justice Clark condemned privilege and antidemocratic forces. He boosted woman’s suffrage and progressivism. Among his targets were the American Tobacco Company, which he believed had violated antitrust law, and the railroads, which had set exorbitant rates. Clark lacked somewhat in charisma and met with defeat in his bid for the U.S. Senate in 1912. His plantation house, “Airlie,” one of the finest in the region, gave name to the local community.


Walter Clark rose from a sixteen year-old North Carolina soldier in Lee’s army who saw the fields of Second Manassas to Bentonville -- ending the war as a major -- to Chief Justice of North Carolina’s Supreme Court. His kind feelings toward those he found less fortunate than him were typical of the South’s leadership, and a high example for others to follow.

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"
Attain a Higher Standard of Morality and Right Living:

“Born in a slave-owning home, Clark was taught always to treat the Negroes kindly and to care for them rather than abuse them, as unfortunately some masters did. This attitude he consistently maintained through life. When, in the army, Neverson, the Negro boy who faithfully attended him as a bodyguard, went with him to the line of battle, he would sent the boy back with their horse so that he would be personally out of danger; together they shared their scanty meals, and together they endured war’s hardships as true companions.

As late as 1919, Dr. James E. Shepard, a prominent North Carolina educator and president of the North Carolina College for Negroes at Durham, wrote [Chief Justice] Clark a letter of appreciation for the services he had rendered the Negroes and for his consistent justice in dealing with them. In reply Clark wrote:

“I have been the employer of colored labor ever since I became of age. I know them well and I have never received anything but kindness at their hands. I have the kindest feeling for the race and have seen the difficulties which surround their efforts to rise to better things. In my judgment, the best remedy for the situation the colored people find themselves is…extending the education as far as possible to all your people, impress upon them sobriety, self-control under what at times may be aggravating circumstances, the acquirement of property by industry and thrift, and the attainment, by their personal conduct, of the respect of white people.

Avoid giving this a setback by the intemperate utterances, especially by the young people of your race who are impatient at what they deem continued injustice. Most often this matter is due to the language used by office-seekers, who appeal to and excite race prejudice for their personal ends. I am sure that the vast majority of the white people of North Carolina wish to do equal and exact justice to the colored race, and their number is increasing with the proofs which the colored people are giving that they are better educated and are attaining a higher standard of morality and right living.”

(Walter Clark, Fighting Judge, Aubrey Lee Brooks, UNC Press, 1944, pp. 175-176)

Attain a Higher Standard of Morality and Right Living

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