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Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark

Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark
A Life of Service
With a foreword by Ramsey Clark

This biography of the former Attorney General of the United States (1945–1949) and Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1949–1967) provides important insights into the workings of the Supreme Court and the justices who served on it during arguably the most dynamic and controversial period in court history.

Series: Texas Legal Studies Series, Jason A. Gillmer and William S. Pugsley, Editors

January 2010
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352 pages | 6 x 9 | 21 b&w photos, tables |

An associate justice on the renowned Warren Court whose landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education overturned racial segregation in schools and other public facilities, Tom C. Clark was a crusader for justice throughout his long legal career. Among many tributes Clark received, Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger opined that "no man in the past thirty years has contributed more to the improvement of justice than Tom Clark."

Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark is the first biography of this important American jurist. Written by his daughter, Mimi Clark Gronlund, and based on interviews with many of Clark's judicial associates, friends, and family, as well as archival research, it offers a well-rounded portrait of a lawyer and judge who dealt with issues that remain in contention today—civil rights, the rights of the accused, school prayer, and censorship/pornography, among them. Gronlund explores the factors in her father's upbringing and education that helped form his judicial philosophy, then describes how that philosophy shaped his decisions on key issues and cases, including the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the investigation of war fraud, the Truman administration's loyalty program (an anti-communist effort), the Brown decision, Mapp v. Ohio (protections against unreasonable search and seizure), and Abington v. Schempp (which overturned a state law that required reading from the Bible each day in public schools).

  • Foreword by Ramsey Clark
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Prologue
  • Part One. The Early Years, 1899-1936
    • Chapter 1. Early Influences
    • Chapter 2. Emerging into Manhood
    • Chapter 3. Forging the Steel
    • Chapter 4. Turning Points
  • Part Two. The Department of Justice Years, 1937-1949
    • Chapter 5. Some Disruptive Years
    • Chapter 6. His Greatest Mistake
    • Chapter 7. Beyond the Goal
    • Chapter 8. The President's Lawyer
    • Chapter 9. Juvenile Delinquency and the Freedom Train
    • Chapter 10. Civil Rights: Opening a New Era
    • Chapter 11. Cold War Fever: National Security versus Individual Freedom
    • Chapter 12. The 1948 Presidential Election
  • Part Three. The Supreme Court Years, 1949-1967
    • Chapter 13. A Controversial Appointment
    • Chapter 14. A Period of Adjustment
    • Chapter 15. Investigation Mania
    • Chapter 16. A Delicate Balance
    • Chapter 17. The Brown Decision and Civil Rights
    • Chapter 18. Some Troublesome Issues
    • Chapter 19. He Made a Difference
    • Chapter 20. An Ending and a Beginning
  • Part Four. Retirement, 1967-1977
    • Chapter 21. The Great Adventure
    • Chapter 22. The Federal Judicial Center
    • Chapter 23. Riding the Circuits, Championing Reforms
    • Chapter 24. Some Personal Observations
    • Chapter 25. A Life Well Lived
  • Epilogue
  • Appendix: Law Clerks of Justice Clark
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Mimi Clark Gronlund, the daughter of Tom C. Clark, was a reference librarian at the Alexandria Campus of Northern Virginia Community College for twenty-two years. Her research into her father's career spanned more than thirty years, and her master's thesis, "Tom Clark, the Early Years," earned her an M.A. in English from George Mason University. She has lived in McLean, Virginia, since 1976.


It has been more than thirty years since my brother, Ramsey, suggested that I write a biography of our father, Tom C. Clark. Ramsey made the suggestion in June 1977, just a few days after our father's death. We were attending his burial and memorial service in Dallas, and grieving for the man who had been such an important part of our lives. I suspect that Ramsey was merely making a passing remark and did not anticipate the impact that it had on me. But the seed of an idea was planted, and though the road to completion has been long, and at times bumpy, I have persisted, motivated by the desire to leave a portrait of this remarkable man for future generations of my family as well as for the public at large.

I did not immediately plunge into the task of writing a biography. In 1977, the year of my father's death, my life was full and not conducive to taking on another major commitment. My husband and I had moved back to the Washington, D.C., area from Buffalo, New York, the previous year. I had received a master's in library science that summer and was working as a reference librarian at Northern Virginia Community College. Two of our five daughters were in college, and the remaining three were still living at home. Writing a biography seemed a formidable task, but I realized that it was important to begin immediately by contacting my father's contemporaries, who were elderly. Many had already passed on. In 1978, I interviewed my father's two surviving sisters, a sister-in-law, and his former secretaries. I began a series of conversations with my brother and my mother, who wrote a journal intended to help me with my research. I was privileged in 1981 to interview the three living justices who served on the Supreme Court with my father: William J. Brennan, Potter Stewart, and Byron White. In 1980, I enrolled in George Mason University in a master's degree program in English, with a specialization in writing. My purpose was to begin work on the biography by writing a master's thesis covering the first thirty-six years of my father's life. The first section of this biography is based on that thesis, which I completed in 1984.

For the next fifteen years, I continued to work on the biography piecemeal, fitting in research and writing between work and family responsibilities. I traveled to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, where my father's attorney general papers are located, and to the University of Texas Law School library, which holds his Supreme Court papers. I spent hours at the Library of Congress, going through microfilmed copies of old newspapers, primarily ones from Dallas, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. I perused FBI files obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and dug through family scrapbooks and old newspaper clippings that my mother had saved. I sent questionnaires to my fathers' former law clerks. In 1999, I retired as an associate professor and librarian at Northern Virginia Community College and vowed to immerse myself in writing and completing the biography.

Then, in 2001, my husband of forty-eight years died unexpectedly of pancreatic cancer. I dropped the biography completely during his illness. A year later, my mother died at the age of one hundred. Another year passed before I was able, mentally and emotionally, to return to the biography. I deeply regret that my husband, without whose patient support I could not have succeeded, and my mother, for whom this biography would have meant so much, did not live to see its completion.

My account is clearly from the perspective of a loving daughter, and much of the information in it is based on personal knowledge and experience. I have not attempted to write a comprehensive analysis of my father's professional career, but have chosen events, policies, and cases that continue to be of interest and that show his growth and development. I am hopeful that my biography, the first to be written of Tom Clark, will stimulate legal scholars to study and write about him from a professional viewpoint. I have tried to paint a portrait of my father as I knew him—a dedicated public servant, a wonderful husband, father, grandfather, and friend, and a delightful human being who remained humble despite his impressive success.

He is a great man and was a great Justice.

Stanley M. Barnes, judge of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, 1967

"Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting. God save the United States and this Honorable Court!" The marshal of the U.S. Supreme Court sang out the traditional chant on June 12, 1967, the last day of the 1966-1967 term. The moment, as always, was charged with reverence and awe as the nine justices took their seats and a silent courtroom waited for the session to begin.

First on the agenda was the traditional introduction of almost one hundred lawyers who were admitted to practice before the Court. Next came the most important part of the session—the handing down of decisions. Thirteen opinions were handed down that day, four by a 5-4 vote. My father, Tom Clark, often a swing voter, joined the majority in three of the four cases but delivered a vehement dissent in the fourth. He also joined a unanimous opinion that struck down Virginia's miscegenation law. After the decisions were handed down, Chief Justice Warren made an important announcement: it was the last time that Tom Clark would sit on the highest court of the land.

The circumstances of my father's retirement were unprecedented. He was stepping down from the Court in good health, still in his prime at sixty-seven years old, in order to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest after his son, my brother Ramsey, was appointed U.S. attorney general by President Lyndon Johnson. The only other father-son appointment affecting the Court occurred in 1930 and led to the opposite exchange. The son, Charles Evans Hughes, Jr., resigned as solicitor general of the United States after his father, Charles Evans Hughes, was appointed chief justice by President Herbert Hoover.

The reaction to my father's retirement contrasted sharply with the reaction that had occurred eighteen years earlier when Attorney General Tom Clark, described by Time magazine as "the storm center of the Truman Administration" was appointed to the Supreme Court. Cries of cronyism came from a variety of sources as critics complained that Truman had selected a loyal friend rather than a respected jurist. Opposition came from both ends of the political spectrum. On the liberal side, former secretary of the interior, and renowned curmudgeon, Harold Ickes described Clark as "a second-rate political hack." Ickes and many other liberals opposed my father because of the Truman administration's anticommunist policies, which included the attorney general's list of subversive organizations and the FBI's use of wiretapping. Civil libertarians worried that as an associate justice, Clark could have a negative impact on individual rights. The far left was especially distressed. An article that appeared in the communist newspaper the Daily Worker on September 19, 1949, was headlined "Witchhunter Gets Bid to High Court."

The far right also expressed dismay. The National Blue Star Mothers of America, describing itself as an organization "chiefly concerned with the preservation of constitutional Republican form of government," charged Clark with being "definitely of communistic tendencies," and requested that a representative from their group be invited to testify against him. Conservative Republicans under the leadership of Senator Homer Ferguson of Michigan fought the nomination, although, in the end, only eight Republicans voted against confirmation. Big business entered the fray because of Clark's strong antitrust record, and accused him of taking "a sadistic sort of delight in bringing government lawsuits aimed at breaking up large businesses into smaller and less potent units."

"Oh, no!" wrote Lynn Landrum, a columnist for the conservative Dallas Morning News. The piece criticized Truman for appointing a politician rather than a jurist and expressed the anger many Texans felt over the tidelands oil case, in which the attorney general argued for federal rather than state ownership of offshore oil-rich lands.

Eighteen years later, the "Oh, no!" headline was repeated, but the editorial that followed carried a very different message. It praised Tom Clark and expressed regret over his retirement, which it described as "a loss to the Court and to the country." Clark, the editorial continued, had been "one of the strongest voices of responsibility on the Court." Praise came from every corner. Time magazine wrote that Clark was "the author of some of the Court's most lucid and precise opinions." Journalist John MacKenzie of the Washington Post described Clark as a "peacemaker among the justices . . . whose work off the Court to improve the administration of justice had earned him the title 'the traveling salesman of justice.'" According to MacKenzie, the only negative reaction from Congress to Ramsey Clark's appointment was that it entailed "the elder Clark's impending retirement from the Supreme Court." The words of Stanley M. Barnes, judge of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, summed up the changed perception of Tom Clark best: "He is a great man and was a great Justice. I would not have said so twenty years ago, but I do now, and I'm certain of it."

The image of the controversial, political attorney general was no more. He had grown enormously since he moved our family from Dallas, Texas, to Washington, D.C., in 1937—a thirty-seven-year-old lawyer who had rarely been outside the state of Texas and who intended to remain in the nation's capital for no more than two years. But circumstances, hard work, and luck changed all that. Tom Clark's accomplishments surpassed his highest ambitions and did not end when he retired from the Supreme Court, for his retirement years—the last ten of his life—were as productive as any previous ones. Still, he never forgot where he came from. His love for his home state remained with him always, and though he lived more than half his life outside its borders and experienced personal growth that took him far beyond its confines, he remained a Texan, shaped by his beginnings in turn-of-the-century Dallas.

'Tis a countenance whose spell
Sheds balm over mead and dell.

Anonymous verse in Tom Clark's Bryan Street High School yearbook, 1917

The affection my family felt for Texas, especially during the years that followed our move east in 1937, was unstated but pervasive. It exhibited itself in small ways, such as my surprise at the age of eight or nine at learning that a favorite song, "The Eyes of Texas," was known to most people as "I've Been Working on the Railroad." My romantic perception of the state was based on secondhand knowledge rather than actual experience, for I was only four years old when my father, Tom Clark, left his private law practice in Dallas for a job in Washington, D.C., with the federal government. My brother, Ramsey, dubbed me the family's Yankee, a term that made me instinctively defensive without knowing exactly why.

I sensed a disadvantage at being somewhat less a Texan than other family members. Being a Texan was special. I felt a surge of pride when I responded "Texas" to the familiar question "And where are you from?"—never doubting that everyone shared my lofty esteem of the state. "Mimi looks like a Texan," my father would declare, and I would beam, understanding the significance of the compliment. Looking back, I realize my eastern friends could not have fully appreciated the tribute when my father told them they were "pretty enough to be a Texan."

Tom Clark was a Texan. Even his physical appearance, aided by the Stetson hats and jaunty bow ties he loved to wear, fit the popular image of how a Texan should look. The six-foot frame, lean for most of his life, was topped by a full, thick head of hair that was even more striking in his later years, after it had turned white. "Hi, I'm Tom Clark," he would declare, and the broad smile that lit up his face put people at ease immediately. Only the brisk, light walk hinted at the remarkable energy beneath the easygoing manner. My father's Texas heritage was more than physical, however, for throughout his life, his character retained an imprint that was the result of growing up at a unique time in a unique place—the early 1900s in Dallas.


Dallas, according to Texas historian Herbert Gambrell, "is an example of a city that man made with a little help from nature and practically none from Providence." Certainly, the spot on the banks of the Trinity River where Dallas's founder, John Neely Bryan, settled in 1839 had no significant natural advantages. Bryan's dream, passed down through generations of Dallasites, that the river would one day be navigable to the Gulf of Mexico, making Dallas a great inland port, has remained unfulfilled. Dallas's strength resided in its people—a hard-working, vigorous group of men and women who believed they could create a great city out of a dusty village. One early settler, whose family established Sanger Brothers, Dallas's first department store, provided the following characterization of the city's early residents:

While everything was different from what I had been accustomed to, I never felt the least touch of homesickness. I believe it was because I was associated with a jolly crowd of businessmen; some were single, some were married, but all were united on all questions that affected the prosperity of Dallas. Indifference was unknown; all were ready to do their share for the upbuilding of the city . . . Back in the [18]70's there were no Classes. I knew every man, woman, and child in the village.

As railroads multiplied throughout the nation, Dallas competed with other towns in the area for a station. Community leaders worked long and hard to persuade officials of the Houston and Texas Central Railroad to route tracks through the city. They finally succeeded, and on July 16, 1872, an excited crowd gathered to witness the arrival of the first train. A visitor to the city provided the following account of the momentous event: "First a wisp of smoke, and then the outlines of the engine shaping up, growing larger, whizzing toward us. The crowd went wild, men whooped, women screamed or even sobbed, and children yelped in fright and amazement."

Excitement and city pride were so extreme that a newspaper in neighboring Fort Worth wryly commented, "The first [words] the children are taught is 'Hurrah for Dallas!'" The town became so well known for its healthy ego that the 1872 Texas Almanac gently chided it for "putting on the airs of a city." By 1899, the year Tom Clark was born, Dallas numbered approximately 42,000 people. In 1906, ambitious citizens formed the 150,000 Club with the aim of significantly increasing the city's population by 1910. They fell short, but had surpassed that goal by 1920.

The first two decades of the twentieth century were a special time in the history of Dallas. A. C. Greene, in Dallas, the Deciding Years, describes them as a time that reflected "the contentment of security, of understanding without frustration what you could do, what you should do." Dallas, according to Greene, was a "place": "A place is where the individual is still recognized, known to all, or a great many of the fellow citizens. A place has certain characteristics just like a person, recognizable traits, unique attitudes, and actions."

Children grew up in a simple and secure environment. Differences between right and wrong were clear-cut. Religion was an integral part of life, and a belief in the rewards of hard work was a basic part of religion. Boundless optimism prevailed as citizens saw their efforts bring great things to the growing city. In 1900, the city received a $50,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie to build its first public library. That same year, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra performed for the first time. Electric-streetcar tracks sprouted over the city's streets, and in 1902 the first interurban service began between Dallas and Fort Worth, ushering in the growth of the cities' suburbs.

The reign of the automobile was yet to come, but in 1899, the year Tom Clark was born, the first car appeared on Dallas's streets. It was owned by Colonel E. H. R. Greene, whose mother, Hetty, known as "the witch of Wall Street," was reputed to be the richest woman in the country. More cars followed, and soon the first traffic law limited speed to seven miles per hour and imposed fines of up to $200 on violators. Civic pride swelled when Elm Street, the city's main business street, was paved with a new surface—asphalt—previously used only in the large eastern cities.

My father was eight years old when an event of great importance to the city occurred. Herbert Marcus, a fifteen-dollar-a-week shoe salesman at Sanger Brothers department store, along with his sister and brother-in-law, Carrie and Albert Neiman, opened a new shop—Neiman-Marcus. The store introduced the ready-made dress, a radical innovation, to city merchants and established a reputation for excellent taste and outstanding personalized service. Within a few years, Neiman-Marcus had made Dallas a fashion center of national renown.

Although the city exuded the vitality and prosperity of a boomtown, problems also existed. As early as 1882, a newspaper editorial lamented: "Three hundred saloons every minute in the day pour their poisonous compounds down the gullets of their customers." A chapter of the Women's Christian Temperance Union was organized, and members advised mothers to prohibit their children from tasting beer or wine and to avoid the evils of card playing.

Powerful currents of racism churned beneath the town's seemingly congenial surface. The Ku Klux Klan was active during the early 1900s and remained a force until the midtwenties. Stanley Marcus, eldest son of Neiman-Marcus's cofounder, recalls that as a Jewish boy growing up during this era, he was frequently chased home from school by gangs of taunting children. The most frequent victims of virulent racism, however, were black citizens. When my father was ten years old, he was part of a crowd that witnessed the lynching of a black man accused of assaulting a three-year-old white girl. The boy must have shared the shame and anger that afterward engulfed townspeople. Outraged citizens tore down the arch where the man had been hung. It was never rebuilt.

My father's parents, William Henry and Virginia "Jennie" Clark, had come to Dallas from Brandon, Mississippi. Both were descended from aristocratic southern families—a background shared by many Dallas settlers. My father's great-grandfather, General William J. Clark—a rank apparently earned in a North Carolina militia—was married four times and was a young widower when he met and wed Louise Lanier, a second cousin of the famous southern poet Sidney Lanier. They had ten children, five sons and five daughters. General Clark moved the family from North Carolina to Mississippi in 1835 and became a leading figure in that state, serving as state treasurer from 1843 to 1847 and then again from 1851 to 1854. He was also on the board of inspectors for the state penitentiary in Jackson and was involved in bringing public education to Jackson. The general belonged to the Whig Party, one of the precursors to the Republican Party, and was an admirer of Henry Clay. He was also a prohibitionist who did not allow liquor served in his home, although friends recorded that his wife, known for her elegant dinners, occasionally managed to smuggle some in for cooking.

Deeply religious, both General Clark and Louise Lanier Clark were members of the Baptist Church. But the general, upon studying the New Testament, came to disagree with traditionalists in the church, and his outspoken criticism resulted in his expulsion. After moving to Mississippi, he established the Brattle Springs Christian Church, eight miles outside of Jackson, where he preached once a month for a number of years.

General Clark owned a plantation in Madison and Hinds County, Mississippi, that covered more than a thousand acres and was worked by sixty-seven slaves. His family was known for its affluent lifestyle. They traveled to New Orleans for Mardi Gras each year, and the general lavished gifts of jewelry and silver on his daughters. All five sons attended college. One son, James, was valedictorian of his graduating class at Harvard, and later became proctor of the University of Texas. Another son, William Henry Clark, my father's grandfather, served in the Mexican War and was a probate judge in Rankin County, Mississippi, when the Civil War broke out. He joined the Confederate Army, and was captured on July 4, 1863, at the Battle of Vicksburg. He was imprisoned briefly, and then freed as part of a prisoner exchange. His freedom was short-lived. After returning to battle, he was promoted to the rank of colonel, and on October 5, 1864, at the age of thirty-six, was killed at Altoona, Georgia, as he led his men in battle, holding the Confederate flag high in his hand. A note informed his wife of his death:

Your gallant husband was mortally wounded October 5, 1864, in the assault by French's Division upon the heights of Altoona. I carried him from the field and left him breathing faintly but dying sorely. . . . He requested his sword, pistol and spurs to be given to his "little boys" and expressed hope that they would remind them in after years of a father who had died gloriously in defense of his Country.

He requested me to assure you that he loved you to the last and hoped you would remember him as a gallant soldier who received his death wound in heading a charge upon the enemy's stronghold.

William Clark left a widow, Mary McDowell Clark, and two young sons: James McDowell and William Henry. The second son, the father of Tom Clark, never knew his own father, who was away fighting the war when he was born. The boys were raised by their mother, who came from a distinguished Virginia family. Her uncle James McDowell, a member of the Virginia legislature, gained recognition for a speech denouncing slavery after the Nat Turner uprising. Several years later, in 1843, he was elected governor of Virginia.

Mary McDowell's cousin, Ephraim McDowell, was a physician renowned for his achievements in the field of abdominal surgery. He performed the first ovariotomy in the United States in 1809, removing the ovaries and a twenty-two-and-a-half-pound tumor from Mrs. James Todd Crawford, who survived the surgery without the benefit of anesthesia or antibiotics. The memory of Dr. McDowell remains prominent in his hometown of Danville, Kentucky, where the Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center bears his name. His home, where the surgery was performed, was declared a historic site in 1965.

Jennie Clark's father, Captain A. T. Falls, was also an officer in the Confederate Army, and her uncle, Thomas Maxey, was a federal judge in Austin, Texas, for thirty years. By coincidence, the Maxeys' house in Austin was located across the street from the home of William F. Ramsey, whose daughter Mary was destined to marry Jennie's son Tom. The Maxeys and Ramseys were good friends, and Mary had happy memories of going to the Maxeys with her younger sister Dorothy for a dish of homemade ice cream.

William and Jennie Clark grew up during the harsh Reconstruction era that followed the Civil War. Their childhood experiences in Mississippi left them with a strong dislike for Abraham Lincoln and a distrust of Yankees in general. Years later, when my grandmother Jennie visited our family in Washington, D.C., she declined offers to see the Lincoln Memorial. Despite this lasting bitterness, Jennie and William did not approve of the Ku Klux Klan, and no one in their family joined that organization.

William sought greater opportunity than a depressed Mississippi could offer, and moved to Dallas with his mother in 1885, after graduating from the University of Mississippi and Lebanon Law School in Tennessee. His brother, James, seven years his senior and a promising physician, had died two years earlier at the age of twenty-six. Dallas was still more a town than a city, with a population of slightly more than 10,000, but with an economy based on trade and commerce, it was on its way to becoming a major center for the cotton market. In addition, its residents were establishing a "rich cultural life." William practiced law for one year, and then returned to Brandon to marry Jennie and bring her back to Dallas as his bride. At nineteen, Jennie was a lovely, delicate-looking blond. William, five years her senior, had black curly hair, dark eyes, and a large hooked nose. Of all their children, Tom resembled him most physically. Although William was not a tall man, he appeared sturdy and strong next to his petite wife. In the years ahead, however, she would prove to be the stronger of the two.

William and Jennie Clark had ten children. My father, Thomas Campbell, the seventh child, was born on September 23, 1899, and was named for Jennie's uncle, Thomas Maxey, and his wife, Fanny Campbell. Two children died before my father was born: firstborn Joseph McDowell, known as "Mac," stepped on a nail when he was eight years old and died when gangrene developed. That same year, one-year-old William died from an undetermined illness. A third baby died at birth when my father was two years old.

Despite these tragedies, not uncommon among families at that time, William and Jennie's early years of marriage were prosperous and apparently happy. William became known as "Judge," a title of respect frequently bestowed upon prominent southern lawyers, and established himself as a talented and respected lawyer. As one contemporary wrote: "Mr. W. H. Clark of Dallas who was chosen delegate to the American Bar Association is rapidly becoming one of the most favorably known lawyers of Texas . . . he is essentially a lawyer of the people. . . . [His speaking ability has earned him] a sure place among Texas's most effective and brilliant lawyers."

As a lawyer, Judge Clark influenced the development of Texas's legal system in a number of areas. He helped frame the first Railroad Commission laws for the state, and his legal counsel also helped shape the state's insurance laws. Some of the legislation he worked for reflected a decidedly puritanical morality. He helped defeat an ordinance that would have created an area for "bawdy" houses in the city, and tried—unsuccessfully—to establish a law prohibiting divorced parties from ever remarrying. Divorce, he declared was a greater threat to the nation's well-being than "questions of race, suicide, or foreign armies." At thirty-six, he was elected president of the Texas Bar Association—the youngest man to have held the position up until that time.

Judge Clark was a product of his times and his Mississippi heritage. On July 4, 1925, at the dedication of a new courthouse in Brandon, Mississippi, he made a speech modestly entitled "Brilliant Address of Great Legal and Historical Value." Opening with the statement "Once a Mississippian, always a Mississippian," William praised our forefathers and argued the importance of states' rights.

The Constitution of the United States was based upon and guaranteed to the people the independence and sovereignty of the several states over all local or domestic affairs . . . Upon this sound foundation, the American Republic was built and has prospered—the like of which is not to be found in the History of Nations—ancient or modern; and if you destroy these great principles of States' rights in our government, and in lieu thereof have a central government at Washington, to regulate and control the domestic affairs of the people in the several States, it will surely result in the fall of this great Republic. . . . The greatest danger of our government today is Federal Encroachment on the local and domestic affairs of the several States.

He then moved into the subjects of "The Negro Problem" and "Race Distinctions," expressing views that reflect the deeply embedded racism of that time. Although stating emphatically that "we would not reinstate slavery if we could," he then launched into a lecture on the importance of separation of the black and white races and the inherent inequality of the Negro:

Neither in Asia, nor Africa, nor Europe, nor America, has the white race ever consented to or tolerated either marital relationship or social equality, with the black race. And why? A good and sufficient reason is, because the law of nature or of our Creator does not permit social equality and an amalgamation of the white and black races. . . . We should be hopeful and happy, and not pessimistic . . . that the Mason and Dixon line is wiped from the map of the United States forever, and that as long as the negro sees fit to remain with us, in preference to returning to his native land, the white people of the South will in the future, as in the past, give him work and a home, and treat him kindly, and give him equal rights before the law with the white, as to the protection of his person, liberty, labor and property, in and out of the courthouse, and give him religious and educational advantages with separate churches and schools for the black and white, but the white people will never allow them social equality, or anything that will result in social equality as evidenced by our miscegenation law, "separate coach" law, and separate schools and churches which principles and customs have been upheld and approved . . . by the Supreme Court of the United States.

Despite these clearly racist views—common in both the North and South at that time—William Clark was dedicated to the law, and established a reputation as a "people's" lawyer. An article that appeared in the Dallas Law Journal shortly after his death gave the following description: "This notable attorney was always found on the side of the people. . . . He believed that if the people were let alone they would work out their own destiny. He was nearly always found on the side of the people as against the corporation or the city or the state. . . . Judge Clark loved the law. He studied the law. He gave to the law the best he had. And through the law he made his contribution to this new country in the West." He must have conveyed his love of the law to his sons, for three of the four chose to follow him into that profession.

With his law practice flourishing, William moved his growing family a few months after my father was born. He chose a large house on Ross Avenue, a prosperous residential street lined with the handsome homes of many of Dallas's most prominent families. The Clarks' house was known for a profusion of purple wisteria surrounding the front porch, and townspeople strolled or rode by to view the vines when they were in bloom. The family's lifestyle—typical of affluent Dallasites—reflected a southern heritage. Servants helped maintain the large household, and the older children attended private schools. The family went to St. John's Episcopal Church each Sunday. They enjoyed recreational activities together. The children and their father liked to fish on Bachman Lake, a short ride from the house, and brought their catches home for Jennie to fry. She was an exceptional cook, and her fried chicken and angel food cakes were without equal in the opinion of her children and grandchildren. A favorite annual event for the young family was the arrival of the circus. Jennie and the children would ride the streetcar to William's office to watch the parade beforehand. Afterward, they would return home for lunch and wait until he arrived to take them to the circus grounds. He was always late, and the excited children could hardly contain their impatience.

Judge Clark was a loyal Democrat who attended every state party convention for twenty years. His passion for politics developed at a time when the political arena afforded people the sort of entertainment later provided by radio, movies, and television. Men, women, and children traveled long distances to hear candidates speak. Torchlight parades frequently preceded speeches, and an air of festivity prevailed. William enjoyed the drinking that was part of such convivial scenes. Gradually, however, the effect of his drinking upon his personal and professional life became devastating. By the time Tom was of school age, his father's drinking had become a serious problem that drastically altered the family's comfortable lifestyle. Although William continued to practice law until he died in 1931, at the age of seventy, the once thriving law practice faltered as word of his drinking began to circulate. Good times enjoyed as a family became rare, and the children avoided bringing friends to the house for fear of embarrassment. Adversity drew the children together and instilled in them a strong sense of responsibility for one another. A close family source described William's behavior as increasingly "bossy" and "ugly." The situation was so painful that two surviving daughters were unwilling to discuss it more than sixty years later.

Jennie held the family together. Uncomplaining, strong, yet gentle, she used her love to provide the children with a secure anchor. My father could not recall ever seeing her lose her temper. Pride and loyalty kept her from discussing "the problem" with anyone—even her own children. Her example inspired in them a fierce family loyalty and an exceptional ability to keep their emotions within. Despite her efforts, the once handsome house began to deteriorate as its upkeep became more and more difficult to afford. The neighborhood grocer allowed Jennie to accumulate bills of up to two hundred dollars before requiring payment. She always managed to come up with the money as the deadline approached. Avoiding open confrontation with William, she learned to work around him in order to manage the household as she thought best.

The puritan work ethic dominated the culture of that time, and the family's personal hardships undoubtedly reinforced that philosophy. Work became their creed. Servants were no longer affordable, so the family made do with occasional help from Zeke, the son of a former slave, who had come from Mississippi with the Clarks. Jennie taught the girls to sew, cook, and care for their younger brothers and sisters. The boys learned to milk cows, tend the garden, and help maintain the house. Everyone was busy. Tom delivered newspapers and worked in a drugstore, where, he firmly believed, the many free Cokes he drank temporarily stunted his growth. He was short for his age until sixteen, when he suddenly shot up to nearly his full six-foot height.

There were also good times. Jennie often played the piano and sang, and as the children gathered round her to join in on favorites such as "Put On Your Old Gray Bonnet," the music temporarily eased the cares that hung over the large house. She could still have fun and be playful with her children. My father's older sister "Danny" recalled waking up one morning to a snow-covered scene—a rare occurrence in Dallas. While Tom ran to an upstairs porch for a better look, his mother stepped outside from a first-floor entrance. Soon the two were throwing snowballs at each other. My father loved the outdoors and spent as much time outside as possible. Hunting and fishing were his favorite pastimes, and he and his friends often biked out to the village of Highland Park, today a fashionable, close-to-town neighborhood, to hunt quail and dove. He also enjoyed working in the large garden that supplied the family with most of its vegetables and that won him a medal as a Boy Scout—an award he prized all his life. The first Boy Scout troop was established in America in 1910, and my father joined the organization shortly afterward. At fourteen he became one of the first Eagle Scouts in the United States. He participated in many Boy Scout jamborees, and loved to brag that at one he broke all previous records for cutting up the greatest number of chickens. He was, in his own words, "the world's greatest chicken cutter."

I don't know how my father became interested in punching bags, but during his teens, he became quite an expert. Not content to work out with a single bag, he practiced until he was able to keep five going at the same time: two with his hands, two with his knees, and one with his head. Years later—without the benefit of punching bags—he demonstrated to his children how he was able to perform this remarkable feat. We laughed uproariously at the sight of his frenzied motions as he lashed out with every part of his body at the imaginary bags.

The name "Thomas Clark" appears frequently in the Bryan Street High School yearbook for 1917. Although Grandmother called him "Thomas" all her life, my father was not comfortable with the formal name and stopped using it after he entered college. He was a good student, but was not listed on the school's honor roll. Oratory and debate were his main extracurricular interests, a reflection of his father's influence, and he appears on the page of class officers with the title "Class Orator." He worked with typical perseverance to improve his speaking ability and to overcome the shyness that made speaking before an audience very difficult. Once, while still in high school, he became so nervous before a speech that he fainted. The occasion was a parent-teacher meeting at an elementary school he had attended. The principal had asked him to speak as part of the program. Several family members were in attendance, and this may have unknowingly increased his apprehension as he nervously awaited his turn at the podium. As he got up to speak, he fainted. Unhurt, he insisted on continuing, even though he was urged to leave the platform and lie down. He was determined, however, and spoke with no further problem.

His perseverance paid off, for he entered the high school's annual speech competition his senior year with a speech entitled "Modern Slavery." The yearbook writer gave this intriguing, though ambivalent, description of the young orator's performance: "The oration of Thomas Clark was characterized by a peculiar delivery. He received closest attention from his hearers by his picturization of the conditions termed by him as modern slavery."

His choice of a topic seems surprising. His family belonged to the white, conservative mainstream, which was still insensitive to the enslaving deprivations of blacks, and his father's views on the social inequality of Negroes must have had some impact on his own thinking. But his father's alcoholism set him apart from his peers. He had experienced financial insecurity and family instability. He had witnessed, and never forgotten, a lynching. These factors may have stirred a special sensitivity within his inherently compassionate nature. The text of the speech has not survived, but it must have contained the seeds of a philosophy that would make this young Texan a lifelong supporter of civil rights. His argument was apparently impressive, for, despite popular, predominantly negative attitudes toward his topic, Thomas Clark won the 1917 George M. Dealy Award for Oratory at Bryan Street High School.

A quotation from an unknown source accompanies his high school write-up:

'Tis a countenance whose spell
Sheds balm over mead and dell.

The lines suggest the pleasing personality and sunny disposition that almost always hid whatever trials he was experiencing.


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