Filed Under Clark and Kurth

Who was Ernest L. Clark?

Harmony in adversity: Remembering Clark's enduring impact on Southwestern.

Ernest L. Clark, Sr. struck chords of change as Southwestern's inaugural Black student and graduate.

In the storied history of Southwestern University, Ernest Louis Clark, Sr. (July 4, 1947 – June 3, 2023) stands out as a significant figure whose legacy extends beyond his personal accomplishments. His journey as the University's first Black student and graduate exemplifies courage, talent, and resilience.

Born in Round Rock, Texas, Clark's musical abilities were evident from an early age. His connection to Southwestern University began with his aunt, a student at the Negro Fine Arts School (NFAS), an integrated after-school music program founded in 1946 by Iola Bowden Chambers, a Southwestern music professor, and three Southwestern students. Clark himself would enroll in this program, where, as a budding pianist, he once remarked how he "started off meager," but soon "surpassed other students." His repertoire at the NFAS included a range of instruments, from the piano to the string bass, voice, and violin.

In the fall of 1965, Clark made the momentous decision to enroll at Southwestern University, becoming its first Black student. This decision thrust him into the spotlight. He became a frequent subject of news stories, and his presence on campus drew the attention of television coverage. Seeing himself on the news, particularly a news story that depicted a poignant moment with his mother, solidified his determination to persist. He realized that he wasn't just pursuing an education for himself, but also symbolizing hope and progress for many in the Black community. Faced with the challenges of integrating a university a decade after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling and the added weight of public attention, Clark once stated that “a lot of people were depending on me to go to school.” This sentiment underscored the broader implications of his academic journey.

During his time at Southwestern, Clark's musical expertise continued to flourish. He was an active member of the Southwestern concert band, the Southwestern Sinfonietta, wind ensemble, and The Extraordinaires, a vocal ensemble. Beyond his musical contributions, Clark expanded his influence on campus through his active membership in the Independent Association and by serving as a reporter for Southwestern’s newspaper, the Megaphone, further broadening his impact and engagement with the community.

Upon graduating in 1969, Clark's dedication to music education led him to the Dallas Independent School District, where he would teach and inspire an estimated 36,000 students across a 37-year career. He also became a figure of spiritual guidance, serving as a pastor for multiple congregations and holding the Ministry of Music role in several churches.

In June 2020, Southwestern University made the gesture of renaming a residence hall in Clark's honor. Formerly known as Kurth Hall, the renaming to Ernest L. Clark Residence Hall was simultaneously a belated acknowledgment of and corrective for a less inclusive past at Southwestern. While the University has not formally recognized or taken accountability for the pro-segregationist stance of Ernest L. Kurth, for whom the building was originally named, the change is an undeniable nod to Clark's contributions and importance.

Clark's journey from a dedicated student at the Negro Fine Arts School to someone carrying the weight of being the fist Black student and graduate at Southwestern University serves as a testament to his resilience, talent, and drive. His legacy remains a source of inspiration, reminding students and faculty alike of both the strides made and the progress still needed in the realm of equity and inclusion.

Images

Ernest L. Clark senior yearbook portrait Source: Sou'Wester Yearbook 1969 Creator: Sou'Wester Yearbook staff Date: 1969
Ernest Clark pictured as part of the Southwestern Concert Band, 1967 Source: Sou'Wester Yearbook, 1967 Creator: unknown Date: 1967
Ernest Clark pictured as part of the Southwestern Concert Band, 1968 Source: Sou'Wester Yearbook, 1968 Creator: unknown Date: 1968
Ernest Clark pictured as part of the Southwestern Sinfonietta, 1969 Source: Sou'Wester Yearbook 1969 Creator: unknown Date: 1969
Ernest Clark pictured as part of The Extraordinaires, 1969 Photo taken on the steps of the Veranda in front of the Student Union Building, with the Chapel in the background. Source: Sou'WEster Yearbook 1969 Creator: unknown Date: 1969
Ernest Clark pictured as a member of the Southwestern Independent Association, 1969 Source: Sou'Wester Yearbook 1969 Creator: unknown Date: 1969

Location

Metadata

Bettina Castillo '24, “Who was Ernest L. Clark?,” Placing Memory, accessed July 25, 2024, https://placingmemory.southwestern.edu/items/show/76.