50 Years After His Death, Mark Clark's Sister Shares His Story With Peoria And the World
Gloria Clark-Jackson is telling her brother's story, 50 years after the civil rights activist from Peoria was killed in a Chicago police raid.
Mark Clark, who served as a defense captain for the Illinois Black Panther Party, was just 22 years old when he and Fred Hampton, deputy chair of the Illinois Black Panther Party, were killed in a raid coordinated by Chicago police, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, and the FBI, as they slept in Hampton's apartment in the early morning hours of Dec. 4, 1969.
"He was very active in political things. Really just the fight against racism," Clark-Jackson, a retired nurse, said of her brother.
Clark-Jackson recently published a book about her brother entitled, Mark Clark: Soul of a Black Panther.
"When I wrote the book about Mark, I tell the life and death of my brother Mark," she said. "Because I was a member of the Black Panther Party under his leadership, I feel compelled to tell his story."
Clark was born in Peoria in 1947. He became a member of the local NAACP chapter at age 15, and later formed the Peoria chapter of the Black Panther Party. He started the first free breakfast program for Peoria youth, and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington, D.C.
Clark-Jackson said her whole family was brought up as Christians. Their father was a pastor, and the founder of Holy Temple Church of God and Christ that still stands at Webster and McBean on Peoria's South Side.
"It was ironic that we were always taught to treat people right, but we weren't always treated the same way, as people of color," said Clark-Jackson.
Initially, a Cook County coroner's inquest jury found the deaths of Mark Clark and Hampton to be "justifiable homicides." But the raid was later found to be part of COINTELPRO, a secret FBI program aimed at disrupting American political movements deemed "subversive," such as Black power and civil rights organizations, anti-war protesters, Communists, and feminist groups. In the 1970s, the program was later determined to be illegal by a Senate select committee.
The city of Chicago, Cook County, and the federal government reached a settlement with Hampton's and Clark's survivors in the early 1980s.
"So much has taken place in the last 50 years, and I wanted to let people know who Mark Clark was," said his sister. "Mark is from Peoria. This is Black history, but this is Peoria history. And people really need to understand what took place. And I try to show that in this book."
Clark-Jackson said she doesn't believe America has made much progress on racial issues in the last half-century.
"I think that a lot of the same things are going on today, that went on 50 years ago," she said, referencing the deaths of Black men at the hands of police.
Clark-Jackson said America has some "deep soul-searching" to do yet, adding history is not just what already happened, but what's happening now to lay the groundwork for tomorrow's legacy.
"As I look back, and remember the determined, serious look that took over my brother Mark's face the day he recruited me into the Black Panther Party, I will never forget the words he spoke that still reverberate in my mind," she said. "His message is as clear today as it was then: 'There are many who will talk about the injustice in this country, but only a few will do something about it. Which one are you?'"
Visit activistmarkclark.org for more.
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