HONORING OUR PAST
Dr. Caesar Arthur Walter Clark, Sr.
CLARK, CAESAR ARTHUR WALTER (1914–2008). Caesar Arthur Walter Clark, revered pastor and African-American community leader, was born on December 13, 1914, in Shreveport, Louisiana. His parents were farmers, and Clark was an only child. Soon after his birth, his family moved to East Point, Louisiana. Clark had to drop out of school after the seventh grade to help his parents on the farm. Thereafter he was self-educated until he received a bachelor of arts from Bishop College when he was thirty-two years old. He later received an honorary doctorate of divinity from Bishop.
A self-described “loner and introvert” in his youth, Clark began preaching at age thirteen. He was ordained in Louisiana in 1933 and served his first pastorate at the Israelite Baptist Church in Longstreet, Louisiana. After graduating from Bishop College in 1946, he became pastor of the Good Street Baptist Church in Dallas on September 10, 1950. Prior to this, Clark married Carolyn Bunch-Richard, the widow of Rev. J. L. Richards, in a private ceremony at the Oakland Hilton in Louisiana. They had one child together, C. A. W. Clark, Jr.; and Caesar became stepfather to Carolyn’s children from her previous marriage.
Clark was affectionately known as “Little Caesar” due to his small stature of just over five feet, but he was “bigger than life” in terms of his lifetime accomplishments. He spent fifty-eight years as pastor of Good Street Baptist Church in Oak Cliff and was regularly selected by Ebony magazine as one of the fifteen greatest preachers in America in its annual poll. While serving as pastor, Clark added many important contributions to Good Street Baptist Church. He helped them purchase two parsonages at 2706 Tanner Street and 2423 South Boulevard as well as open the Good Street Church Community Center, which was a community service organization that cared for 250 children daily. In 1954 the church sent Clark to Anchorage, Alaska, on a preaching mission sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention, and in 1964 the Good Street Charitable Foundation was developed, with Clark as president.
During his years as a minister, Clark was an active member of the Dallas African-American community. He served as vice-chairman of the Boy Scouts of America Advisory Committee as well as on the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce. Clark was a member of the board of directors for the Ann Dalton Foundation for Care of Handicapped Children and served as chairman of the Moorland branch YMCA’s annual membership drive in 1956. In 1957 he was the president of the Dallas NAACP branch. Additionally, during the 1950s Clark worked as editor of the National Baptist Voice, wrote “Oriental Sidelights” in the Sunday School Commentary, was a trustee of Bishop College, and served as director of the Dallas Star Post Publishing Company and the Great Liberty Life Insurance Company. He was also a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Knights of Pythias, Paul Drayton Lodge, Dallas Consistory, and Zakat Temple of Shriners. In 1959 Clark ran for the Dallas school board in an attempt to be the first African-American member; however, he was defeated by a two-to-one margin.
Clark also served as a figurehead for civil rights in Dallas when he invited Martin Luther King, Jr., to speak at Good Street Baptist Church in 1958. This was the first of several speeches King gave in Dallas. In 1961 Clark was put in charge of meetings to teach volunteers about orderly sit-in demonstrations aimed at integration by the NAACP attorney William J. Durham. However, in 1969 Clark criticized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for encouraging an economic boycott of downtown Dallas stores. He felt the stores being boycotted did not deserve such treatment. Clark served on the Citizens Memorial to John F. Kennedy in 1963 and in 1964 was the chairman of the Dallas County Council of Organizations for Political Action. This was created to conduct poll tax drives and offer candidates for public office. The following year, 1965, Clark was added to the City Planning Commission of Dallas and in 1967 became president of the Baptist Missionary and Education Convention, which met to discuss moving Bishop College to Dallas.
After the tragic death of Martin Luther King, Jr., Clark eulogized King at a ceremony hosted by the Interdenominational Ministers Alliance at People’s Baptist Church. The 1970s proved to be an equally active decade for Clark as he served as chairman of the voter registration campaign for African Americans in Dallas in 1970. He went on to serve as president of the Missionary Baptist Association of Texas and vice president of the National Baptist Convention. He conducted approximately forty revivals a year throughout his long career as pastor of Good Street Baptist Church as well as preached to hundreds of Russian Baptists in Moscow and to a crowd of about 40,000 at the Houston Astrodome. Clark helped found the Sunbelt Bank in Oak Cliff and contributed $5,000 annually to Bishop College.
Recognized by his peers as a “dean of preachers,” Rev. Jesse Jackson, who made annual visits to Good Street Baptist Church, considered Clark the “godfather.” Manual Scott of Saint John Baptist Church in Oak Cliff said of Clark, “He is the most popular and consistent evangelist in all of black Christendom.” Another peer, Rev. William T. Harvey, chairman of the foreign mission board of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., said of Clark, “He is the most outstanding evangelist in the country as far as we are concerned.” The Good Street Baptist Church even had a sister church in Vrede, South Africa. The preaching career of Clark continued through the 1980s and 1990s, including the building of a new community center, the C. A. W. Clark Community Center, which opened on March 23, 1992. A scholarship fund in Clark’s name was also developed in 1990. Finally, in 2003 the United States Congress designated the Dr. Caesar A. W. Clark, Sr. Post Office Building, located at 1502 E. Klest Blvd. in Dallas, a large honor to be bestowed during one’s lifetime.
Caesar Clark died in Dallas on July 27, 2008, surrounded by his wife Carolyn and his stepchildren. His remains were escorted into Good Street Baptist Church by the Sandra Clarke “Elite Guards” and then carried by a “Vintage Horse Drawn Carriage” to be interred in the Chapel Springs Garden at Laurel Land Memorial Park.