Today, like most days (especially on Father’s Day, the day of his passing and his birthday), I grieve the passing of my father. So on this Father’s Day, I decided to share a snapshot of who my dad was with those of you that didn’t have the pleasure of knowing him and remind those of you that knew him.
My dad was affectionately known as L.W. Clarke. He was a smart, loving, outspoken, proud man that showed his love for you with his quick wittedness and sarcasm. He was a trailblazer in every sense of the word and lived a life that can be summed up by the old spiritual, “If I can help somebody, then my living would not have been in vain.” He was also a man who took the time to stop and smell the roses. To know him, was to know a man whose love for flowers, can be seen just by passing our home.
Born and reared in Mobile, Alabama, my dad graduated from Dunbar High School. After graduation he volunteered for 3 years with the United States Army. Later joining the Army, he did a tour of duty in Germany and was commissioned by President Eisenhower to the post of Public Information Officer. Upon completing service in the armed forces, Sgt. 1st Class Clarke enrolled at the University of Detroit majoring in Political Science with hopes of becoming a lawyer. To help pay for his education my dad worked as a mail carrier and sold insurance. Returning to Mobile, he started underwriting for Lovett Insurance, Horace Mann and the American Professional Insurance Company.
My dad’s life in Mississippi began when he started selling insurance to teachers of color through the American Professional Insurance Company, where he held the office of State Director. Opening doors for African-American agents came with a price, often times meeting with opposition that frequently placed him in harms way. As a trailblazer, he was one of the first African-American independent insurance agents in the State of Mississippi. His colleagues revered him as the type of individual that would go the extra mile to help agencies that provided services to the underserved. In doing so, over the years he was able to save these organizations several thousand dollars. In addition, my dad was the owner and manager of Latham Funeral Home, Director of Crossroads (a drug treatment center), Director of The Education Resource Center (a consortium of teachers and community leaders), as well as a Salesmanship Instructor at the Office of Industrialization Center.
My dad was a tireless advocate of civil and human rights and participated in several marches, rallies and demonstrations, yet the most historic one was the march from Selma to Montgomery with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Voter registration was one of the many social and political issues he was very passionate about that led him to become a life member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
My dad was a community activist whose concern for Mississippi’s youth manifested itself in numerous ways. This included offering his office space at no charge for years to individuals starting out in real estate, insurance, educational youth projects, political campaigns and other worthwhile initiatives. The only thing required of them was that they do a good job.
I shared the love of my dad with my siblings: L.W. Clarke, III, Anita Clarke Vandiver, Vincent Clarke, Susan Clarke, Elton Clarke, Gina Clarke Mitchell, Fannisha Clarke, and then there was me. His legacy included a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Because of his loving spirit and generosity, several individuals adopted him as their brother, father, grandfather and more importantly as a close friend.
I miss you, daddy… You are one of my first thoughts when I wake up and one of my last when I go to bed. You will always have my undying love and respect.