David A. Clarke

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David A. Clarke
David A. Clarke.jpg
David A. Clarke was a civil rights worker, lawyer, and former Chair of the Washington, D.C. City Council. The District of Columbia's public interest law school, David A. Clarke School of Law, was renamed in his honor.
Chair of the Council of the District of Columbia
In office
September 14, 1993 – March 27, 1997
Preceded by John A. Wilson
Succeeded by Linda W. Cropp
Chair of the Council of the District of Columbia
In office
January 2, 1983 – January 2, 1991
Preceded by Arrington Dixon
Succeeded by John A. Wilson
Member of the Council of the District of Columbia, Ward 1
In office
January 2, 1975 – January 2, 1983
Preceded by First
Succeeded by Frank Smith
Personal details
Born David Allen Clarke
(1943-10-13)October 13, 1943
Baltimore, Maryland[1]
Died March 27, 1997(1997-03-27) (aged 53)
Cause of death Central nervous system lymphoma
Political party Democratic Party
Spouse(s) Carole Leavitt Clarke[1]
Children 1[1]
Parents Allen Joseph Clarke and Ophia Carroll Clarke[1]
Alma mater George Washington University B.A.,
Howard University School of Law J.D.
Profession Civil rights activist, attorney[1]

David Allen "Dave" Clarke (October 13, 1943 – March 27, 1997)[2] was a civil-rights worker, attorney, and Democratic politician in Washington, D.C. Elected as one of the original members of the Council of the District of Columbia when D.C. gained home rule in 1974, Clarke served as its chair from 1983 to 1991, and again from the death of John A. Wilson in 1993 until his own death in 1997.

The David A. Clarke School of Law was renamed for Clarke in 1998.

Early life and education[edit]

David Allen Clarke was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on October 13, 1943, to Allen Joseph Clarke and Ophia Carroll Clarke.[1] After his father died while he was an infant, his mother and he moved to Southwest, Washington, D.C.[1]

Clarke's mother worked as a clerk at the United States Department of Agriculture.[3] They later moved to the neighborhood of Shaw.[1] Clarke attended public schools, namely Thompson Elementary School, Jefferson Junior High, and Western High School.[1] Clarke's mother died of tuberculosis when Clarke was 16 years old, and he moved in with his aunt, who was also living in Shaw.[1]

Clarke earned a Bachelor of Arts in religion from George Washington University in 1965.[1][4] He then enrolled at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, but he longed to take a more direct role in the vast social changes that were sweeping the country.[1] Two weeks later, Clarke transferred to the nearby Upland Institute for Social Change and Conflict Management.[1] At Clarke's instance, Upland Institute sent him to work for Walter E. Fauntroy at the recently formed D.C. Coalition for Conscience.[1]

When Greater Washington Board of Trade opposed home rule for the District, Clarke protested next to the Washington Monument on July 4, 1966. When Clarke began reading the United States Declaration of Independence, he was arrested.[1]

Clarke decided to pursue a Juris Doctor from Howard University School of Law.[3][5] Clarke arranged for legal assistance for protesters who participated in the Poor People's Campaign, a protest encampment on the Mall that lasted for five rainy weeks in the spring of 1968.[1] Clarke also ran the Washington office of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was founded by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.[1] Clarke graduated from Howard University School of Law in 1969, and he opened a private practice the following year.[1]


Before his service on Council of the District of Columbia, he was counsel and Director of the Washington Bureau of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and was legal assistant to the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund. He also served as a program evaluator for the U.S. Senate Committee on Nutrition. In 1974, David Clarke was elected as the Ward One Representative on the Council of the District of Columbia- first Council elected by District of Columbia voters. During his eight years as the representative of Ward One, he was chairperson of the Judiciary Committee, a member of the Council’s Housing and Finance committee, and chairperson of the Public Safety Committee of the Metropolitan Council of Governments, where he was a proponent of gun control.[6] He and his wife, a city schoolteacher, had one son.

While on the Council, he was known for an ability to transcend race, a legacy from his experience as an activist and important in a racially divided district.[7] His aggressive style at times made consensus-building difficult.[7]

Clarke died of a central nervous system lymphoma, a form of brain cancer.[7]


  • November 5, 1974 – elected Ward 1 council member[8]
  • November 7, 1978 – reelected Ward 1 council member[8]
  • November 2, 1982 – elected council chairman[8]
  • November 4, 1986 – reelected council chairman[8]
  • September 11, 1990 – ran for mayor and was defeated in primary by Sharon Pratt Dixon[8]
  • September 14, 1993 – elected council chairman in special election after death of John A. Wilson[8] with 47 percent, beating Charlene Drew Jarvis (29 percent), Linda Cropp (16 percent), and Marie Drissel (6 percent)[9]
  • November 8, 1994 – reelected council chairman[8]
  • December 30, 1996 – entered Georgetown University Hospital; council chairman pro tempore Charlene Drew Jarvis took over as acting chairman[10]
  • March 27, 1997 – died in office[8]

Awards and legacy[edit]

Clarke received numerous awards for his community service initiatives including Outstanding Alumnus Award, Greater Washington Howard University Law School Alumni Association, Achievement Award, Elks Department of Civil Liberties League # 194, Human Rights Award, Ancient Independent Order of Moses, and the Washington Inner City Self-Help, Outstanding Service to Community Award. The University of the District of Columbia's Law School also bears his name: "The UDC David A. Clarke School of Law."[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Smith, J.Y. "As a Longtime Activist, Clarke Championed Rights of D.C. Residents". The Washington Post. March 29, 1997. p. A10.
  2. ^ Powell, Michael; Williams, Vanessa (1997-03-29). "D.C. Council Chairman David A. Clarke Dies". The Washington Post.  ("died Thursday")
  3. ^ a b King, Colbert I. "Clarke: Left at the Loading Dock". The Washington Post. August 17, 1990. p. A27.
  4. ^ a b David A. Clarke Finding Aid, Special Collections Research Center, Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library, The George Washington University
  5. ^ "David A. Clarke (D) [from voter guide]". The Washington Post. January 11, 1995. Retrieved July 17, 2008. 
  6. ^ "Honorable David A. Clarke". A Celebration of Public Service: In Memorium: Remembering Members Who Are Deceased. Council of the District of Columbia.
  7. ^ a b c Powell, Michael (March 29, 1997). "D.C. Council Chairman David A. Clarke Dies". Washington Post. Washington D.C. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics. "Historical Elected Officials". Archived from the original on 2008-07-09. Retrieved 2008-07-13. 
  9. ^ Sanchez, Rene (1993-09-15). "Clarke Elected Council Chairman; Jarvis, Cropp Beaten Soundly in Seven of Eight D.C. Wards". The Washington Post. p. A01. Retrieved 2008-08-02. 
  10. ^ Harris, Hamil R. (2007-02-02). "With Jarvis in Driver's Seat, D.C. Council Roars to Life". p. B01. Retrieved 2008-07-22. 

External links[edit]

Council of the District of Columbia
First Ward 1 Member, Council of the District of Columbia
Succeeded by
Frank Smith
Preceded by
Arrington Dixon
Chairman, Council of the District of Columbia
Succeeded by
John A. Wilson
Preceded by
John A. Wilson
Chairman, Council of the District of Columbia
Succeeded by
Linda W. Cropp