Samuel Wilcox Clark was from a pioneering Cincinnati family: his grandmother, Mary C. Wilson, was born inside Fort Washington in (probably) 1804. His great grandmother, Margaret Riddle Molson, was one of the earliest documented African Americans in Cincinnati, having visited in 1796, and becoming a permanent resident in 1798.
Samuel W. Clark was born in Cincinnati on July 25, 1847. He attended Cincinnati public schools and worked on a steamboat before attending college in Adrian, Michigan. He then returned home, and for nearly fifteen years, he was on the faculty of Gaines High School.
In 1870, Samuel W. Clark was inducted into the True American Lodge #2 of Masons. He rose quickly through the ranks. In 1879, he was elected Most Worshipful Grand Master for the Grand Lodge of Ohio.
The first African American Masonic lodge in America was a small group organized in 1784 in Boston by a man named Prince Hall. Today, Prince Hall Freemasonry is the largest predominately African American fraternity in the US.
As late as the 1880’s, however, many white Masons believed that African American lodges should not exist. Some claimed, for example, that the original Prince Hall lodge had later become “inactive” and was therefore not eligible to charter further lodges.
In response, in 1886, Samuel W. Clark wrote a short book titled The Negro Mason in Equity. Clark meticulously demonstrated that African American lodges had been constituted through the rules and principles laid down by the order, and the original organization had never been inactive. Clark addressed his white detractors:
“We have nothing to gain in your legal recognition of us as Masons, the gain is all for you and for the institution of Freemasonry. That we are just and legal Masons is so well established that it is now beyond the power of man to controvert it. For more than one hundred years, we have existed as Free and Accepted Masons… .
"[F]rom the small beginning of fifteen black men, scoffed at, sneered at, insulted, and ridiculed, we have grown to grand proportions, until today we command the respect of Masons in all parts of the world… . [I]f by our own exertions alone, we must build our second century, we will make it more illustrious than the first, we will proudly hold aloft our heads, and courageously fighting our battles, we will neither give nor ask quarter.”
In 1894, the Cincinnati Enquirer published an article stating that Samuel W. Clark was “perhaps the best known of colored Masons in the United States.”
Samuel Wilcox Clark died in 1903 and was buried in the United American Cemetery, at the hilltop, on the edge of the woods, with a tombstone giving his name, birthdate, age, and the inscription, “Past Grand Master of Masons.”
The Dayton (Ohio) Herald published a tribute to Samuel W. Clark, stating, “As author of The Negro Mason in Equity, his name will long be remembered by the craft. He has left footprints on the sands of time. Who will essay to follow them?”