Jurist and editor of The State Records of North Carolina, Walter Clark (1846-1924) grew up in Halifax County, where his family had lived for three generations. He benefitted from influential connections and a good education. It is said that, by the age of six, he had read the Bible completely through, “standing at his mother’s knee.” At age sixteen, he served in the Confederate Army, as adjutant for the 35th North Carolina Regiment. He completed his education at the University of North Carolina during the war years. Clark then took a leadership role in the Junior Reserves. After the war he studied law at Columbia University and took up practice in Halifax and then in Raleigh.
Original Date Cast:
Appointed a superior court judge in 1885, Clark was appointed to the state supreme court in 1889 and rose to be chief justice in 1902, a post he held until his death. Justice Clark is said to have had “the youngest mind on the bench” and his opinions, even in dissent, shaped the state’s law. Toiling long hours, his interests led him to edit the sixteen-volume State Records and, in five volumes, the Histories of North Carolina Regiments, accounts by unit of the state’s role in the Civil War.
Justice Clark condemned privilege and antidemocractic forces. He boosted woman’s suffrage and progressivism. Among his targets were the American Tobacco Company, which he believed had violated antitrust law, and the railroads, which had set exorbitant rates. Clark lacked somewhat in charisma and met with defeat in his bid for the U.S. Senate in 1912. His plantation house, “Airlie,” one of the finest in the region, gave name to the local community.
Aubrey Lee Brooks, Walter Clark: Fighting Judge (1944)
Aubrey Lee Brooks and Hugh T. Lefler, eds., The Papers of Walter Clark, 2 vols. (1948, 1950)
Dumas Malone and others, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, IV, 140-141—sketch by C.C. Pearson
(Raleigh) Spectator, January 7, 1986
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 378-379—sketch by David Clark and Charles W. Eagles
Walter M. Clark, 1919. Image courtesy of the North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.