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Perspectives on Clarke
About Dave Clarke
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Sorrow for David Clarke, Hope for D.C.
Council Chief's Eulogies Focus on His Civil Rights Legacy and the Work That RemainsBy Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 5 1997; Page D01
The Washington Post
They called him an uncommon man, a social engineer and a modern-day Daniel who sacrificed personal gain for the good of the little man. They laughed, they cried and they reflected. Then they collected their emotions and carried Clarke off to a grave on a grassy hillside in Virginia.
For a short while yesterday morning, the mayor and the financial control board gathered at Metropolitan Baptist Church in Northwest Washington without squabbling, and other elected officials passed by the cameras without posing for pictures. Politics and posturing were put aside for a day.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Gregory E. Mize reminded the nearly 2,000 mourners of Clarke's slogan during his first political campaign: "David Clarke for D.C., D.C. for David Clarke, D.C. for D.C." And the expressions of the next three hours suggested that during his 23 years of public service, Clarke, who died March 27 of brain cancer, lived up to that slogan.
Mize called Clarke "an uncommon man devoted to common people," and Clarke's funeral went far beyond expected tributes, somber music and eulogies. Instead, the church was filled with chatter from neighborhood activists and down-home gospel preaching for a mix just as diverse as Clarke's life.
D.C. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) pointed out that Clarke died on the eve of Good Friday and was buried on the anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination.
"David was a man with a biblical vision," Jarvis said. "[He was] a man of the people . . . a social engineer who brought blacks and whites together. . . . David wanted to be an advocate."
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and other speakers used Clarke's legacy to challenge the assembled elected leaders.
"The D.C. Council without David Clarke is a council at the end of an era," Norton told the council members seated in front of Clarke's coffin. "Don't just talk about his work; build a new council, build a new city."
Ruth R. Crone, executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, noted that county executives from Montgomery, Fairfax and other surrounding jurisdictions were present at the funeral because Clarke was a "real pioneer" on regional issues, from land use to gun control.
The Rev. Lynn Bergfalk, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, said during the eulogy that Clarke applied the principles of Jesus to his life. "Christianity is a life characterized by service. . . . If you want to know David Clarke, you have to go into the streets and neighborhoods in this city."
The Rev. H. Beecher Hicks Jr., senior pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church, preached a "community eulogy" because, he said, for many years Clarke could be found "camped out" among the pews in his church.
"David would not have wanted this to be a sad funeral," said Hicks, whose eulogy followed a soul-stirring selection by a gospel choir. Hicks said that many Sunday mornings, Clarke would attend services and then feast on chicken livers and grits. "I am convinced that nobody ever told David that he wasn't black."
Hicks, preaching as if he were running a revival meeting instead of a funeral, compared Clarke to Daniel and other biblical figures who stood firm against oppressors. "You may wonder why a white man had a black constituency; David stood for something."
The most moving moment during the service came when Clarke's 22-year-old son, Jeffrey, reflected on his father's legacy and admonished the lawmakers he leaves behind.
Jeffrey Clarke, a computer programmer, told a story of how his father stopped to help a woman change a tire at 1 a.m. -- even though she lived in Virginia. He spoke of the rainy nights when his father left their home in Mount Pleasant and bought 30 hamburgers to distribute to the homeless on the street.
"He was a great man, because he cared about the details of the city," Jeffrey Clarke said. "He just wasn't a politician who stood up and talked about leadership or came to an event with a motorcade and 30 supporters.
"His heart may not be beating, but David Clarke is not dead because D.C. is not dead. It may be sick, but it is not dead," Jeffrey Clarke said. "If we can resurrect this city, it can be David Clarke for D.C. and D.C. for David Clarke forever."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company