Charles Clark served as a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit from 1969 to 1992. His great-grandfather, Charles Clark, served as a Confederate general and as Mississippi’s governor during the Civil War. Govenor Clark’s only son, Fred, began practicing law in 1874, and his son, Charles, did so in 1906. From 1919 to 1923 he practiced in Bolivar County with his second cousin, Walter Sillers Jr., who later became Speaker of the Mississippi House.
This Charles Clark and his second wife, Anita Massengill Tigrett Clark, had their only child, also named Charles Clark, on 12 September 1925. The elder Charles Clark died when the boy was only two, and he was raised in Cleveland, Mississippi. Anita Clark died just after her son started at Millsaps College, and Sillers became his legal guardian.
On 1 July 1943 Clark began active military duty in the US Navy’s V-12 program, in which college students engaged in regular studies and in military training. He transferred from Millsaps to Tulane University before receiving his commission in July 1945 and serving on a ship in the Pacific. Clark was discharged from the navy in July 1946 and soon enrolled at the University of Mississippi School of Law, graduating in 1948. Clark married Emily Russell in 1947, and they eventually had six children.
Clark began his practice with the Jackson law firm of Wells, Wells, Newman, and Thomas before returning to active duty in the US Navy from February 1951 to December 1952, during the Korean War. On 15 July 1961 Clark formed a law firm with Vardaman S. Dunn and William Harold Cox Jr., who later became a US district judge. Clark was primarily a litigator. From 1961 to 1966 he was a part-time Mississippi special assistant attorney general, a capacity in which he represented the state college board in its legal fight against the admission of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi.
Clark appeared at numerous hearings before the Fifth Circuit. One of that court’s judges who is most identified with promoting civil rights, John Minor Wisdom, said that Clark “argued vigorously, made the best of a bad case, was deferential to the Court, acted with dignity and grace, and conducted himself in every way according to the highest tradition of Anglo-American advocacy. He won my respect then and the respect of all the judges on our Court.”
When Fifth Circuit judge Claude Clayton of Tupelo died in July 1969, Sen. James Eastland encouraged the selection of Clark for the vacancy. Pres. Richard Nixon nominated Clark on 7 October 1969. Clark was considered for promotion to the US Supreme Court in both 1971 and 1975, but neither President Nixon nor his successor, Gerald Ford, chose to nominate the Mississippi jurist.
In 1981 Congress split the six-state, twenty-six-judge Fifth Circuit into two smaller circuits. Clark became chief judge of the new Fifth Circuit, which included Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, and remained in that position for eleven years.
Clark was a member of the US Judicial Conference, a committee of federal judges that serves as the principal policymaking body for the federal courts. He was chairman of its budget committee from 1981 to 1987. In January 1989 the chief justice appointed Clark to be chairman of the executive committee of the Judicial Conference.
During his twenty-two years on the Fifth Circuit, Judge Clark authored more than twenty-eight hundred opinions. He resigned from the court on 15 January 1992 and returned to private law practice in Jackson. He retired in 2009 and died on 6 March 2011.
- Jack Bass, Unlikely Heroes (1981)
- John W. Dean, The Rehnquist Choice (2001)
- Jackson Clarion-Ledger (9 March 2011)
- Frank T. Read and Lucy S. McGough, Let Them Be Judged: The Judicial Integration of the Deep South (1978)
- Leslie H. Southwick, Hinds County Bar Association Newsletter (August 2009)
- Florence Warfield Sillers, comp., A History of Bolivar County, Mississippi (1948)
- “A Tribute to Chief Judge Charles Clark,” Mississippi College Law Review (Spring 1992)