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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                      H. SOL CLARK

INTERVIEWER:                  HARRIET MEYERHOFF

DATE:                                 FEBRUARY 1997

LOCATION:                       SAVANNAH, GEORGIA

Transcript (PDF)

Biography:

H. Sol Clark was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1906 to Belarusian parents. While growing up in a Jewish family in the early 20th century he was a member of the Jewish Educational Alliance, as well as the Congregation B’nai B’rith Jacob. However, he went to the Catholic Benedictine Military School for high school. This put him on his path to becoming a lawyer, where he gained his Bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in 1928, followed by a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1930. After his higher education, Clark returned to Savannah to pursue his law career. For two years, Clark worked in the Savannah Mayoral Office, and the joined the law office of Hester, Lewis, and Clark, as well as Brannen and Clark as a partner. He continued in law offices in Savannah until he was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 1972 by Jimmy Carter (then governor of Georgia). Clark made history as the first person of Jewish faith to be an appellate judge in Georgia. Outside of the traditional law practice, Clark was a charter member of the ABF (American Bar Foundation), a recipient of distinguished service from the Supreme Court of Georgia, and a member of the Board of Directors for the National Legal Aid and Defender Associations, to name just a few of his accolades. He held various public offices during his prime, and returned to his law profession in the late 1970’s. Clark was named the “Father of State Legal Aid in Georgia” by Harvard Law School.

Clark married Matilda Shapiro in 1933 and had two children, of which he joined in partnership with his son after his retirement in 1976 from the appellate court. In addition to his law career, Clark was also a president of the Jewish Educational Alliance, a member of the B’nai B’rith Congregation, Chairman of the United Jewish Appeal, and a Free Mason. Sol Clark died in January 2003.

Scope of Interview:

In a solo interview, Sol begins the interview by talking about his family’s immigration to Savannah in the early 20th century, and their opening of a grocery store in the emerging Jewish neighborhood. He continues by describing the whole neighborhood of Jewish-owned establishments, and how it created a very close-knit community, although it was split slightly by the reform and the Orthodox congregations. This was apparent in the aldermen of the city council. Sol talks about the separation of jobs in Savannah based on one’s ethnic and religious background.

Sol moves on to his education, saying that although he didn’t go to the Hebrew School, and instead went to the Catholic Benedictine Military School, that did not affect his relationships with other Jewish boys. He then lists all the Jewish professionals he knew growing up, mainly doctors and lawyers. He reminisces about his growing up in a predominately Black neighborhood and returning to Savannah later in life, meeting one of his childhood best friends. Sol returns to the topic of education and the Benedictine school, which he says gave him a better education, leading him to be able to go to Cornell University, unlike his contemporaries who went to University of Georgia. Although he got out of Georgia for undergraduate, and then law school, Sol says that the Depression made him return home to Savannah. Sol comments that his Cornell education helped get him his first job in Savannah at the Mayor’s office, Gordon Saussy, who had also gone to Cornell.

Sol then returns to Jewish life in Savannah, specifically how the JEA influenced him the most, as a “home away from home”. Sol lists all the possible clubs people were able to enter, providing a community space for all the families in the area- he then lists all the families he remembers from his own neighborhood. After returning to Savannah for his law career, Sol says that he wanted to play a bigger part in the JEA, where he became a member of the Board of Directors. Sol states that this position helped him marry his wife, Matilda Shapiro, as she became the new Executive Director of the JEA, and who was a childhood love. He continues in describing their 63-year marriage, and how she was able to keep her job at the JEA once they married.

Sol then comments on the effect of Hitler on the Jewish population in Savanah, and how it caused the community to come together, but also raise itself. He continues with a little note on his law career, specifically his appointment by Jimmy Carter. Sol finishes the interview with the relationship between Black’s and Jew’s during MLK’s assassination, and how although the Jews in Savannah were highly regarded, there were no Jewish politicians or recognized leaders.

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