Personality: Lawrence ‘Larry’ Clark
Spotlight on president of the Greater Richmond Chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogicial Society
2/10/2022, 6 p.m.
The history of African-Americans remains obscured because of the effects of slavery and white supremacy. It’s this lack of information that Lawrence “Larry” Clark seeks to resolve as president of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society’s Greater Richmond Chapter.
First elected in 2019, Mr. Clark is tasked with leading the chapter’s mission to bring to the public the knowledge, sense of discovery and self-awareness that he himself has experienced in genealogical studies in a city and state full of the untold histories he seeks to uncover.
“The city of Richmond is central to the history of African-Americans in the United States,” Mr. Clark says. “Yet somehow throughout this history of racist activities in Richmond, our African-American ancestors were able to survive.
“With genealogy studies, we can learn about the survival of our ancestors, and we will be able to pass on these learnings for generations to come.”
Mr. Clark cites his late wife Patricia’s interest in exploring her own family history as the spark that “ignited the genealogy bug” in him. The two were among the many founders of AAHGS in Richmond in 2010.
“Since joining AAHGS, I have learned a wealth of information about my ancestors and the history of African-American families in general,” Mr. Clark says. “I am better informed on how our ancestors lived and, more importantly, how they survived through slavery, wars and Jim Crow laws.”
Seeking to expand access to genealogy in the Richmond area, Mr. Clark is working to grow the chapter’s membership, improve its use of technology and expand its work with community partners like the Richmond Public Library, the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia and the Descendant Project at the University of Virginia.
With 80 members currently, the AAHGS Greater Richmond Chapter stands as one of the larger branches of the national organization, with virtual meetings during the pandemic allowing people with roots in the state but who live outside of Virginia to join the chapter’s discussions and workshops.
“I am committed to seeing our chapter continue on its successful path of sharing genealogical and historical information with the African-American community,” he says.
Meet a leader in exploring and documenting African-American history and this week’s Personality, Lawrence “Larry” Clark:
No. 1 volunteer position: President, Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society’s Greater Richmond Chapter.
Occupation: Retired in 2019 from CarMax Auto Stores after 15 years.
Date and place of birth: 1954 in Buffalo, N.Y.
Where I live now: Henrico County.
Education: Bachelor’s in mathematics from City University of New York, Lehman College.
Family: I was married for 40 years before my wife, Patricia, died of cancer in 2014. I now live with my domestic partner, Artile White. I am a father of four, grandfather of 10 and great-grandfather of five.
Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society is: A Washington, D.C.-based organization that pursues scholarly and educational work on the genealogy and history of African-Americans. The purpose of AAHGS is to provide a membership organization committed to the preservation of the history, genealogy and culture of the African ancestored populations of the local, national and international community. AAHGS stresses the importance of our history and genealogy by encouraging active participation in recording research and documenting personal family histories.
When and where founded: AAHGS was founded in Washington in May 1977. The Greater Richmond Chapter was started in 2010.
Mission: The Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, or AAHGS, is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit that strives to preserve African-ancestored family history, genealogy and cultural diversity by teaching research techniques and disseminating information throughout the community. Our primary goals are to promote scholarly research, provide resources for historical and genealogical studies, create a network of persons with similar interests and assist members in documenting their histories.
Number of chapters: AAHGS currently has 37 state chapters. Virginia has four chapters – Richmond, Newport News, Charlottesville and Danville.
Discoveries since joining AAHGS: Since joining AAHGS, I have learned a wealth of information about my ancestors and the history of African- American families in general. I am better informed on how our ancestors lived and, more importantly, how they survived through slavery, wars, Jim Crow laws, etc. I have researched many of my family ancestors and have discovered the places where some of them were enslaved in Georgia. As I was researching my family, I was encouraged by receiving from another genealogist a picture of my great-great-grandfather who was born a slave in 1850. Recently, I have been studying and learning more about DNA. I am now collecting the DNA of my family members. This work has led me to uncover DNA linkage with descendants of the white family that were my Georgia family’s enslavers.
COVID-19 and AAHGS: So as the pandemic has changed most of our lives, our chapter had to change, to move to virtually delivering our meetings and workshops. This has provided us the opportunity to reach out further to more partners and friends. Our virtual presentations have been well attended. We also have experienced an increase in members and interested parties who live outside the Richmond area. We now have members from Arizona, California, New Jersey, New York and Tennessee who have family roots in Virginia. And these lasts few months we are thankful to have participated in virtual joint presentations, working with some of our partners.
Importance of oral history: Oral history is of utmost importance. People should seek out their older relatives to understand the histories of their family. Much of the information that the elderly hold in their heads will not be available on any website or in any public documents. A crucial step of this process is to record the oral stories that your older relatives tell you. It is extremely easy for one to forget what they told you. And, unfortunately, they will not be around forever.
Research challenges Black genealogists face: A major challenge African-American genealogists face is that, prior to 1865, most of our families were enslaved and there were few records documenting the names and relationships of enslaved people. Even though this is a unique challenge for African-Americans, there is information that can be found about our ancestors in the records of their white enslavers. And nowadays, DNA helps to uncover the relationships between our ancestors and their enslavers’ families.
A perfect day for me: Sitting in a park setting or on a beach listing to jazz musicians perform.
Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: I watch all the various HGTV home remodeling and repair shows.
Quote that inspires me: “Ask yourself what makes you come alive and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” — Howard Thurman
Friends describe me as: Kind, intelligent and somewhat introverted.
At the top of my “to-do” list: After the COVID-19 pandemic, travel to places where my ancestors lived.
Best late-night snack: Peanuts.
Best thing my parents ever taught me: Besides treating everyone with respect, that the obtaining of knowledge and education will lead to a fulfill- ing and successful life.
Person who influenced me the most: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Book that influenced me the most: “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson.
What I’m reading now: “Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy” by Blaine T. Bettinger.
Next goal: I am committed to seeing our chapter continue on its successful path of sharing genealogical and historical information with the African- American community. And specifically, I look forward to greater efforts and more progress on the revitalization of the African-American cemeteries in the Greater Richmond area. I think the efforts to establish a national memorial within the area of the Shockoe Burial Ground in Shockoe Bottom is critical to uncovering and raising up the stories of our African-American ancestors.