Thursday, July 18, 2024

Pursuing a market goal and persevering in the face of inherent risks and challenges are signature traits of an entrepreneur. Two Black trailblazers to celebrate this week, Emory Clark and Charles Lenox, embodied that entrepreneurial spirit best expressed in Clark’s own words: “In life, you do whatever is necessary to find a way.”

We hope readers learn from and enjoy this series. You can learn much more Cambridge Black history at our website and find new Cambridge Black History Project bookmarks honoring remarkable Black Cantabrigians at the city’s public library branches. The project also distributes the bookmarks free to our city’s schools.

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Emory Clark

Emory Clark. (Photo: Cambridge Black History Project)

In the very same West Cambridge building that now houses an upscale French-style bakery was Emory’s Pharmacy. An engraved plaque on the site (which is next to his house) commemorates his legacy.

Emory James Clark (1925-2021) was born in rural Georgia. He served in World War II and graduated from Xavier University of Louisiana in 1952 with a bachelor’s of science degree in pharmacy. Emory and his wife, Xonnabel (Green), relocated to Cambridge in 1953; Xonnabel attended Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

Emory dreamed of owning his own pharmacy. He walked from Cambridge to Boston seeking employment at every drugstore on the route; not one would hire a Black pharmacist. Finally, Cole’s Drug Store in Central Square offered him a place as a drug clerk earning $58 a week, a position he accepted to gain experience. Within months, Emory was promoted to senior pharmacist with an increase in pay.

Emory’s Pharmacy opened in 1971 near Cambridge’s Fresh Pond. (Photo: Cambridge Black History Project)

Still, Emory wanted his own establishment. To raise needed capital, he started a pushcart snow cone business, which grew into an ice cream truck. When the opportunity arose for his own pharmacy, at 407-409 Concord Ave. near Fresh Pond in what we call Neighborhood 9, he faced opposition from neighbors who feared a drugstore would attract addicts. But “Doc” Clark persevered: Emory’s Pharmacy opened in 1971 and operated successfully for 20 years until 1990. Never one to remain idle, he continued to run his ice cream truck business until 1999. 

Clark overcame discrimination to become the first and – to date – only African American to own and operate a pharmacy in Cambridge. He is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery.

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Charles Lenox

Charles Lenox’s house at 20 South St., Cambridge, near Harvard Square, was torn down in 1933. (Photo: Historic New England)

Charles Lenox (1781-1852), the son of a Revolutionary War veteran, was born in Newton. By 1811 he was living in Cambridge with his wife, Cinthia (also known as Seney or Aseneth) Rogers. 

Lenox worked at Harvard: He sold pies in the Yard, cleaned students’ boots and rooms and traded in used furniture, clothes and cigar butts. He also ran a profitable side business: Before banks were authorized to issue personal loans, borrowers went to individual lenders – and around Harvard Square, Charles Lenox was such an individual. His probate inventory includes IOUs signed by Cambridge merchants, builders and even a former mayor. Essentially, he was the bank for most of Cambridge’s white entrepreneurial class, professors and Harvard students.

By 1823 Lenox had enough money to buy a handsome wood-frame house on South Street close to Harvard Square. When Susan, the couple’s only surviving child, died in 1837, Lenox had an expensive headstone erected for her in the Old Burying Ground. This is the only marked plot there owned by a Black family.

Lenox likely helped fund the abolitionist activities of his sister Nancy and her husband, John Remond, whose children – including Charles Lenox Remond and Sarah Parker Remond – became internationally known civil rights activists. At his death, Lenox’s substantial estate was divided between his widow, Martha Dickerson, married only a year (Cinthia passed in 1839), the Remonds and other relatives. But the main beneficiaries of his financial activities were surely Cambridge and its burgeoning business community.

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About the Cambridge Black History Project

The Cambridge Black History Project is an all-volunteer organization of individuals having deep roots in Cambridge. We are committed to researching, accurately documenting, preserving and illuminating the journeys, accomplishments and challenges of Black Cantabrigians, and to raising awareness of their stories through educational outreach to the Cambridge community and beyond.