Clarence David Stephenson

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves,
And Immortality.

-- Emily Dickinson



We knew we were going to lose him. Even the name of the rehabilitation center in Virginia—Heritage Hall—told us this would be his last chapter. You and I. Lovers of history. Friends of preservation. Citizens of Indiana County. We stand together in spirit to remember our dear friend and teacher, Clarence David Stephenson.

He gave us our heritage. Nothing less. Volumes and volumes and hundreds of articles. He fascinated young people in the classroom and made them understand the importance of history. And thus he gave them an essential tool for a citizen of a democracy—the compass that is history and without which we run in circles and cannot go forward. He taught us that dedication to family history is an essential starting point for the whole human story. He kept us grounded. He taught us to nurture our roots.

Mr. Stephenson was a man of calm wisdom and great dignity, amazing productivity and dedication as a scholar to historical research, writing and critique. In an age that often seems to recognize only that which brings great wealth, Clarence chose the more honorable path of dedication to ordinary people and their story. He brought new perspectives to his work and made sure to include Americans who were often ignored in the mainstream textbooks. In 1964 Clarence published his Impact of the Slavery Issue on Indiana County. This was largely before the well-known slavery historians published their big books. Mr. Stephenson interviewed the grandchildren of the Underground Railroad conductors and documented the remarkable story of Indiana County's anti-slavery fervor from primary sources of the dramatic days leading up to the Civil War.

Indiana County will always be alive through the works of Mr. Stephenson. That is the gift he has given us and spent his life giving. History is a compass for our own lives. We disregard it at our own peril and our country's peril.

Clarence not only wrote history but he participated in history as an active member of Indiana County's Civil Rights Movement. Even with his dedication to the past, Clarence was a forward and progressive thinker, he believed in human dignity, equality and diversity. His public history efforts were often directed to memorializing the local and regional leaders of the social reform movements of the 19th century—people like Jane Grey Swisshelm and Dr. Robert Mitchell. He especially loved Dr. Mitchell, who, when convicted in Federal Court of aiding fugitive slaves said, "I'll do it again if they take every penny I have."

The 19th Century was his special interest. In fact I first met Clarence while giving a presentation to the Society Board about the Underground Railroad. He raised his hand and asked if I had "seen his book." I had not. I was trying to restart my life as a historian after serious illness and kidney failure had ended my teaching career. Clarence always called me his "biggest fan." How could I not be? He gave me back my life.

He took me once to see the coal mine in which his Sutor ancestors hid fugitive slaves. He even knew the names of the mules that pulled the wagon. Through Clarence's work we were able to dedicate four Pennsylvania State Historical Markers and many downtown Indiana markers. Thanks to him we have some of the best documented Underground Railroad research in the state, region and country.

I want to honor Marcella here. Do you know how hard it is to live with someone who is passionate about history? They took care of each other. Marcella's hospitality to all those who loved Clarence was a testimony to their love.

Finally, all of you know Mr. Stephenson's absolute dedication to the Society. His astounding generosity. This generosity continues as the family has asked for donations to the Society as per his wishes in lieu of flowers. Due to the incomparable work and passionate dedication of Clarence David Stephenson, descendant of pioneers, son of Indiana County, beloved Historian, Indiana County's history will never be forgotten. "And now he belongs to the ages."


Link to the Indiana Gazette's article about Mr. Stephenson