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Former Eastside High Principal and The Inspiration Behind The 1989 Film “Lean on Me”, Joe Clark, Dead at 82.

by Ali Bouldin

Joe Clark, the former principal of Paterson New Jersey, Eastside High, and the inspiration behind the 1989 film, “Lean on Me,” has died at 82 from an undisclosed illness.  Joe Clark, a retired Army Drill Sergeant, played by Morgan Freeman in the movie “Lean on Me,” was widely known for carrying a bull horn in one hand and a baseball bat in the other. In a 1989 appearance on the Arsenio Hall Show, Clark said both the bullhorn and the baseball bat was symbolic.

“The bullhorn makes me omnipresent. Meaning I’m everywhere at once,” Clark says. When they can’t see me, they hear the melodic sound of my bullhorn. The baseball bat simply means. Young people, it’s your turn at-bat. What are you going to do? Strikeout? Or hit a home-run?”

His uncompromising disciplinary methods led to the expulsion of 300 students of the Paterson, New Jersey high school within a week’s timeframe. Due to the excessive fighting, teacher abuse, drugs, and vandalism from the students.

Joe Clark defended his authoritarian leadership type by telling Arsenio Hall that the high school was terrible and needed change. “Things were pretty bad, Clark says. “Deplorable. Despicable. And a change had to take place. Expeditiously. And that’s what occurred. I told them forcefully and firmly. What was, exists no more. I’m not tolerating the drugs, the sex, and the hooliganism in this school. And they believed that. What I was saying to them was exactly what they wanted to hear. And they conform to it. Splendiferous.”

In a statement regarding the death of Joe Clark, Morgan Freeman says, “Joe was a father figure to the kids of Eastside High. He was the best of the best in terms of education.”  Paterson, New Jersey Mayor Andre Sayegh said in a statement to the press, “If anyone needs to see the type of positive impact Joe had on his students. Then I suggest they go to watch Lean on Me.”

As far as the accuracy of the movie. According to Joe Clark, it’s 95% accurate. “The betrayal of events that took place are accurate, “Clark told Hall in 1989. “Most of the things. 95% of what you saw, in fact, did occur.”  Joe Clark resigned as the principal of Eastside High in 1990. After seven years. He later spent six years as the Director of Newark’s Essex County Juvenile Detention House. Before retiring and moving to Florida until his passing.

Joe Clark is survived by his children Joetta, Hazel, and JJ. His three grandchildren Talitha, Jorell, and Hazel. He was preceded in death by his wife, Gloria.

“Mental attitude has power and energy. With the proper mental attitude, there is nothing anyone cannot accomplish.” – Joe Clark.

Appeared first in Chicago Defender

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