Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Joe Clark, Legendary Eastside High School Principal Portrayed by Morgan Freeman in ‘Lean On Me’, Dies at 82

*Joe Clark, the baseball bat and bullhorn-wielding principal of Eastside High School in Paterson, NJ, in the 1980s, died Tuesday at his home in Gainesville, Florida after a long, undisclosed illness, according to his family. He was 82.

Clark demanded excellence and obedience through an autocratic approach. He was known for wielding a baseball bat and a bullhorn while patrolling the hallways of the high school on Park Ave. His story was turned into the movie “Lean on Me,” with Morgan Freeman famously playing the principal.

Clark’s exploits were also covered in the national media. He received praise from President Ronald Reagan for his tough approach. However, he did not receive much praise from parents, whose kids he expelled (Clark threw out 300 students in his first year, 1982) or the school board, whose authority he undermined. His battle with parents was highlighted in the film “Lean on Me.”

Watch below:

“I don’t just categorically extirpate young people out of school, but I am categorically emphatic that we cannot any longer condone hooliganism, aberrant behavior, deviant behavior in those schools,” explained Clark in a CNN interview. “I’m convinced that young people, the vast majority, deserve the right to an environment that’s conducive to learning.”

Clark’s wife Gloria, who he met at Eastside High School, died last year. Clark left behind his children Joetta, Hazel, and JJ, and grandchildren, Talitha, Jorell, and Hazel.

Below is 1988 video of Clark at a lecture series, followed by Clark’s obit from

Clark was born in Rochelle, Georgia on May 8, 1938. His family moved to Newark, New Jersey when he was six years old. After graduating from Newark Central High School, he obtained a bachelor’s degree from William Paterson University. He obtained a master’s degree from Seton Hall University and received an honorary doctorate from the U.S. Sports Academy.

He served as a U.S. Army Reserve sergeant and drill instructor after college. His experience in the U.S. Army Reserve shaped his outlook and turned him into a stern disciplinarian.
Joe Clark poses for a photo in 1988 in his office at Eastside High School in Patterson, New Jersey.Joe McNally / Getty Images

Clark served as a grade school teacher in Paterson and as director of camps and playgrounds in Essex County. He then became principal of School 6. His family said he transformed the school from failing to the so-called “Miracle of Carroll Street.”

After he left Eastside High School in 1989, Clark worked as director of the Essex County Detention House, a juvenile detention center in Newark, for six years. He also wrote a book “Laying Down the Law: Joe Clark’s Strategy for Saving Our Schools,” chronicling his experience at Eastside High School.



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