Clark was the first Black student to attend Southwestern, enrolling in the fall of 1965. He discovered Southwestern after participating in the university’s Negro Fine Arts School, an after-school music program for middle- and high-school students established in 1946. A pianist, Clark was enrolled in the program in 1959 and again between 1962 and 1966.

As an undergraduate Clark was a member of the band, the choir, and Mask & Wig. He completed his music degree in 1969 and went on to become a band director and music instructor in the Dallas Independent School District, teaching an estimated 36,000 students during the course of his career. In 2009 he was awarded the Southwestern University Medal, one of the institution’s most prestigious honors, for charting the path for other Black students.

Clark returned to Southwestern on May 10, 2019, for the university’s “Celebrating 50 Years of Black Excellence” event, which included a recognition ceremony for Clark. He also participated in SU’s Commencement ceremony the following day. Terri Johnson, then assistant dean for student multicultural affairs, lauded Clark’s remarkable contribution to the University: “Being the first means so very much, and then being a trailblazer in making history is an entirely different kind of story when defining courage, success, and accomplishment,” she said. “Mr. Ernest Clark is truly one of a kind. He is a brilliant scholar, an extremely talented musician, and an outstanding individual. It is not just because he had to take on the struggle and walk the path of justice and freedom, which is very important to take notice of; it is because he walked with dignity and respect and competed fairly and won!”