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John Henrik Clarke

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John Henrik Clarke
BornJohn Henry Clark
(1915-01-01)January 1, 1915
Union Springs, Alabama
DiedJuly 16, 1998(1998-07-16) (aged 83)
Manhattan, New York City
OccupationWriter, historian, professor

John Henrik Clarke (born John Henry Clark; January 1, 1915 – July 16, 1998)[1] was an African-American historian, professor, prominent Afrocentrist,[2] and pioneer in the creation of Pan-African and Africana studies and professional institutions in academia starting in the late 1960s.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

He was born John Henry Clark on January 1, 1915, in Union Springs, Alabama,[4] the youngest child of John Clark, a sharecropper, and Willie Ella Clark, a washer woman, who died in 1922.[5] ). With the hopes of earning enough money to buy land rather than sharecrop, his family moved to the closest mill town in Columbus, Georgia.

Counter to his mother's wishes for him to become a farmer, Clarke left Georgia in 1933 by freight train and went to Harlem, New York, as part of the Great Migration of rural blacks out of the South to northern cities. There he pursued scholarship and activism. He renamed himself as John Henrik (after rebel Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen) and added an "e" to his surname, spelling it as "Clarke".[6] He also joined the U.S. Army during World War II.

Clarke was heavily influenced by Cheikh Anta Diop, which inspired his piece "The Historical Legacy of Cheikh Anta Diop: His Contributions to a New Concept of African History". Clarke believed that the credited Greek philosophers gained much of their theories and thoughts from contact with Africans, who influenced the early Western world.

Positions in academia[edit]

Clarke was a professor of Black and Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College of the City University of New York from 1969 to 1986, where he served as founding chairman of the department. He also was the Carter G. Woodson Distinguished Visiting Professor of African History at Cornell University's Africana Studies and Research Center.[7] Additionally, in 1968 he founded the African Heritage Studies Association and the Black Caucus of the African Studies Association.

In its obituary of Clarke, The New York Times noted that the activist's ascension to professor emeritus at Hunter College was "unusual... without benefit of a high school diploma, let alone a Ph.D." It acknowledged that "nobody said Professor Clarke wasn't an academic original."[1] In 1994, Clarke earned a doctorate from the non-accredited Pacific Western University (now California Miramar University) in Los Angeles, having earned a bachelor's degree there in 1992.[8]


By the 1920s, the Great Migration and demographic changes had led to a concentration of African Americans living in Harlem. A synergy developed among the artists, writers, and musicians and many figured in the Harlem Renaissance. They began to implement supporting structures of study groups and informal workshops to develop newcomers and young people.

Arriving in Harlem at the age of 18 in 1933,[1] Clarke developed as a writer and lecturer during the Great Depression years. He joined study circles such as the Harlem History Club and the Harlem Writers' Workshop. He studied intermittently at New York University, Columbia University, Hunter College, the New School of Social Research and the League for Professional Writers.[8][9] He was an autodidact whose mentors included the scholar Arturo Alfonso Schomburg.[10] From 1941 to 1945, Clarke served as a non-commissioned officer in the United States Army Air Forces, ultimately attaining the rank of master sergeant.[8]

In the post-World War II era, there was new artistic development, with small presses and magazines being founded and surviving for brief times. Writers and publishers continued to start new enterprises: Clarke was co-founder of the Harlem Quarterly (1949–51), book review editor of the Negro History Bulletin (1948–52), associate editor of the magazine, Freedomways, and a feature writer for the black-owned Pittsburgh Courier.[9]

Clarke taught at the New School for Social Research from 1956 to 1958.[11] Traveling in West Africa in 1958–59, he met Kwame Nkrumah, whom he had mentored as a student in the US,[12] and was offered a job working as a journalist for the Ghana Evening News. He also lectured at the University of Ghana and elsewhere in Africa, including in Nigeria at the University of Ibadan.[citation needed]

Becoming prominent during the Black Power movement in the 1960s, which began to advocate a kind of black nationalism, Clarke advocated for studies of the African-American experience and the place of Africans in world history. He challenged the views of academic historians and helped shift the way African history was studied and taught. Clarke was "a scholar devoted to redressing what he saw as a systematic and racist suppression and distortion of African history by traditional scholars".[1] He accused his detractors of having Eurocentric views. His writing included six scholarly books and many scholarly articles. He also edited anthologies of writing by African-Americans, as well as collections of his own short stories. In addition, Clarke published general interest articles.[1] In one especially heated controversy, he edited and contributed to an anthology of essays by African-Americans attacking the white writer William Styron and his novel, The Confessions of Nat Turner, for his fictional portrayal of the African-American slave known for leading a rebellion in Virginia.

Besides teaching at Hunter College and Cornell University, Clarke founded professional associations to support the study of black culture. He was a founder with Leonard Jeffries and first president of the African Heritage Studies Association, which supported scholars in areas of history, culture, literature, and the arts. He was a founding member of other organizations to support work in black culture: the Black Academy of Arts and Letters and the African-American Scholars' Council.[9]

Personal life[edit]

Clarke's first marriage was to the mother of his daughter Lillie (who died before her father).[citation needed] They divorced.

In 1961, Clarke married Eugenia Evans in New York, and together they had a son and daughter: Nzingha Marie and Sonni Kojo.[citation needed] The marriage ended in divorce.

In 1997, John Henrik Clarke married his longtime companion, Sybil Williams.[13][14] He died of a heart attack on July 16, 1998, at St. Luke's Hospital in New York City.[1] He was buried in Green Acres Cemetery, Columbus, Georgia.[15]

Legacy and honors[edit]

  • 1985 – Faculty of the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University named the John Henrik Clarke Library after him.[16]
  • 1995 – Carter G. Woodson Medallion, Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History.
  • 2002 – Molefi Kete Asante listed Dr. John Henrik Clarke as one of his 100 Greatest African Americans.[17][importance?]
  • 2011 – Immortal Technique includes a short speech by Dr. Clarke on his album The Martyr. It is Track 13, which is entitled "The Conquerors".

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • Editor and contributor, William Styron's Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond (1968) (other contributors are Lerone Bennett Jr., Alvin F. Poussaint, Vincent Harding, John Oliver Killens, John A. Williams, Ernest Kaiser, Loyle Hairston, Charles V. Hamilton, and Mike Thelwell.)
  • Editor and contributor, with the assistance of Amy Jacques Garvey, Marcus Garvey and the Vision of Africa (1974)
  • The Boy Who Painted Jesus Black (1975)
  • Editor, Malcolm X: Man and His Times (1991), an anthology of the activist's writing
  • Anna Swanston (2003). Dr. John Henrik Clarke: his life, his words, his works. IAM Unlimited Pub. ISBN 978-1-929526-06-2.
  • Africans at the Crossroads: Notes for an African World Revolution[18]
  • Rebellion in Rhyme: The Early Poetry of John Henrik Clarke[19]
  • New Dimensions in African World History: The London Lectures of Dr. Yosef ben-Jochannan and Dr. John Henrik Clarke[20]
  • Christopher Columbus and the Afrikan Holocaust: Slavery and the Rise of European Capitalism[21]
  • African People in World History[22]
  • My Life in Search of Africa[23]
  • Who Betrayed the African World Revolution? And other Speeches[24]
  • Critical Lessons in Slavery and the Slave Trade: Essential Studies and Commentaries on Slavery, in General, and the African Slave Trade, in Particular[25]
  • Ahmed Baba: A Scholar of Old Africa[26]
  • The Image of Africa in the Mind of the Afro-American: African Identity in the Literature of Struggle[27]
  • A New Approach to African History[28]
  • On the Other Side: A Story of the Color Line, Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life, Vol. 17, No. 9 (September, 1939): 269–270.

Short stories by John Henrik Clarke[edit]

  • "On the Other Side: A Story of the Color Line," Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life, Vol. 17, No. 9 (September, 1939): 269–270.
  • "Leader of the Mob: A Story of the Color Line," Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life, Vol. 17, No. 10 (October, 1939), p. 301-303.
  • "Santa Claus is a White Man: A Story of the Color Line," Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life, Vol. 17, No. 12 (December, 1939), pp. 365–367.
  • "The Boy Who Painted Christ Black: A Short Story," Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life, Vol. 18, No. 9 (September, 1940), pp. 264–266.
  • "Prelude to an Education: A Short Story," Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life, Vol. 18, No. 11 (November, 1940), pp. 335+
  • "Return to the Inn," The Crisis, Vol. 48, No. 9 (September 1941), pp. 288+
  • "The Bridge," Harlem Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Winter 1949–1950), pp. 2–8.
  • "Return of the Askia," Harlem Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Spring 1950), pp. 45–49.
  • "Journey to Sierra Maestra," Freedomways, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Spring, 1961), pp. 32–35.
  • "The Morning Train to Ibadan," Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 31, No. 4 (Autumn, 1962), pp. 527–530.
  • "Third Class on the Blue Train to Kumasi," Phylon, Vol. 23, 3rd Quarter (Fall, 1962), pp. 294–301.
  • "Revolt of the Angels - A Short Story," Freedomways, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Summer 1963): pp. 355–360.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Thomas, Jr., Robert McG. (July 20, 1998). "John Henrik Clarke, Black Studies Advocate, Dies at 83". New York Times. Retrieved January 21, 2009.
  2. ^ Howe, Stephen (1999). Afrocentrism: Mythical Pasts and Imagined Homes. Verso. pp. v. ISBN 978-1-85984-228-7.
  3. ^ Kelley, Robin D.G. (3 January 1999). "THE LIVES THEY LIVED: John Henrik Clarke; Self-Made Angry Man". The New York Times.
  4. ^ "Dr. John Henrik Clarke". www.raceandhistory.com. Retrieved 2019-02-09.
  5. ^ "John Henrik Clarke (1915-1998)". BlackPast. 2007-01-23. Retrieved 2019-02-09.
  6. ^ Adams, Barbara E. (2011). John Henrik Clarke: Master Teacher (Rev. and expanded ed., including selected lectures ed.). Buffalo, N.Y.: Eworld. ISBN 9781617590122. OCLC 778418838.
  7. ^ Eric Kofi Acree, "John Henrik Clarke: Historian, Scholar, and Teacher", Cornell University Library.
  8. ^ a b c Andy Wallace, "John H. Clarke, 83, Leading African American Historian", Philly.com (The Inquirer), July 18, 1998.
  9. ^ a b c "John Henrik Clarke" Archived 2006-06-24 at the Wayback Machine, Legacy Exhibit online, New Jersey Public Library - Schomburg Center for the Study of Black Culture; accessed January 20, 2009.
  10. ^ Jacob H. Carruthers, "John Henrik Clarke: the Harlem connection to the founding of Africana Studies", in Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, Afro-American Historical Association of the Niagara Frontier, Inc., 2006; accessed May 25, 2009.
  11. ^ Golus, Carrie, "Clarke, John Henrik 1915–1998", Contemporary Black Biography. 1999. Encyclopedia.com.
  12. ^ "Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Professor Emeritus, Hunter College, CUNY", Sankofa World Publishers.
  13. ^ Christopher Williams, "Clarke, John Henrik", in Henry Louis Gates, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (eds), Harlem Renaissance Lives from the African American National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 118.
  14. ^ Rochell Isaac, "Clarke, John Henrik", in Encyclopedia of African American History: Volume 1, Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 424.
  15. ^ "Historical People", Green Acres Cemetery.
  16. ^ "History of the John Henrik Clarke Africana Library", reprinted from Black Caucus of the ALA Newsletter, vol. XXIV, No. 5 (April 1996), p. 11; Cornell University Library, accessed January 20, 2009.
  17. ^ Molefi Kete Asante (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
  18. ^ Clarke, John Henrik (2017). Africans at the crossroads: notes for an African world revolution. Africa World Press. ISBN 978-0-86543-270-3. OCLC 1030335852.
  19. ^ Clarke, John Henrik (1991). Rebellion in rhyme: the early poetry of John Henrik Clarke. Trenton, N.J: Africa World Press. ISBN 978-0-86543-230-7. OCLC 226662479.
  20. ^ Ben-Jochannan, Yosef; Clarke, John Henrik (2017). New dimensions in African history: the London lectures of Dr. Yosef ben-Jochannan and Dr. John Henrik Clarke. Brawtley Press. ISBN 978-1-943138-13-5. OCLC 1004962632.
  21. ^ Clarke, John Henrik (2014). Christopher Columbus and the Afrikan holocaust slavery and the rise of European capitalism. Bensenville, Ill: Lushena Books. ISBN 978-1-61759-030-6. OCLC 1075601511.
  22. ^ Clarke, John Henrik (1993). African people in world history. Black Classic Press. ISBN 978-0-933121-77-5. OCLC 1041373444.
  23. ^ Clarke, John Henrik (1999). My life in search of Africa. Chicago: Third World Press. ISBN 978-0-88378-158-6. OCLC 38081841.
  24. ^ Clarke, John Henrik (1995). Who betrayed the African world revolution? and other speeches. Chicago, IL: Third World Press. ISBN 978-0-88378-136-4. OCLC 34068139.
  25. ^ Clarke, John Henrik (1996). Critical lessons in slavery and the slavetrade: essential studies and commentaries on slavery, in general, and the African slavetrade, in particular. Richmond: Native Sun Publishers. ISBN 978-1-879289-07-9. OCLC 36548023.
  26. ^ Clarke, John Henrik (1983). Ahmed Baba, a scholar of old Africa. Washington, D.C.: Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History. OCLC 18539052.
  27. ^ Clarke, John Henrik (1973). The image of Africa in the mind of the Afro-American: African identity in the literature of struggle /by John Henrik Clarke. New York: Phleps-Stokes Fund. OCLC 22081342.
  28. ^ Clarke, John Henrik (1967). A new approach to African history. Place of publication not identified: publisher not identified. OCLC 61481798.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]