John Henrik Clarke
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John Henrik Clarke
John Henrik Clarke
BornJohn Henry Clarke
(1915-01-01)January 1, 1915
Union Springs, Alabama
DiedJuly 12, 1998(1998-07-12) (aged 83)
Manhattan, New York City
OccupationWriter, historian, professor

John Henrik Clarke (born John Henry Clarke), (January 1, 1915 - July 12, 1998) was an African-American historian, professor, and a pioneer in the creation of Pan-African and Africana studies, and professional institutions in academia starting in the late 1960s. New York times called him a self-made and angry man. [1]

Early life and education

He was born John Henry Clarke on January 1, 1915, in Union Springs, Alabama,[2] the youngest child of John (a sharecropper) and Willie Ella Clark, a washer woman who died in 1922.[3] With the hopes of earning enough money to buy land rather than sharecrop, his family moved to the closest milltown, 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".[4] He also joined the U.S. Army during World War II.

Positions in academia

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.[5] 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. "[6] 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.[7]


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 develop supporting structures of study groups and informal workshops to develop newcomers and young people.

Arriving in Harlem at the age of 18 in 1933,[6] 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.[7][8] He was an autodidact whose mentors included the scholar Arturo Alfonso Schomburg.[9] 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.[7]

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.[8]

Clarke taught at the New School for Social Research from 1956 to 1958.[10] Traveling in West Africa in 1958-59, he met Kwame Nkrumah, whom he had mentored as a student in the US,[11] 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.[12]

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".[6] 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.[6] 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.[8]

Personal life

Clarke's first marriage was to the mother of his daughter Lillie (who died before her father).[12] They divorced.

In 1961, Clarke married Eugenia Evans in New York, and together they had a son and daughter: Nzingha Marie and Sonni Kojo.[12] 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 12, 1998, at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Centerin New York City.[6] He was buried in Green Acres Cemetery, Columbus, Georgia.[15]

Legacy and honors

  • 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]
  • 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

  • A New Approach to African History (1967)
  • 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 writings
  • African World Revolution: Africans At The Crossroads (1991)
  • Author and editor, Who Betrayed the African World Revolution?: And Other Speeches (1993)
  • African People in World History (1993) (first of Black Classic Press's Contemporary Lecture Series)
  • Christopher Columbus and the Afrikan Holocaust: Slavery and the Rise of European Capitalism (reprinted 2011)
  • My Life in Search of Africa. Third World Press. 1994. ISBN 978-0-88378-178-4.
  • Anna Swanston (2003). Dr. John Henrik Clarke: his life, his words, his works. IAM Unlimited Pub. ISBN 978-1-929526-06-2.
  • Cheikh Anta Diop And the New Light on African History (1974) ISBN 978-1943138159

See also


  1. ^ "New York Times". Retrieved . Check date values in: |access-date= (help); External link in |website= (help)
  2. ^ "Dr. John Henrik Clarke". Retrieved .
  3. ^ "John Henrik Clarke (1915-1998)". BlackPast. 2007-01-23. Retrieved .
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Eric Kofi Acree, "John Henrik Clarke: Historian, Scholar, and Teacher", Cornell University Library.
  6. ^ a b c d e Thomas, Jr., Robert McG. (July 20, 1998). "John Henrik Clarke, Black Studies Advocate, Dies at 83". New York Times. Retrieved 2009.
  7. ^ a b c Andy Wallace, "John H. Clarke, 83, Leading African American Historian", (The Inquirer), July 18, 1998.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Golus, Carrie, "Clarke, John Henrik 1915-1998", Contemporary Black Biography. 1999.
  11. ^ "Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Professor Emeritus, Hunter College, CUNY", Sankofa World Publishers.
  12. ^ a b c "Clarke, John Henrik(1915-1998) - Historian, writer, educator, Harlem: An Unconventional Education",
  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.

Further reading

External links

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