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John Henrik Clarke
Born John Henrik Clarke
(1915-01-01)January 1, 1915
Union Springs, Alabama
Died July 16, 1998(1998-07-16) (aged 83)
Occupation Writer, historian, professor

John Henrik Clarke (born John Henry Clark, January 1, 1915 – July 16, 1998), was a Pan-Africanist American-African writer, historian, professor, and a pioneer in the creation of Africana studies and professional institutions in academia starting in the late 1960s.

He was Professor of African World History and in 1969 founding chairman of the Department of Black and Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College of the City University of New York. He also was the Carter G. Woodson Distinguished Visiting Professor of African History at Cornell University’s Africana Studies and Research Center. In 1968 along with the Black Caucus of the African Studies Association, Clarke founded the African Heritage Studies Association.

Early life and education[edit]

He was born John Henry Clark on January 1, 1915, in Union Springs, Alabama, as the youngest child of sharecroppers John (Doctor) and Willie Ella (Mays) Clark. With the hopes of earning enough money to buy land rather than sharecrop, his family moved to the nearest mill town, Columbus, Georgia. Clarke never formally attended high school, but attended Spencer High School due to overcrowding in the middle schools.

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."[1]


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, 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 history and world literature at New York University, at Columbia University and at the League for Professional Writers.[2] He was an autodidact whose mentors included the scholar Arturo Alfonso Schomburg.[3]

In the post-World War II years, 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 and the Ghana Evening News.[2]

Becoming prominent during the Black Power movement in the 1960s, which began to advocate a kind of black nationalism, Clarke advocated for studies on 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."[citation needed] 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, he published general interest articles.[4]

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.[2]

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."[4] The Times acknowledged that "nobody said Professor Clarke wasn't an academic original." It referred to him using the honorific prefix "Mr" rather than "Dr". as he did not have a doctorate from an accredited institution.

At the age of 78, Clarke earned a doctorate from the non-accredited Pacific Western University (now California Miramar University) in Los Angeles.

Marriage and family[edit]

In 1961, Clarke married Eugenia Evans in New York, and together they had three children: Nzingha Marie, Sonni Kojo and Lillie. Lillie Clarke died before him. The marriage ended in divorce.

In 1997, he married his longtime companion, Sybille Williams. She and his two remaining children survived him. John Henrik Clarke died on July 16, 1998. He was buried in Green Acres Cemetery, Columbus, Georgia.

Legacy and honors[edit]

  • 1985 – Faculty of the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University named the John Henrik Clarke Library after him.[5]
  • 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.[6]
  • 2011 – Immortal Technique includes a short speech by Dr. Clarke on his album The Martyr. It is Track 13, which is entitled "The Conquerors."


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Adams,Barbara E. John Henrik Clarke: Master Teacher. New York: A&B Publishers Group ISBN 978-1-61759-012-2
  2. ^ a b c "John Henrik Clarke", Legacy Exhibit online, New Jersey Public Library - Schomburg Center for the Study of Black Culture, accessed 20 January 2009
  3. ^ 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 25 May 2009.
  4. ^ a b Thomas, Jr., Robert McG. (July 20, 1998). "John Henrik Clarke, Black Studies Advocate, Dies at 83". New York Times. Retrieved January 21, 2009. 
  5. ^ "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 20 January 2009.
  6. ^ Molefi Kete Asante (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Henrik_Clarke — Please support Wikipedia.
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5 news items

New York Magazine

New York Magazine
Wed, 01 Oct 2014 10:26:15 -0700

I would have to say Robert Day, my father. But if you were referring to someone outside of the family, I would say John Henrik Clarke. He was the first person who opened my eyes historically to the problems that we face as a race, based on what we did ...

Amsterdam News

Amsterdam News
Thu, 02 Oct 2014 12:07:30 -0700

The SRO tribute, held at the Dr. John Henrik Clarke House in Harlem Sept. 28, began with Dawson describing Shabazz as a genius, master teacher, visionary and revolutionary. She studied under Shabazz when he was head of the mathematics department ...
Leimert Park Beat
Tue, 07 Oct 2014 20:17:20 -0700

He has been passionately studying and building on the work , research and writings of Dr. Ben, Cheikh Anta Diop, Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Dr. Suzar, Ashra & Merira Kwesi, Dr. Amos Wilson, Dr. Francis Cress Welsing, Dr. Khalid Abdul Muhammad, Baba ...
Fri, 03 Oct 2014 03:52:30 -0700

Besides Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Nanny, Blake also admired Dr. John Henrik Clarke, El-Hajj MalikEl-Shabazz (Malcolm X), Marimba Ani and Martin Luther King Jr. Like Dr. King, Blake believed that, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to ...

Atlanta Black Star

Atlanta Black Star
Sun, 12 Oct 2014 09:25:44 -0700

Aleksander Sergeevich Pushkin, the Father of Russian Literature and Apostle of Freedom. World's Great Men of Color, Volume 2. Edited with an Introduction, Commentary, and New Bibliographical Notes by John Henrik Clarke. New York: Collier, 1972: 79-88.

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