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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.

Early life and education[edit]

He was born John Henry Clark on January 1, 1915, in Union Springs, Alabama,[1] the youngest child of sharecroppers John (Doctor) and Willie Ella (Mays) Clark (who died in 1922).[2] 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."[3]

Positions in academia[edit]

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.[4] In 1968 along with the Black Caucus of the African Studies Association, Clarke founded the African Heritage Studies Association.


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,[5] 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.[6] He was an autodidact whose mentors included the scholar Arturo Alfonso Schomburg.[7]

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.[6]

Clarke taught at the New School for Social Research in New York from 1956 to 1958.[8] Traveling in West Africa in 1958–59, he met Kwame Nkrumah, whom he had mentored as a student in the US,[9] 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.[10]

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."[5] 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.[5]

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.[6]

At the age of 78, Clarke earned a doctorate from the non-accredited Pacific Western University (now California Miramar University) in Los Angeles, having earned a bachelor's there in 1993.[11]


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.," while acknowledging that "nobody said Professor Clarke wasn't an academic original."[5]

Marriage and family[edit]

Clarke's first marriage was to the mother of his daughter Lillie (who eventually pre-deceased her father).[10] In 1961, Clarke married Eugenia Evans in New York, and together they had a son and daughter: Nzingha Marie and Sonni Kojo.[10] The marriage ended in divorce.

In 1997, John Henrik Clarke married his longtime companion, Sybil Williams.[12][13] He died of a heart attack on July 16, 1998, at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center.[5] He was buried in Green Acres Cemetery, Columbus, Georgia.[14]

Legacy and honors[edit]

  • 1985 – Faculty of the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University named the John Henrik Clarke Library after him.[15]
  • 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.[16]
  • 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]

  • A New Approach to African History (1967)
  • The Boy Who Painted Jesus Black (1975)
  • Editor, Malcolm X: Man and His Times (1991), an anthology of the activist's writings
  • Author and editor, Who Betrayed the African World Revolution?: And Other Speeches (1993)
  • African People in World History (1993) (first of Black Classic Press' Contemporary Lecture Series)
  • Christopher Columbus and the Afrikan Holocaust: Slavery and the Rise of European Capitalism (reprinted 2011)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Dr. John Henrik Clarke", Race and History.
  2. ^ i, w. gabriel selassie, "Clarke, John Henrik (1915-1998)", BlackPast.org.
  3. ^ Adams, Barbara E. John Henrik Clarke: Master Teacher. New York: A&B Publishers Group. ISBN 978-1-61759-012-2
  4. ^ Eric Kofi Acree, "John Henrik Clarke: Historian, Scholar, and Teacher", Cornell University Library.
  5. ^ 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 January 21, 2009. 
  6. ^ a b c "John Henrik Clarke", Legacy Exhibit online, New Jersey Public Library - Schomburg Center for the Study of Black Culture; accessed January 20, 2009.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Golus, Carrie, "Clarke, John Henrik 1915–1998", Contemporary Black Biography. 1999. Encyclopedia.com.
  9. ^ "Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Professor Emeritus, Hunter College, CUNY", Sankofa World Publishers.
  10. ^ a b c "Clarke, John Henrik(1915–1998) - Historian, writer, educator, Harlem: An Unconventional Education", Encyclopedia.jrank.org.
  11. ^ Andy Wallace, "John H. Clarke, 83, Leading African American Historian", Philly.com (The Inquirer), July 18, 1998.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Rochell Isaac, "Clarke, John Henrik", in Encyclopedia of African American History: Volume 1, Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 424.
  14. ^ "Historical People", Green Acres Cemetery.
  15. ^ "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.
  16. ^ Molefi Kete Asante (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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

New Pittsburgh Courier

New Pittsburgh Courier
Fri, 02 Jan 2015 17:52:30 -0800

Historian John Henrik Clarke once said, “There is more to progress than marching. We're doing 'show-biz' liberation. It's not liberation.” In America, we march to express our feelings and to release pent up frustrations. In this instance, protestors ...
Huffington Post
Mon, 26 Jan 2015 11:18:45 -0800

In "My Life in Search of Africa," the late African-American scholar John Henrik Clarke talked about his love of history and how he learned Europeans had colonized history to the point that even the image of God was a white man. Clarke said, 'I could ...

Ithaca Journal

Ithaca Journal
Fri, 23 Jan 2015 09:41:52 -0800

21: Eric Acree, director of Cornell University's John Henrik Clarke Africana Library. •Feb. 28: J.R. Clairborne, community advocate and member of the City of Ithaca Common Council. For more information, contact Sarah Glogowski, head of the Library's ...


Wed, 28 Jan 2015 14:30:00 -0800

Things like those poisonous conditions, which destroy every segment of "hue-manity" having respectful pride in his or her and others' creation by God Alone, makes me never forget something that late honored historian, John Henrik Clarke, said and that ...

San Francisco Bay View

San Francisco Bay View
Tue, 20 Jan 2015 22:11:37 -0800

After reading, studying and traveling with historians Doctors Josef ben-Jochannan, John Henrik Clarke, Asa Hilliard, Jacob Carruthers and other great historians, I offered a question to my mentors, “Would you please write a liner chronological history ...

Black Star News

Black Star News
Sat, 05 Jul 2014 05:45:00 -0700

Funeral For Dr. Shabazz, World's Greatest Mathematician And 2014 Annual John Henrik Clarke Tribute. Special To The ...July 05,2014. -A +A. 0. Dr. John Henrik Clarke. [Community Announcements]. Dr. Abdulalim Shabazz Funeral. The worlds greatest ...
Medicine Hat News
Fri, 16 Jan 2015 00:15:00 -0800

John Henrik Clarke, a 20th-century African-American writer, noted, “A people's relationship to their heritage is the same as the relationship of a child to its mother.” Macdonald is an important part of Canada's heritage. We'll give John A. himself the ...

Trinidad and Tobago News (blog)

Trinidad and Tobago News (blog)
Sun, 11 Jan 2015 18:26:15 -0800

They would be very familiar with the volumes of religious scholarship, archaeology and well versed in the works of Bart Ehrman, Robert M price, Richard Carrier, John Henrik Clarke, Yosef ben-Jochannan, Gerald Massey, Fr Tissa Balasuriya, Rosemary ...

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