John Henrik Clarke

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John Henrik Clarke
BornJohn Henrik Clarke
(1915-01-01)January 1, 1915
DiedJuly 16, 1998(1998-07-16) (aged 83)
OccupationWriter, historian, professor
 
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John Henrik Clarke
BornJohn Henrik Clarke
(1915-01-01)January 1, 1915
DiedJuly 16, 1998(1998-07-16) (aged 83)
OccupationWriter, historian, professor

John Henrik Clarke (born John Henry Clark, January 1, 1915 – July 16, 1998), was a Pan-Africanist American 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 Swedish playwright Henrik Ibsen) and added an "e" to his surname, spelling it as "Clarke."[1]

Career[edit]

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]

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

He later married again, to 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]

Books[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[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]