John Henrik Clarke

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John Henrik Clarke
BornJohn Henrik Clarke
(1915-06-01)June 1, 1915
DiedJuly 16, 1998(1998-07-16) (aged 83)
OccupationWriter, historian, professor
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John Henrik Clarke
BornJohn Henrik Clarke
(1915-06-01)June 1, 1915
DiedJuly 16, 1998(1998-07-16) (aged 83)
OccupationWriter, historian, professor

John Henrik Clarke (born John Henry Clark, June 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]

Born on January 1, 1915, in Union Springs, Alabama, as the youngest child to sharecroppers John (Doctor) and Willie Ella (Mays) Clark, he renamed himself John Henrik (after rebel playwright Henrik Ibsen) and added an "e" to his surname Clarke. 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 mothers's wishes for him to be a farmer, Clarke left Georgia in 1933 by freight train and went to Harlem, New York, where he pursued scholarship and activism.[1]


In 1933, Jenny had drawn, through the Great Migration (African American), a concentration of African Americans, many of who figured in the Harlem Renaissance. 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] At the age of 78, Clarke obtained a doctorate from the non-accredited Pacific Western University (now California Miramar University) in Los Angeles. The New York Times noted that Clarke's ascension to professor emeritus at Hunters College was "unusual...without benefit of a high school diploma."[4] The Times also acknowledged that "nobody said Professor Clarke wasn't an academic original", but nonetheless referred to him using the honorific prefix "Mr" rather than "Dr".

Prominent during the Black Power movement, Clarke advocated for studies on the African-American experience and the place of Africans in world history. He challenged 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." When some of the scholarship he championed was dismissed by many historians, Clarke imparted to them the biases of Eurocentric views.

He was memorialized for devoting "himself to placing people of African ancestry 'on the map of human geography'."[5] Clarke said: "History is not everything, but it is a starting point. History is a clock that people use to tell their political and cultural time of day. It is a compass they use to find themselves on the map of human geography. It tells them where they are, but more importantly, what they must be."[6]

Besides teaching at Hunter College and Cornell University, Clarke was active in creating professional associations to support the study of black culture. He was a founder 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 recognize and support work in black culture: the Black Academy of Arts and Letters and the African-American Scholars' Council.[2]

His writing included six scholarly books and many scholarly articles. He edited anthologies of black writing, as well as his own short stories, and more general interest articles.[4] He 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 Pittsburgh Courier and the Ghana Evening News.[2]

Marriage, Family and Death[edit]

Clarke had three children with his first wife, Eugenia Evans Clarke. He is survived by his second wife, Sybille Williams Clarke, and his two children, Nzingha Marie and Sonni Kojo. A third child Lillie preceded him in death.

John Henrik Clarke died on July 16, 1998, he is buried in Green Acres Cemetery, Columbus, Georgia.

Legacy and honors[edit]

Published books[edit]

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. ^ Robert L. Harris, Jr., "In Memoriam Dr. John Henrik Clarke, 1915-1998", The Journal of Negro History, September 1998, accessed 25 May 2009.
  6. ^ Eric Kofi Acree, "John Henrik Clarke: Historian, Scholar, and Teacher", John Henrik Clarke Africana Library, Cornell University, accessed 25 May 2009.
  7. ^ "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.
  8. ^ Molefi Kete Asante (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.

External links[edit]