John Henrik Clarke was born in Union Springs, Alabama on January 1, 1915 to humble parents who affectionately called him, Bubba. As the eldest son of Alabama sharecroppers, he was constantly troubled by the aggregate of Southern racists’ behaviors and notions that relegated the humanity of people of African ancestry to a place of ill repute. In many of his lectures and public presentations, Dr. Clarke frequently highlighted a number of questions he did not know how to ask at a tender age. While Dr. Clarke modestly reflected on his own unsophisticated responses, the articulations provided around many of the puzzling questions, led to further inquiry and the subsequent emergence of an intellectual giant, master teacher, historian, literary genius, statesman, spiritual leader, and confidante of African royalty and ordinary peoples on the continent and in the African Diaspora.
Dr. Clarke was a self-described and undying Nationalist, and a Pan-Africanist, first and foremost. He was firmly established as a historian even before taking his first formal course in history. Over-determined by the course and plight of African history on the world stage, John Henrik Clarke came to New York City via Chicago in the early 1930’s and elected to settle in the village of Harlem. Dr. Clarke strategically built a life of voluminous outstanding scholarship and activism in New York City, which paved the way for the promulgation of institution building, specifically aimed at elevating African people. In his pursuit to change the historical, political and social landscape of Africans in the Diaspora, Dr. Clarke was responsible for the founding of the Harlem’s Writers Guild, Freedomways, Presence Africane, African Heritage Studies Association, Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, National Council of Black Studies, and Association for the Study of Classical African Civilization. His organizational building skills did not stop him from being an ardent student and a Master teacher. John Henrik Clarke was an active participant in circles like Harlem Writer’s Workshop, studied history at Columbia University, and at the League for Professional Writers. Because of his humility, Clarke was privileged to sit at the feet, as he described his posture, of great scholars like Arthur Schomburg, Willis Huggins, Charles Seiffert, William Leo Hansberry, John G. Jackson and Paul Robeson. Particularly, he credited Arthur Schomburg for helping him to understand the relationship between African history and World history, Willis Huggins for teaching him how to understand the political meaning of history, and William Leo Hansberry for illuminating the philosophical meaning of African history and World history. Given that he was able to view history from many perspectives, Dr. Clarke never over-romanticized his subject. He remarked many times in lectures that “all history is about today, and that all history is a series of current events which continues to unfold.” Remarkably, John Henrik Clarke’s first strong stance as a political activist began with his opposition to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and his subsequent membership of the Universal Ethiopian Students Association. Also noteworthy, and significant too, amid his busy intellectual and activist life, Dr. Clarke carefully integrated the role of father into the lives of his three daughters who are products of his holistic world-view, one rooted in African values.
Elder Clarke will be remembered for his many intellectual contributions and profound influence on several generations of African and African American scholars. Among his many contributions, one must never underestimate his success at situating the following in the spotlight:
· That African history is the light of World history;
· That Africa provided the prototypical civilizations along the world’s first cultural super high way, the Nile River;
· That Africa had many Diasporic civilizations, including the first black people to inhabit India, the Dravidians, who were responsible for building the great cities of Harrapa and Mohenjo Daro in the Indus Cush Valley;
· That the Shang Dynasty, one of China’s greatest, was peopled by an Africoid race of people who gave China its first historical Dynasty; and
· That the Olmecs, the African Egyto-Nubian culture, which ruled over Meso-America for fifteen hundred years before giving way in 150 B.C.E. was another example of the African genius.
Along with his vast knowledge of history, Dr. Clarke was the vanguard voice in the establishment of Black Studies in universities across the United States of America. He personally helped to build the Black Studies Departments at Cornell University and at Hunter College, CUNY where he retired from the academe. During his professorship, Dr. Clarke was able to engage in dialogue at many major centers of higher learning throughout North and South America, the Caribbean, Europe, and of course Africa. Ghana was his favorite intellectual respite.
Dr. Clarke’s special relationship with African people afforded him the company of kings, queens, presidents and other heads of state. For example, Dr. Clarke mentored Kwame Nkrumah while he was a student in the United States. Because of the special relationship they shared, when Ghana--the first Sub Saharan nation in modern times-- gained its independence in 1957, Clarke served as a journalist for the Ghana Evening News for several years. Dr. Clarke was enstooled as a chief for a region among the Ga people of Ghana. Before his transition, John Henrik Clarke became the president of Sanfoka University, a cyberspace institution, which offers accredited college courses.
Without doubt, his association with Betty Shabazz and Malcolm X, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Jr., Richard Wright, Julian Mayfield, Audre Lorde, John G. Jackson, Chancellor Williams, Yosef ben- Jochannan, John Oliver Killens, Hoyt Fuller, Druscilla Dundee Houston, and many other important historical figures of this century who are too numerous to mention here, is a testimony of Dr. Clarke’s influence and place in history as a seminal figure.
Dr. Clarke was a prolific writer, thinker and gifted storyteller. He employed many media avenues to disseminate his message. John Henrik Clarke has written over two hundred short stories, but his most famous is, the Boy Who Painted Christ Black. Incidentally, HBO used this short story as part of a full- length movie last year. His publication record in print, audio and visual is voluminous. Particularly, Dr. Clarke’s radio interviews with WBAI, other public radio stations, and newspaper contributions need a separate catalogue. His articles and conference papers on African and African Diasporic history, politics and culture have appeared in leading journals throughout the world in more than a dozen languages. Dr. Clarke’s syndicated Book Review column in, African World Bookshelf, was distributed in the United States and abroad to over fifty newspapers by the Associated Negro Press. He was also the Book Review editor of the Negro History Bulletin, and featured writer for the Pittsburgh Courier. One of Dr. Clarke’s proudest publishing accomplishments was the translation and introduction of the great Senegalese scholar, Cheikh Anta Diop’s work, African Origins of Civilization: Myth or Reality, 1974.
Selected Audio and Visual:
Africa Lost And Found: A Dialogue (Motion Picture) WCBS-TV and Columbia University. Released by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969.
African Origins of Organized Societies (Motion Pictures) WCBS-TV and Columbia University. Released by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969.
The End of the Golden Age (Motion Picture) WCBS-TV and Columbia
University. Released by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969.
The Making of A Community (Motion Picture) WCBS-TV and Columbia University. Released by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969.
The Slave Trade Begins (Motion Picture) WCBS-TV and Columbia University. Released by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969.
The Slave Trade in the New World (Motion Picture) WCBS-TV and Columbia University, Released by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969.
The Legacy Of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (video recording) WNYC, New York, 1986.
A Conversation with John Henrik Clarke, Clinton Crawford, et al. Brooklyn Community Access Television, 1995.
Selected Edited Works:
Clarke, John Henrik. Harlem U.S.A.: The Story Of A City Within A City as told by James Baldwin et al., with an Introduction by John Henrik Clarke. Berlin: Seven Seas, 1964.
——. William Styron’s Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond. Boston: Beacon Press, 1968.
——. Malcolm X: The Man and His Times. New York: Macmillan, 1969.
——. Black Titan: W. E. B. DuBois: An Anthology. Boston: Beacon Press, 1970.
Clarke, J. H. and Vincent Harding. Slave Trade and Slavery. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970.
Clarke, John Henrik.
Marcus Garvey and The
Vision of Africa. New York: Randon House, 1974.
——. Dimensions of the Struggle Against Apartheid: A Tribute To Paul Robeson: Proceeding Of Special Me. Introduction by Leslie O. Harriman. New York: African Heritage Studies Association, 1979.
——. New Dimensions in African History: The London Lectures of Dr. Yosef Ben-Jochannan and Dr. John Henrik Clarke. Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press, 1991.
——. Black American Short Stories: One Hundred Years of the Best. New
York: Hill and Wang 1993.
——. World’s Greatest Men of Color. Introduction, Commentary, and Bibliographical Notes by John Henrik Clarke. New York: Touchstone, 1996.
——. The Second Crucifixion of Nat Turner. With a new Introduction by John Henrik Clarke. Baltimore, MD: Black Classic Press, 1997.
Clarke, John Henrik. Rebellion in Rhyme. Praire City, Ill: Decker Press, 1948.
——. American Negro Stories. New York: Hill and Wang, 1966.
——. Harlem U.S.A. New York: America Library, 1967.
——. Harlem, A Community in Transition. New York: Citadel Press, 1969.
——. The Image of Africa in the Minds of Afro-Americans: African Identity in the Literature of Struggle. New York: Phelps-Stokes Fund, 1973.
——. Black Americans: Immigrants Against Their Will. Atlanta: Atlanta University, 1974.
——. Africans at the Crossroads: Notes for an African World Revolution. Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press, 1991.
——. African People in World History. Baltimore, MD: Black Classic Press, 1993.
——. Christopher Columbus and the African Holocaust: Slavery and the
Rise of European Capitalism. Brooklyn, New York: A&B Book
——. Pan-Africanism or Perish. Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press, 1998.
The recognition and
awards given to John Henrik Clarke are as numerous as his contributions.
He received many honorary degrees, and over a dozen citations from
Universities and other higher educational institutions across these
United States of America for excellence in teaching and learning.
In 1983, Dr. Clarke was the recipient of the
Hunter Professorship at Hunter College. In 1994, he was awarded the
Fund’s Aggrey Medal for his role as public philosopher and
relentless critic of injustice and equality.
Recommendations:All people of African ancestry and others who see him as the Beloved.