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John Henrik Clarke
John Henry Clark

Union Springs, Alabama
New York City, New York
Resting placeGreen Acres Cemetery, Columbus, Georgia
CitizenshipUnited States
Notable work
Africans at the Crossroads: Notes For An African World Revolution, African People In World History
Spouse(s)Sybille Williams Clarke
ChildrenEugenia Evans Clarke, Lillie Clarke, Nzingha Marie, Sonny Kojo
Parent(s)Willie Ella Mays Clark

John Henrik Clarke (January 1, 1915 - July 16, 1998), born John Henry Clark, was a Pan-Afrikan 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. A self-educated intellectual, Clarke documented the histories and contributions of African peoples in Africa and the diaspora, creating an Afrocentric perspective.

Early Afrikan Inspiration

Clarke was inspired by his third grade teacher, Ms. Harris, who "convinced me that one day I would be a writer." But before he became a writer he became a voracious reader. Inspired by Richard Wright's Black Boy, Clarke went to New York via Chicago. He enlisted in the army and earned the rank of Master Sergeant. Clarke moved to Harlem and committed himself to a lifelong pursuit of factual knowledge about the history of his people and creative application of that knowledge.

Growth of a Scholar

Over the years, Clarke became both a major historian and a man of letters. Although he is probably better known as a historian, his literary accomplishments were also significant. He wrote over two hundred short stories. "The Boy Who Painted Christ Black" is his best known short story. Clarke edited numerous literary and historical anthologies including American Negro Short Stories (1966), an anthology which included nineteenth century writing from writers such as Paul Laurence Dunbar and Charles Waddell Chestnut, and continued up through the early sixties with writers such as LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) and William Melvin Kelley. This is one of the classic collections of Black fiction.

Reflective of his commitment to his adopted home, Clarke also edited Harlem, A Community in Transition and Harlem, U.S.A. Never one to shy away from the difficult or the controversial, Clarke edited anthologies on Malcolm X and a major collection of essays decrying William Styron's "portrait" of Nat Turner as a conflicted individual who had a love/hate platonic and sexually-fantasized relationship with Whites. In both cases, Clarke's work was in defense of the dignity and pride of his beloved Black community rather than an attack on Whites. What is significant is that Clarke did the necessary and tedious organizing work to bring these volumes into existence and thereby offer an alternative outlook from the dominant mainstream views on Malcolm X and Nat Turner, both of whom were often characterized as militant hate mongers. Clarke understood the necessity for us to affirm our belief in and respect for radical leaders such as Malcolm X and Nat Turner. It is interesting to note that Clarke's work was never simply focused on investigating history as the past, he also was proactively involved with history in the making.