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Text Box: John Henrik Clarke
Text Box: John Henrik Clarke (January 1, 1915 - July 16, 1998), born John Henry Clark in Union Springs, Alabama to John (a sharecropper) and Willie Ella (Mays) Clarke (a washer woman), was a Nationalist, Pan-Africanist, author, poet, historian, and Afrocentric lecturer and teacher. Clarke was one of the most significant influences on the search for identity known as the Afrocentric movement.
Dr. Clarke was the author of numerous articles that have appeared in leading scholarly journals. He also served as the author, contributor, or editor of 24 books. In 1968 along with the Black Caucus of the African Studies Association, Dr. Clarke founded the African Heritage Studies Association. In 1969 he was appointed as the founding chairman of the Black and Puerto Rican Studies Department at Hunter College in New York City. Dr. Clarke was most known and highly regarded for his lifelong devotion to studying and documenting the histories and contributions of African peoples in Africa and the diaspora.
Dr. Clarke is often quoted as stating that "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."  [edit]
A Search For Identity
Clarke proclaimed his own search for identity to have begun as a child simply trying to understand the world around him. He considered his great grandmother "Mom Mary", the family historian, to have been his first teacher. She told him and his siblings stories about their family, its resistance to slavery and her first husband Buck who was sold to a stud farm for slaves in Virginia.
As a child Clarke's father took their family to Columbus, Georgia. There he went to school for the first time and became the first among his family's nine children to learn to read. As an autodidact, he accomplished that feat "by picking up signs, grocery handbills...and by studying the signboards." Clarke taught the junior class of his Sunday school by the age of ten and read the Bible to old ladies in his community.
Clarke's search for his people began in the Bible, and that search began with questions, such as "why are all the characters -— even those who, like Moses, were born in Africa —- white?" Having read the depiction of Christ "as swarthy and with hair like sheep's wool" he wondered why the church's depiction showed Christ as blond and blue-eyed. 
As he read more he asked more questions: "Where was the hair like sheep's wool? Where was the swarthy complexion? How did Moses become so white? If he went down to Ethiopia to marry Zeporah, why was Zeporah so white? Who painted the world white?" It was then that his life-long search for self-definition in world history began.
Clarke's best remembrance of his school years were of his first teacher, Evelena Taylor, in Columbus, Georgia. She was the first to teach him to believe in himself by simply stating to him "I believe in you." During his last year of grammar school Clarke "began to receive some of the privileges in the school that generally went to the light-complected youngsters who were called "The Light Brigade." That group consisted of children of professional blacks many of whom had a light complexion. Clarke led the so-called "The Dark Brigade" or poorer children. He received the privilege to ring the bell in the school as the best student.
Clarke's systematic search for the role of people from Africa in history began when a lawyer for whom he worked told him that he "came from a people who had no history but, that if I persevered and obeyed the laws, my people might one day make history."
One day during high school Dr. Clarke was given the responsibility to hold the books and papers of a guest lecturer. One of the books was entitled The New Negro edited by Alain Locke. In that book Clarke found the essay "The Negro Digs Up His Past," by Arthur Schomburg. It was then he realized he "came from a people with a history older even than that of Europe." 
Years later, at the age of seventeen, he would search for and find Schomburg in what was then New York's 135th street library. Clarke impatiently told Schomburg he wanted "to know the history of my people." To which Schomburg replied, "What you are calling African history and Negro history is nothing but the missing pages of world history. 
You will have to know general history to understand these specific aspects of history." In his later life he traveled the world. John Henrik Clarke was totally blind in the last remaining years of his life. He expressed that he would like to be remembered as an educator.
Dr. Clarke lectured and held professorships at universities worldwide, including the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell in Ithaca, New York, and in African and Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York City. 
He received honorary degrees from numerous institutions and served as consultant and advisor to African and Caribbean heads of state. In 1997 he was the subject of a major documentary directed by the noted filmmaker Saint Claire Bourne and underwritten by the Hollywood star Wesley Snipes. [edit]
Criticism of Clarke
As a self-professed autodidact who began his career as a writer of fiction, Clarke did not undergo the rigors of a formal training in history. Although this does not of necessity negate the worth of his endeavors, it does call to light certain potential flaws. 
He is often teleological in his approach, and could be easily accused of manipulating what is in fact a paucity of data in the historical record to support predetermined suppositions and conclusions.
Moreover, a degree of circumspection may be appropriate when considering some of his logical arguments. For instance, his attack of the assumption of Moses being Caucasoid, while valid as a point of inquiry, does not lead to a conclusion that Moses must then be Negroid simply because he had been born in Africa (Moses was a "Man of Color" because he was able to live among the populace of Egyptian society without being "out of place."). Birth in Africa is not a critical fulfillment for possession of any specific racial features from the standpoint of physical anthropology. [edit]
"John Henrik Clarke His People’s Historian". [edit]
External links
Watch Video: John Henrik Clarke Lecture on The African Mind
The John Henrik Clarke Virtual Museum
In Memory of John Henrik Clarke (Hunter College)
Schomburg Legacy Exhibition: John Henrik Clarke Section
John Henrik Clarke Bibliographies (Cornell University)
John Henrik Clarke Resources (Runoko Rashidi)
Information on Film, John Henrik Clarke: A Great & Mighty Walk 
Credit: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


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