John Henrik Clarke, was an American historian, professor, and a pioneer in the creation of Pan-African and Africana studies, and professional institutions in academia starting in the late 1960s.
Clarke was born, “John Henry Clark,” on January 1, 1915, in Union Springs, Alabama. He was the youngest child of John, a sharecropper, and Willie Ella (Mays) Clarke, a washerwoman. While he was still a young boy, his parents relocated to the closest milltown which was in Columbus, Georgia in search of earning money to purchase land.
In 1933, ready to start his own life, Clarke left his family home in Georgia and took a freight train to Harlem, New York. Many rural blacks at this time were moving from the south to north. After reaching the north, he changed his name to John Henrik Clarke.
He practiced law for a while, he also was an architect and engineer, never receiving formal training for either. However, at the time, he claimed to have two Master degrees from Cambridge but in fact, Clarke only had a fourth-grade education. He held other positions as well, he served as a professor of Black and Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College of the City University of New York from 1969 to 1986, where he served as founding chairman of the department. He also was the Carter G. Woodson Distinguished Visiting Professor of African History at Cornell University’s Africana Studies and Research Center.
Clarke was also the founder of the African Heritage Studies Association and the Black Caucus of the African Studies Association in 1966. In 1994, Clarke earned a doctorate from the non-accredited Pacific Western University (now California Miramar University) in Los Angeles, having earned a bachelor’s degree there in 1992. He authored numerous articles that have appeared in leading scholarly journals. He also served as the author, contributor, or editor of 24 books. Clarke married in 1997 to a longtime friend, Sybil Williams. He died a year later of a heart attack on July 12, 1998.