Honoring the Legacy of Dr. John Henrik Clarke

“History is not everything, but it is a startingHonoring the Legacy of Dr. John Henrik Clarke 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.” – Dr. John Henrik Clarke

When Dr. John Henrik Clarke was born on New Year’s Day in 1915, he entered a world that did not welcome Black intellectuals. The eldest son of a washerwoman and a sharecropper, Clarke — who changed his middle name from Henry to Henrik in honor of Henrik Ibsen, admiring the Norweigan rebel playwright’s “spunk” and radicalism — knew he needed to escape the south, and the white strictures of worship and thought. He did, eventually making his home in Harlem and becoming a pioneer the field of pan-African studies, creating one of the first and most influential Africana departments in the country — at Hunter College.

On November 17th at Roosevelt House, the Hunter College Community will celebrate the kick-off of the Dr. John Henrik Clarke Study Lounge Campaign, an initiative to honor the legacy of this late, great professor, writer, and leader who inspired so many students at Hunter and beyond, to reconceive and reclaim their notion of African history and identity. This campaign, organized by a group of faculty and alumni  Dr. John H. Clarke Committee, is pursuing funding to create a study lounge in Dr. Clarke’s name in the Cooperman Library, a place for students and faculty to meet, connect, work, read, or recharge, in between appointments and classes — a respite spot in the bustle of Hunter’s busy campus. Its projected cost of $100,000 has already received 20 percent of its funding in the form of gifts from Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab and the Wistarians, an alumni group focused on addressing the interests and concerns of Hunter students and graduates of African descent.

The Roosevelt House event on November 17th, which will celebrate Dr. Clarke’s life and work, is open to the public, and offers an opportunity to learn about Clarke’s extraordinary legacy. Featured speaker Hunter Anthropology Professor Dr. David Julian Hodges, will be on hand to provide insights about his years as a colleague and collaborator with Dr. Clarke at Hunter, and their shared experiences at the front lines of the civil rights movement and the campaign to re-conceptualize Black history and Pan-African pride.

A beloved teacher and mentor himself, Dr. Hodges has spearheaded the initiative to honor his late colleague with this special dedicated library room, along with former Professor Marimba Ani, another eminent African Studies scholar and teacher who has championed Dr. Clarke’s crucial place in the development of Africana Studies as a prominent and profound field. Dr. Hodges, who nominated Dr. Clarke when he was originally named one of the first Thomas Hunter Distinguished Professors at Hunter, called Dr. Clarke “an extraordinary person. He was largely self-educated, but he was a voracious reader, a scholar without a portfolio.”

Dr. Clarke dedicated his career to correcting the predominant notion in mostly-white academia that the people, culture, and intellectual thought of Africa and African descent were unworthy of serious study. His brilliant scholarly mind, constant pursuit of learning, and rigorous work ethic took him all over the world, to study in some of the most prominent libraries across the globe, library spaces that were not typically accessible to people of African descent. Over his lifetime, Dr. Clarke amassed more than 30 publications to his name, including major essays, introductions to books, and edited books. He was a songwriter and the author of more than 200 short stories. The cultivation of his own personal library, which he bequeathed to the Atlanta University Center and the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, was paramount to him.

For so many Hunter students, space — particularly quiet space, removed from the commuter hustle of New York City — is precious. A library is a sacred refuge for thought, a place of quiet, a place to study the past and birth new ideas for the future. With the creation of the John Henrik Clarke Study Lounge, Dr. Clarke’s legacy of research, radical thought, contemplation, and connection will be preserved in a dedicated space where students can come for just such a refuge, to create their own new notions of identity. Says Dr. Hodges, “It’s so important for those of us who loved Dr. Clarke and valued his work, to ignite this eternal flame of his legacy and keep it alive here at Hunter by supporting the study lounge campaign. He did so much for all of us and we certainly should do what we can for him.”

To donate or request more information, please contact Alicia Siebenaler in Hunter’s Office of Institutional Advancement by email at alicia.siebenaler@hunter.cuny.edu or by phone at 212.650.3860.  Checks, payable to the Hunter College Foundation, may be mailed to Hunter College, Office of Institutional Advancement 695 Park Avenue, Room 1314 East, New York, NY 10065.  Please identify “Dr. John Henrik Clarke Study Lounge Fund” in the memo.