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John Henrik Clarke was the Presiding Elder of the Africana Studies discipline for three decades (from 1968 until his death in 1998). His 1969 election by popular acclamation as the first president of the African Heritage Studies Association (AHSA), an organization he founded and led, symbolizes the widespread acceptance of his leadership. No less significant was his appointment to the faculty of the Black and Puerto Rican Studies Department at Hunter College, again by popular demand. Another indication of the recognition of his peerless championship was the naming of the library of the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University, the John Henrik Clarke Library. He also taught at the Center in the "early founding years" of that program. (1)
Professor Clarke's disciples and students (both formal and informal) include many who were with him when he led a group of younger scholars and students in a confrontation with the leadership of the African Studies Association (ASA) and the eventual secession from the organization leading to the formation of AHSA. (2)
His early followers included Dr. Leonard Jeffries, Cheke Unwache, Shelby Smith, and James Turner who appropriately summarized the significance of Dr. Clarke's role in the founding of AHSA as "that organization which positioned him at the center of the evolution of the Black Studies Movement." (3) Turner continued, "Professor Clarke is unquestionably one of the principle intellectual and academic mentors in Africana Studies." (4)
Professor Clarke's leadership was also widely acknowledged by the critics of the discipline. Henry Louis Gates identified him as the "great paterfamilias of the Afrocentric movement." (5) Harold Cruise, another critic, asserted:
Clarke is an Africanist of longstanding, one of the few devoted American Negro specialists in African history outside university cloisters. This distinction ... has earned him the title of a recognized prophet of African and Afro-American redemption. (6)
In view of the significant intellectual role played by Professor Clarke, one remarkable fact stands out: the savant was what Dr. Earl E. Thorpe called a historian "without portfolio." (7) In other words, at the time John Henrik Clarke was elevated to the exalted position of Presiding Elder of Africana Studies, he had been "self-educated," and in terms of formal education, he had "barely finished grammar school." (8)
"Self-educated" scholars are a vital part of the tradition among intellectuals of African descent living in the United States. The recorded works of the leaders, in providing instruction for the African descent population, go back to the latter years of the eighteenth century. These works include those of Richard Allen, Prince Hall, and Absalom Jones. (9) The nineteenth-century intellectuals kept the tradition going, and they included David Walker, Henry Highland Garnet, Alexander Crummell, and Martin Delany. (10) The tradition of self-educated scholars resumed after the Civil War. Led by John E. Bruce and Arthur Schomburg, who were joined by others, they advanced the African history project in the 1920s during the period called the "Harlem Renaissance," which ran parallel to the peak of the Garvey movement. John Clarke arrived in New York a few years after the decline of those great movements.
A vital part of this tradition was intergenerational mentoring. The African Lodge has been a mentoring institution from the time of its founding in 1787 to the present. Most of the nineteenth-century leaders belonged to the "Prince Hall Masons." (11) Another indication of the direct and indirect mentoring process is found in the works of the various self-educated scholars. David Walker praised the teachings of his elder, Reverend Richard Allen. (12) Maria Stewart and Henry Highland Garnet in turn evoked the example of David Walker. (13) The mentoring chain can be found in the reflections of Arthur Schomburg who was inspired by John Bruce and Alexander Crummell. (14) John Henrik Clarke was in turn mentored by Schomburg. (15)
This paper is an attempt to shed light on the significance of the self-educated scholars of African descent on the emergence of Africana Studies. (16) The Africana Studies project emerged in the first decades of the twentieth century as the demand for the development of African history by self-trained as well as university-trained scholars of African descent intensified. The self-educated scholars as a rule seemed to be less restrained by the protocols of formal academia than were the university-trained scholars. In a substantial sense, however, all scholars of African descent had to obtain their knowledge about Africa's role in world history through self-education.
The focus on aspects of the life and works of John Henrik Clarke provides an opportunity to examine a case study of the development of perhaps one of the last of the self-educated intellectuals of African descent. The paper also provides insight into the intellectual foundations of the discipline of Africana Studies. Another emphasis of the paper is the pattern of linkages between the self-educated intellectuals and their university-educated counterparts. A basic assumption of this attempt is that there is a genetic relationship between the proto-Pan African beginnings of African Centered education over two hundred years ago and the Africana project.
The basic materials used in this presentation are the works of Professor Clarke. He was not only a prolific writer, dynamic lecturer, and informative informal conversationalist; he often provided his readers and audiences with autobiographical sketches of his intellectual development. Three of the latter are heavily relied on in this essay. (17) The basic outline of these sketches is quite consistent from text to text. A somewhat unexpected significance of the construction of his autobiography will be explored below.
After a brief note on Harlem in the 1930s, the paper follows Dr. Clarke's intellectual development according to the periodization scheme he used in his autobiographical reflections: 1) his arrival in New York in 1933 until his induction into the U.S. Army in 1941, a period I term "educational foundations"; 2) his discharge from the U.S. Army in 1945 until 1958 when he returned from his first trip to Africa, the period I refer to as "the calling"; 3) the development of his model curriculum from 1958 to 1969 and the founding of the African Heritage Studies Association, a period I term "the curriculum of John Henrik Clarke." The last section includes a reflection on the significance of Dr. Clarke's ideas on the African Centered curriculum project, which emerged from the advent of Africana Studies.
Seventy years ago when John Henrik Clarke (18) arrived in Harlem at the age of eighteen, he found not only a city within "The City," he also found a microcosm of a nation within a nation and indeed a world within the world. Harlem in those years, in some sense, held the position that the metonym Ethiopia had occupied a century earlier. The personality of the inner city was being forged by the assembly of African humanity gathered from all over the United States, the Caribbean, and the African Continent. A host of overlapping organizations and movements were competing for the attention and loyalty of these masses of black folk. Among those most relevant to the shaping of the black boy from the Deep South, with little formal education, were the various socialist organizations including the Communist Party and its affiliates; the memory of the Harlem Renaissance reflected in the continuing work of several of its leading personalities; the emerging human, direct action civil rights movement with its protest programs; the Garvey movement revival, promoted by various splinter groups; and most importantly the African historiography tradition, advocated for the most part by several outstanding self-educated historians. The various agendas, programs, projects, and proposals were frequently promoted by street orators speaking at strategic intersections from stepladders. In such a way the would-be leaders and the pedestrian masses interacted intimately in such a way that professional intellectuals rarely experienced. Each of those forces had a hand in orientating the new arrival into the community and each contributed to his educational foundation. Such was John Henrik Clarke's initiation into the Harlem community.
EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATIONS 1933-1941
John Clarke was not totally tabula rasi when he and his companion got off the freight train in New Jersey and headed for New York. (19) …