Ta-Nehisi Coates has deepened the national conversation about race and identity. On this episode of The Journey, President Wayne Frederick chats with his guest, the award-winning author and journalist about his work, the inspirational traditions of Howard University and the responsibility to recognize that “Beauty is not free.”
Aired on Sunday, March 13, 2016, on Howard University radio station, WHUR.
Click here to listen to the 15-minute discussion.
Oprah sits down with criminal justice activist Shaka Senghor, an author and mentor who turned his life around after spending 19 years in prison for second degree murder, to discuss the power of redemption and forgiveness. Watch the full episode now.
Our struggle as Black folks in America, and as African people throughout the diaspora, has always been a global struggle, fundamentally connected to freedom movements on the African continent. We stand to learn a lot from those who have gone ahead of us, and who have understood and engaged this struggle within that international context.
This speech by Dr. King adds much to that perspective, and to our understanding of what was (at that time) a growing internationalilzation of what had been domestically identified as the civil rights struggle. It has always been about so much more than "civil" rights.
From a Democracy Now broadcast earlier this year...
In a Democracy Now! and Pacifica Radio Archives exclusive, we air a newly discovered recording of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In December 7, 1964, days before he received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, King gave a major address in London on segregation, the fight for civil rights and his support for Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. The speech was recorded by Saul Bernstein, who was working as the European correspondent for Pacifica Radio. Bernstein's recording was recently discovered by Brian DeShazor, director of the Pacifica Radio Archives.
Check out the trailer (below) for Stanley Nelson's feature-length documentary, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, airing tonight at 9 p.m. EST on PBS.
From the PBS description:
In the turbulent 1960s, change was coming to America and the fault lines could no longer be ignored — cities were burning, Vietnam was exploding, and disputes raged over equality and civil rights. A new revolutionary culture was emerging and it sought to drastically transform the system. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense would, for a short time, put itself at the vanguard of that change.
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution is the first feature-length documentary to explore the Black Panther Party, its significance to the broader American culture, its cultural and political awakening for black people, and the painful lessons wrought when a movement derails. Master documentarian Stanley Nelson goes straight to the source, weaving a treasure trove of rare archival footage with the diverse group of voices of the people who were there: police, FBI informants, journalists, white supporters and detractors, and Black Panthers who remained loyal to the party and those who left it.
Featuring Kathleen Cleaver, Jamal Joseph, Ericka Huggins, and dozens of others, as well as archival footage of the late Huey P. Newton and Eldridge Cleaver, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution tells the story of a pivotal movement that gave rise to a new revolutionary culture in America. Their causes, with slogans like "power to the people" and "creating a better world" are relevant again in an era that has seen the rise of the "Black Lives Matter" movement and tense relations between African American communities and the police. The Black Panthers condemnations of injustice, oppression and brutality in the late '60s and early '70s reverberate again in one city after another.
About Stanley Nelson:
Stanley Nelson is an Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, and member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Obama in August 2014. Nelson has directed and produced numerous acclaimed films, including Freedom Summer, Freedom Riders, Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple and The Murder of Emmett Till. He is also co-founder and executive director of Firelight Media, which provides support to emerging documentarians. Currently in production is Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the second in a series of three films Nelson will direct as part of a new multiplatform PBS series entitled America Revisited.
Today I'm reposting last year's Black love message, with three additional songs added to the playlist. These include Gregory Porter's defiant stand against love's failure, No Love Dying, followed by a plea for the approval of one's true love's parents, in Real Good Hands. To help close out the set, there's another Porter favorite, When Love Was King, a lyrical painting of the world we want our children to re-member.
The major lesson I'm learning as time passes is that love really isn't that complicated. It's our ability to create space for its full and healthy expression that's complicated; that includes space for love's giving and receiving. And it's all of that stuff that we've accumulated through the years and now carry with us that takes up that space. I'm clearly still a work in progress... but I do still believe.
Black love is beautiful,
even if a little complicated.
As we continue find our way back to ourselves,
love's spirit always finds its way home.
In celebration of this year's weekend celebrating the timelessness and enduring beauty of Black Love, I pulled together a musical tribute in celebration of the beauty that we are. I hope you enjoy the playlist, and I welcome your comments, and any suggestions of songs that you'd add to the list.
i love our people...
Step into the music: black love music celebration
This year's 24-song playlist...
- Mali Music - Beautiful
- India Arie & Musiq Soulchild - Chocolate High
- Gregory Porter - No Love Dying
- Gregory Porter - Real Good Hands
- l Jarreau - So Good
- Otis Redding - Try a Little Tenderness
- Leela James - Fall for You
- Alicia Keys - If I Ain't Got You
- India Arie - He Is the Truth
- Ledisi - I Blame You
- Gregory Porter - Be Good (Lion's Song)
- Randy Crawford & Joe Sample - One Day I'll Fly Away
- Raheem DeVaughn - Woman
- Esperenza Spalding - Black Gold
- India Arie - Break the Shell
- Whitney Houston - Greatest Love of All
- India Arie & Akon - I Am Not My Hair
- Stevie Wonder - Isn't She Lovely
- Gregory Porter - Liquid Spirit
- The Isley Brothers - Caravan of Love
- The SOS Band - Tell Me You Still Care
- Earth, Wind & Fire - Reasons
- Gregory Porter - When Love Was King
- Donald Lawrence & The Tri-City Singers - Be Encouraged
Here's a very brief piece about the importance of "recess" within schools, something more and more schools are either decreasing, or completely eliminating, from the typical child's school day. It's from this past Monday (1/3/16) on NPR.
I won't add much commentary here, except to say that it's interesting that all of these creative and more developmentally appropriate "innovations" (more like returning to ancient practices) appear to pop up more frequently in places not heavily populated by Black and Brown people. I'm not sure about this particular effort, but I do know that in the schools closest to me, recess is either (nearly) non-existent, or has been turned into structured group (frequently quiet) time with minimal chance for children to be like children.
The piece is less than 5 minutes long, and the full article is can be read here. A few excerpts highlighting the major points are also provided just below. I encourage folks to do the quick listen and read, though.
But in one sense, recess at Eagle Mountain is different. Journey gets more opportunities to role-play than many of her peers, because recess happens a lot here — four times a day, 15 minutes a pop for kindergartners and first-graders.
That's much more time on the playground than most public school kids get in the U.S. Over the past couple of decades, schools have cut recess time to make room for tests and test prep.
Ask Journey why she and her friends get so much more recess time, and she giggles. "Lucky," she says.
But ask the adults, and they'll tell you it's because Eagle Mountain is part of a project in which the school day is modeled after the Finnish school system, which consistently scores at or near the top in international education rankings. The project's designer is Texas Christian University kinesiologist Debbie Rhea.
"I went over there to find out where they've come in the last 20 to 25 years. Yes, their test scores are good, but they are also healthy in many regards," she says.
The biggest difference Rhea noticed was that students in Finland get much more recess than American kids do. "So, I came back with the idea to bring recess back to the schools. Not just one recess, but multiple recesses."
This year, Eagle Mountain Elementary started tripling recess time, from 20 minutes to an hour. The program also focuses on character development —things like empathy and positive behavior.
Rhea is working with a handful of local schools already. More will join next year in Texas, California and Oklahoma.
Teachers at Eagle Mountain say they've seen a huge transformation in their students. They say kids are less distracted, they make more eye contact, and they tattle less.
And then there's the longer term impact on a school's ability to move through their curriculum, as well as key benefits to children's brain development...
Wells and fellow first-grade teacher Donna McBride have six decades of teaching between them and say this year feels different. They were nervous about fitting in all the extra recess and covering the basics, but Wells says that halfway through the school year, her kids are way ahead of schedule.
"If you want a child to be attentive and stay on task, and also if you want them to encode the information you're giving them in their memory, you've got to give them regular breaks," says Ohio State University pediatrician Bob Murray.
He has compiled research that backs up what teachers at Eagle Mountain are seeing in class. Murray says brain imaging has shown that kids learn better after a break for physical activity and unstructured play.
He and his colleagues wrote up a policy statement for the American Academy of Pediatrics suggesting that kids with regular recess behave better, are physically healthier and exhibit stronger social and emotional development. That's as school districts nationwide have been taking recess out of the school day.
A couple of years ago I posted an essay I developed a number of years ago honoring the life and contribution of one of our great African historians, Dr. John Henrik Clarke, affectionately known by many as Professor Clarke. I share that post and essay again below, in celebration of 101 years since Professor Clarke's birth. I was greatly influenced by Professor Clarke's scholarship and his example, and join many others around the world today in celebrating the life and legacy of a great and wise instructor.
In the closing paragraph, you'll see a note about a presentation given by Dr. Greg Carr, now Chair of the Department of African American Studies at Howard University, chronicling the intellectual genealogy that created the scholar we know as Professor Clarke, and that has inspired and prepared many scholars since. You won't find a more thorough discussion of this influence than provided in this lecture, delivered at the 1999 annual conference of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations (ASCAC).
For all who are interested, please be sure and visit all of the previous and related posts, which includes a short list of readings by and about Dr. Clarke.
Also visit Twitter for additional comments, references and resources.
What follows is from my post on January 1, 2014...
Dr. John Henrik Clarke, a scholar and advocate for African people, and one of the world's great historians, was born on January 1st, 1915. The essay that follows is one that I wrote in May 2001, approximately three years after Dr. Clarke's transition into the community of Ancestors, on July 16, 1998.
I had the unforgettable honor of meeting and talking with Dr. Clarke, along with another of our great Ancestors, Dr. Charshee McIntyre, even if only briefly, over lunch in 1997 in Harlem, New York. As is true for many scholars and other individuals who study African history, I will always be thankful for Dr. Clarke's courage, wisdom, honesty and passionate example.
I share this essay in its original form in celebration of the 99th anniversary of Dr. Clarke's birth.
A TRIBUTE TO A WISE INSTRUCTOR
It is indeed true that African people have a long legacy of intellectual achievements and activism. Dr. John Henrik Clarke is one of a long line of brave, revolutionary intellectual activists in the history of African people. Dr. Clarke, affectionately referred to by many as Professor Clarke, had a unique insight into the experiences of African people, primarily because of the time in which he was born. Born to a family of sharecroppers in the early 1900’s, Professor Clarke had a front row seat to observe several generations of African thinkers and activists, spanning several periods of African struggle and resistance. In addition, Professor Clarke was actively involved in most, if not all, of these movements during the better part of the twentieth century. Who was Professor Clarke? What was it about his life that made him such an honorable and revolutionary figure in African world history? What was it that made Professor Clarke a master teacher, in the long and rich African tradition of Divine Speech and Wise Instruction?
John Henrik Clarke was born on New Years Day, 1915. He was born into a sharecropper family in Union Springs, Alabama. His mother’s name was Will Ella Mayes and his father’s name was John. He grew up in the midst of a large and close-knit extended family, some biological and many not. They called Professor Clarke “Bubba,” a family given nickname that remained with him throughout his life. Like most African families at this time and in this region, his family was not financially wealthy, but they always managed to make do with what they had. There was a very strong sense of closeness and togetherness that was very common in the African community at the time. This ethic of communalism is still present today in many African families, despite the unrelenting onslaught of the European-valued ethic of rugged individualism and competition.
Growing up, Professor Clarke was profoundly influenced by his family. Perhaps his greatest influence was his great-grandmother, whom he affectionately referred to as “Mom Mary.” Mom Mary instilled in him a profound and respectful appreciation of Africa and African people. He often recalled spending countless hours sitting at the feet of his great-grandmother, soaking up her distilled wisdom about African people. She frequently recounted for him and other family members her visual memories of slavery. She described in rich detail seeing the last of the enslaved Africans arrive in the United States as they exited the horrific slave ship. She shared many stories about her heroic first husband, a brave and strong African man who was sold away to a slave-breeding farm in Virginia. The words she shared with Professor Clarke had a lasting impact on him, demonstrating to him the rich legacy from which he came, and thus the legacy he must honor throughout his life.
Professor Clarke’s family moved to Columbus, Georgia when he was still very young. They moved in search of better sharecropping opportunities, just across the Alabama state line. Following the death of his mother, Clarke moved back to Alabama for approximately one year to live with other relatives, until he could return to Georgia after his father remarried. Professor Clarke would spend his remaining childhood years in Columbus until his eventual move to New York City.
Early Religious Influences
Mom Mary, along with the rest of the family, was a very devoted Baptist. Professor Clarke recalled the only reading material in the house while growing up was a Bible. He had a very strong desire to learn how to read. Influenced and partly inspired by his great-grandmother, he committed himself to reading and learning about the Bible so that he could teach the youth Sunday school class. Because of those stories about great African people, he also had a real interest in discovering what the Bible had to say about African people. His curiosity was peaked when he discovered that the people of importance in the Bible were depicted as white, even though the stories took place, geographically, in Africa. These inconsistencies were magnified by the fundamental lessons his great-grandmother taught him, that God was love and loved all people equally. If this was true, Clarke wondered, why don’t people that look like him appear in the telling of God’s story. These things just didn’t make sense to the young Professor Clarke.
Professor Clarke’s efforts to resolve this contradiction taught him at least two lessons that he argued African people have yet to understand: 1) that the Bible is a “Jewish survival book,” a piece of Jewish folklore written to articulate moral truths according to Jewish historical and cultural beliefs; and 2) that African people must stop conceptualizing God through another people’s cultural lens, and redefine the concept of God (and spirituality in general) through an African historical and cultural lens. He maintained that spirituality among African people must reflect the long history of thinking among African people about God and the universe. Until African people understand this fundamental truth, argued Clarke, we will continue to be enslaved to other peoples’ ways of life. Our commitment to them as the source of the correct understanding of God will necessitate it.
Elementary School Years
Professor Clarke had many influences outside of the home as well. He credited his fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Evelina Taylor, with focusing his academic energy in a productive way. Partially due to his advanced reading abilities, Professor Clarke was easily bored when it came to school, and often got into trouble for goofing off. Mrs. Taylor pulled him aside one day, and made it clear to Professor Clarke at this early age that he shouldn’t play the fool just because it got him some attention from his classmates. She expressed her firm belief in his abilities and made it clear to him that he could achieve whatever he put his mind to, but he would first have to take himself seriously. The young Professor Clarke often reflected on these numerous influential women during his childhood.
It is very clear that these early influences laid the foundation for his subsequent views about African women, as well as their role in the liberation of the African community. Clarke was consistent in his assertion that African women must be involved in every phase of the liberation struggle. Professor Clarke would learn that, historically, there had been no aspect of the struggle between African people and their enemies that women have not participated in, from the commanding of military forces, to the running of African nations, to the nurturing of the children. With the strong and responsible figures that were influential in his life, he would naturally develop a tremendous respect for, and be receptive to lessons about great African women in world history.
Noticing African Scholarship
Professor Clarke’s first introduction to African scholarship was an essay in The New Negro entitled “The Negro Digs Up His Past,” written by Arthur Schomburg. What he read amazed him. In this essay he discovered that African people are older than slavery, older than oppression, and older than Europe. This was the first time he had seen and read anything in detail about the long, rich legacy and accomplishments of African people. What he read contradicted much of what he had learned and been told previously, that African people didn’t have any history worth speaking of before slavery. This essay made a lasting impression on Professor Clarke.
Harlem, New York
Professor Clarke decided to leave Georgia at age 18, and caught a ride with a friend on a freight car headed for New York. Professor Clarke arrived in Harlem in 1933, at the age of 18. He moved around from place to place, and worked numerous odd jobs to make it day-to-day. Though he struggled financially, he was always resourceful, something he learned as a boy growing up in the south. During these years he learned a great deal about Harlem and a great deal about life. These experiences would develop in him a very fond and loving relationship with Harlem that lasted a lifetime. He wrote about these experiences in numerous literary pieces, in articles as well as books.
He was already actively involved in his creative writing before he met Arthur Schomburg. He had been writing on many issues, including Pan-Africanism, the oppression of African people, and African liberation. Professor Clarke generally defined Pan-Africanism as a collective group of people, attempting to create a world union of African people working for African people. He wondered why anytime he looked around white folks had so much, others had so little, but others worked so much harder than white folks. He wondered how anyone would have made such an arrangement with such a people.
Professor Clarke finally went to the public library to seek out Arthur Schomburg. He had no idea how easy it would be to meet Arthur Schomburg, nor how that meeting would change his life. Schomburg shared with Professor Clarke that what he was calling African history was actually the missing pages of world history, and that he should study European history closely, in order to understand why African history was deliberately left out of the “official” written pages of world history. These lessons would create a context and methodology for all of his future research. This meeting with Arthur Schomburg would mark the beginning of Professor Clarke’s inspiring intellectual journey as we have come to know it.
His earliest intellectual influences included numerous other scholars, in addition to Arthur Schomburg. Through his discussions with Arthur Schomburg, he was exposed to the works of many other serious and revolutionary African scholars. He also participated in the Harlem History Club, under the leadership of Willis N. Huggins. Professor Clarke recalled, “While studying under Arthur Schomburg I learned the interrelationship of African history to world history. While under Willis Huggins, I began to learn the political meaning of history. Later on, by listening to the lectures of William Leo Hansberry of Howard University, I learned the philosophical meaning of African history.” From Raphael Powell, Professor Clarke would also realize the necessity of calling a group of people by a name that reflects their land, history and culture. Thus, he argued, “Negro” or “Black” people must be called what they really are, an African people.
The most profound lesson that Professor Clarke received from these early discussions with Arthur Schomburg was that you cannot oppress a consciously historical people. It was necessary to write African people out of world history in order to justify the ongoing oppression of African people all over the world. It was also necessary to always speak of African people in some negative light with respect to religion and spirituality. This was necessary so they would believe they had been historically out of the grace and mercy of God. All of his readings allowed him to understand how the global African community reached its present state. He began to learn about the strategies of oppression used by Europeans against African people, as well as the long legacy of African resistance. He gained an acute understanding of African institutions and organizations, and the history of African leadership. It was during this time that Professor Clarke increased his writing of short essays, poetry, and giving regular lectures about various topics in African world history.
His First Trip to Africa
It was in the Harlem History Club that Professor Clarke met Francis K. Nkrumah, later known as Kwame Nkrumah, the former president of Ghana and credited with leading Ghana to its independence from colonial rule. At the time, Nkrumah was a student studying in the United States. Clarke formed a close personal friendship with Nkrumah during this time, which he would later be thankful for. During Professor Clarke’s first visit to Africa in 1958, Nkrumah (riding in his presidential motorcade) spotted Clarke walking along the road. He stopped the motorcade, shared some words and laughter with Professor Clarke, and offered Clarke a job as a journalist with one of the national newspapers. This experience proved to be a beneficial experience for Professor Clarke, both in terms of his literary skills and opportunities to further study African history and culture.
Clarke always insisted on staying in African homes as opposed to staying in hotels, precisely because he wanted to learn about African cultures firsthand. It was this way that Professor Clarke gained an appreciation for the necessity of living with people to experience the intimacies of their culture. He learned many valuable lessons about African people, particularly during the time he lived among the Ga people. Based on these experiences, Professor Clarke was able to write his first major essay entitled, “Wake Keeping Among the Ga People.” This was his tribute to the rich culture he was able to share in while he was there. He traveled to many other African countries as well, but always maintained an intimate relationship with the Ga people. As a testimony to this longstanding relationship, it was the Ga people who presided over the ritual for Clarke’s transition into the community of Ancestors in 1998.
Serving Time in the Military
Professor Clarke was drafted into the Army in September of 1931. He served as a clerk, and bragged about of his efforts to make sure the African soldiers got what they deserved as soldiers and as men, taking advantage of every opportunity to advocate for his soldiers. Professor Clarke was always clear and brief when discussing the time he served in the U.S. Army. He said, “my four years, six months and twenty-six days of military service… added nothing to my African awareness at all. It was a waste of my time and a distraction.” Nevertheless, Professor Clarke gained valuable insight into the workings of the nation’s military and direct experience with U.S. foreign policy. He also gained an intimate understanding of the sensitivities and experiences of African people serving time in the various branches of the armed services. Returning from the war (World War II) on a jim-crow basis, finding no opportunities for employment, he was even more convinced that African people must depend on themselves.
Picking up Where He Left Off
Professor Clarke offered a very analytical perspective on many issues facing African people. He became very clear about what he considered to be unnecessary and time-wasting debates. One of these was the debate between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. He maintained that there should have been no argument about this. We should not have been making choices between the two of them because they were both right. Both of them were articulating necessary aspects of our collective liberation. Booker T. taught us that we have to provide for our own needs and wants, and not to depend on others. W.E.B. DuBois taught us to be politically astute and to achieve the highest levels of education possible. He was clear that we must always be full participants in the arenas of politics and social advancement so that we can affect change in all aspects of our community’s existence.
Both of these strategies were necessary then and both are still necessary now. They both follow a continuous logical stream. Booker T. Washington’s philosophy led to a W.E.B. DuBois, which logically led to the philosophy of Marcus Garvey, which logically led to the philosophy of Elijah Muhammad, and then to the philosophy of Malcolm X. All of these strategies had a place then, and still have a place today in our struggle for global African liberation. There should’ve been no argument about which one of these to do, but about who would do what and when. This is something we still have not taken the time to understand today.
Professor Clarke participated in many organizations during his young adult years. He became active in the Garvey movement. He also became active with the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History. He was an active participant in the activities of the communist party, though never a member. He spent a great deal of time arguing with party members, trying to convince them that Karl Marx was a political “Johnny-come-lately” and that African people had been practicing aspects of socialism before Europe even had an identity. While he may have regretted wasting his time arguing with many close-minded people, he was thankful to the extent that many of the discussions further enhanced his understanding of African people and African culture. Professor Clarke worked with many organizations during this period, primarily because he was willing to try anything he thought could contribute to the ultimate liberation and independence of African people. Professor Clarke was also a founder of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations.
It was through his community-based work and world travel that Professor Clarke met many African scholars and activist-oriented artists. He met numerous activist-oriented African writers while traveling in Europe. He met Aliounne Diop, who later introduced him to Cheikh Anta Diop. Professor Clarke was subsequently instrumental in making Cheikh Anta Diop’s scholarship available to a wider audience of English-speaking people. After years of pleading his case, he was finally able to convince a publisher to have Diop’s work translated and published in English.
Professor Clarke formed close relationships with forerunners of the African-centered African Studies movement. It was through these relationships that Professor Clarke formed allies in the intellectual struggle of African people. Working with many of these scholars in 1969, they decided to break away from the African Studies Association (the premier “white” African studies organization) to form the African Heritage Studies Association. This thrust for African self-determination and self-definition in African studies was concurrent with the Black Studies movement.
During the 1950’s and 1960’s, Professor Clarke formed a very close friendship with Malcolm X. He fondly recalled the many times they spent together. Professor Clarke served as an advisor of sorts to him, providing him with a lot of the historical and factual material he used in his analysis of the conditions of African people throughout the world. He was inspired in so many ways by Malcolm X, and was greatly affected by his assassination in 1965. Professor Clarke reflected long and hard about the time he spent with Malcolm X. After many tears and a lot of frustration, he says that he heard Malcolm X speaking to him, telling him to continue with the work that he had been doing all along. This, according to Professor Clarke, is when he started doing his best work.
Cornell Univ. & Hunter Coll.
Until 1969, Clarke was teaching in and organizing the Department of Black and Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York City. While he enjoyed teaching at Hunter, he came to realize that he had been brought there for political reasons, primarily to build the department as result of student protests and demonstrations. He didn’t feel he was invited because the students had a real desire to study and learn about African history and culture. It was in 1969 that Clarke joined the faculty of the Africana Studies Research Center at Cornell University. According to Clarke, it was at Cornell that he met his brightest African students. He talked very proudly about these students as some of the sharpest and well-trained students he had ever worked with, providing for both a rewarding and stimulating experience. One of his central lecture topics was the long presence of African people in world history.
On Religion and Spirituality
The absence of African people from the respectful commentary of history, he asserted, was no accident. It was and still is a strategically planned and orchestrated thing. Europeans decided to colonize information about history, as well as the images associated with that history. Most importantly (and tragically for African people), Professor Clarke explained, they also colonized the image and concept of God.
Religions are used by conquerors to impose their view of the world on you, and to get you to become their prisoners (psychologically and spiritually). With respect to Christianity, Professor Clarke demonstrates that Europeans took African folklore and incorporated it into a European cultural framework. The same thing was done to bring African people into the Arab practice of Islam. Both Europeans and Arabs attempted the gradual but steady destruction of African culture and African spiritual expression, thereby enslaving African people to Christianity and Islam.
Professor Clarke argued that Arabs are responsible for institutionalizing slavery in Africa, while Europeans are responsible for internationalizing it. It was the Trans-Atlantic slave trade that created the foundation for Western capitalism. Capitalism in this country was made possible by the labor of generations of enslaved Africans. This slave trade was justified and rationalized by the Catholic Church (with the authorization of the Pope), who saw no apparent contradiction between slavery and Christianity. This spiritual devastation of this slavery experience took away the fundamental and essential sense of human-beingness of African people.
Professor Clarke pointed out very clearly that we still suffer the effects of this today. We have a hard time removing Europeans from their position of dominance in our psyche because we worship their images on Sunday, and continue to work every day of the week under their supervision. We associate their image with our understanding of God, and with our understanding of legitimate authority. As an extension we also relate to their image as our source of income and economic viability. This is why we are so willing to argue with, fight, and murder one another, but we never dare speak out honestly against, nor raise our hand to any European. We must again become a consciously historical people. We must again become a consciously African people.
On the Need for Africana Studies
Professor Clarke argued that we must incorporate a broader analysis to our study of African history. We have to see Africa in its totality, and move beyond our romantic preoccupation with West Africa and Egypt. Africa is much larger than these areas, and the story leaves so much more to be told. We also have to read other people’s accounts of our history, especially those periods and places where there were not a lot of Africans doing the historical recording and record keeping. In this regard, Professor Clarke was responsible for (re-)introducing many texts to the African community that had been overlooked or forgotten. He pushed the agenda for identifying a cannon of essential texts that African historians must use to tell the accurate story of African people from the beginning to the present day. He argued that Africana studies is much broader than our current conception of Black studies, it must be conceived of as the global study of African people around the world. He insisted, however, that it must be a study from an African perspective and thus with an African agenda in mind.
On Misplaced Loyalties
Professor Clarke recommended that we read through the written accounts of the early Arab slave trade in Africa because it is a very misunderstood, under-discussed, but major period in African history. The outcomes of this period are still visible today. Yet many people are either unaware and/or unwilling to touch this aspect of African history. The Arab slave trade in Africa drained the Africans of the organization and strength it needed to successfully fight off European invaders and slave traders. These Arab invaders managed to secure control of much of northern Africa, and maintain control of this region today. Even worse, Professor Clarke pointed out, we still practice their religion and worship their conception of God. Thus, he explained, there are many among us who have misplaced loyalties.
To this day, we are too willing to accept everyone else’s ideas about which political approach toward community functioning is best for African people. Capitalism, Communism, Democrat, Republican… the goals are all the same. The goal for each of these ideological positions is European world domination. The key disagreements among them are their approaches and strategies. None of these political approaches is supportive of African liberation.
We have gone so wrong because we have been terribly confused about the concept of integration. Integration should be approached as a process of working together to accomplish mutually beneficial goals. Integration should not be about forming sexual and intimate relations with other groups of people. While generous in his recognition of the good work of the NAACP in the area of legal battles and victories, he was consistently critical of the NAACP and other folks for not articulating a realistic and healthy ideological foundation for African people and integration. All people should maintain their preference and appreciation for their own community, he argued, while working to keep it strong. African people have been too non-discriminating in our alliances and associations with other groups of people. Alliances must be based on our best interest. Professor Clarke explained that we have experienced no alliances with other groups of people who have served African interests in a substantial way, except for some relationships established between African communities and Native American communities during the years of African enslavement in the Americas.
Professor Clarke insists that if African people are going to be successful in this world, we have to relearn some fundamental principles of nation building. First and foremost we have to stop imitating other people. He was always consistent in his critique of “show-business” liberation, referring to the idea that people will only do work when the cameras are rolling or people are watching. We have been too preoccupied, argued Professor Clarke, with holding massive public meetings to discuss our plans with the entire world while asking our enemies for their assistance. Instead, he argued, African people must plan amongst each other and do our work ourselves. We must ask some fundamental questions: How will our people be educated, housed, fed, clothed, and defended? How will our people’s optimal health be maintained? What needs to be done right now? In what ways can I be of meaningful service? The answers to these questions will lead us to the beginning stages of building a self-sufficient union of African people throughout the world. We have to use our creative talent and skills to build for African people, starting on our local block and expanding outward. He insisted that we start with things that are easily accomplished and work our way from there.
On Family: The Core of a Nation
Professor Clarke believed in the importance of thoroughly enjoying life. One of his lessons was that you have to make a place in life for many things. Work has its place, and so do other aspects of our being. Professor Clarke had many lasting friendships and appreciated the importance of family. He maintained that it is important to keep things in focus and in perspective. He was clear about his family and their place in his life. He had family members that were into a variety of things. He might have disagreed ideologically and spiritually with many of them, but always maintained an appreciation and love for all of them. He came to recognize that everyone had their path and their way of understanding the world. He always remained clear that they were family, and always would be. Family is and must remain the unbreakable bond, through the many trials and tribulations that life brings. Our experiences in this country have made our families ill, physically and otherwise, and we must recommit ourselves to our healing. Each of us has an obligation to facilitate this process with one another.
We have to recognize that the family is the foundation of any community. We must consciously and deliberately recommit ourselves to one another, African women, men and children. We must recommit ourselves to our own ways of building and maintaining families, incorporating an emphasis on communalism, collective parenting and the extended family. We have to conceive of our communities as miniature nations and we have to control everything that goes on in our community. We either control what happens in our community, or we are controlled by those who do.
There are many ways to summarize the life and work of Professor John Henrik Clarke. He was primarily self-taught, and spoke of the public library and hundreds of second hand bookstores as his primary classroom. He never finished high school, but taught several generations of students before completing either his bachelor or doctorate degrees.
Professor Clarke’s most profound and honorable character trait was that he was always honest and forthright about issues facing African people. He consistently taught us that “History is a clock that people use to tell their political and cultural time of day. History is also a compass they use to find themselves on the map of human geography. History tells a people where they have been and what they have been, where they are, and what they are. Most importantly, history tells a people where they still must go, what they still must be. The relationship of history to the people is the same as the relationship of a mother to her child.”
In a presentation delivered at the 1999 Annual Kemetic Studies Conference of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations, Dr. Greg Carr (now Chair of the African American Studies Department at Howard University) summarized one of Professor Clarke’s most significant contributions to African people. He spoke of Professor Clarke as a timekeeper, the person whose obligation it is to always tell the truth about the situation of African people. The timekeeper doesn’t make up the time, or dress the time up. The timekeeper just tells it like it is. Most important is the appreciation that time can only be understood in context. The timekeeper must understand the context upon which time is written in order to accurately read the time. Professor Clarke was able to read the clock of human history and articulate it so clearly. He was a storyteller just like Mom Mary of his childhood.
Clarke, John Henrik. My Life in Search of Africa. Chicago, IL: Third World Press, 1999.
Adams, Barbara Eleanor. John Henrik Clarke: The Early Years. Hampton, VA: United Brothers and Sisters Communications, 1992.
Video Documentary: John Henrik Clarke: A Great and Mighty Walk. Wesley Snipes, Producer. Black Dot Media Productions. 1988.