15 Quotes By Legendary Africana Studies Scholar John Henrik Clarke

15 Quotes By Legendary Africana Studies Scholar John Henrik Clarke

John Henrik Clarke
John Henrik Clarke was an African-American writer, historian, and Africana studies scholar who founded associations to support the study of Black culture. Image: John Henrik Clarke Fair Use Image

John Henrik Clarke was an African-American writer, historian, and professor who advanced the study of Black history and culture through his teachings and the organizations he founded and led.

He was born on Jan. 1, 1915 in Union Springs, Alabama. His family later moved to Columbus, Georgia, in the hopes of making enough money to buy land rather than sharecrop.

In 1933, Clarke left Georgia by freight train and went to Harlem, New York, as part of the Great Migration of rural African Americans out of the South to the northern cities.

From 1969 to 1986, Clarke was a professor of Black and Puerto Rican studies at the Hunter College of the City University of New York where he also served as founding chairman of the department.

Apart from teaching at the universities, Clarke founded professional associations to support the study of Black culture. He was also the first president of the African Heritage Studies Association, which supported scholars in areas of culture, history, arts and literature.

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Clarke’s writing included six scholarly books and many scholarly articles. He also edited anthologies of writing by African Americans, as well as collections of his own short stories.

Clarke died of a heart attack on July 12, 1998, at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Centre in New York City. He was buried in Green Acres Cemetery in Columbus, Georgia.

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Here are 15 quotes by John Henrik Clarke.


“To control a people you must first control what they think about themselves and how they regard their history and culture. And when your conqueror makes you ashamed of your culture and your history, he needs no prison walls and no chains to hold you.”


“Racists will always call you a racist when you identify their racism. To love yourself now – is a form of racism. We are the only people who are criticized for loving ourselves. And white people think when you love yourself you hate them. No, when I love myself they become irrelevant to me.”

Effects of slavery

“It’s time for Black people to stop playing the separating game of geography, of where the slave ship put us down. We must concentrate on where the slave ship picked us up… Africans in the Americas must remember that the slave ships brought no West Indians, no Caribbeans, no Jamaicans or Trinidadians or Barbadians to this hemisphere. The slave ships brought only African people and most of us took the semblance of nationality from the places where slave ships dropped us off.”

Being Black

“To be Black and beautiful means nothing in this world unless we are Black and powerful.”

Restoring History

“If you expect the present-day school system to give history to you, you are dreaming. This, we have to do ourselves. The Chinese didn’t go out in the world and beg people to teach Chinese studies or let them teach Chinese studies. The Japanese didn’t do that either. People don’t beg other people to restore their history; they do it themselves.”


“Religion is the organization of spirituality into something that became the hand maiden of conquerors. Nearly all religions were brought to people and imposed on people by conquerors, and used as the framework to control their minds.”

Being powerful

“Powerful people cannot afford to educate the people that they oppress, because once you are truly educated, you will not ask for power. You will take it.”


“Every single thing that touches your life, religious, socially and politically, must be an instrument of your liberation or you must throw it into the ashcan of history.”


“I only debate my equals. All others, I teach”


“It is too often forgotten that when the Europeans gained enough maritime skills and gunpowder to conquer most of the world, they not only colonized the bulk of the world’s people but they colonized the interpretation of history itself. Human history was rewritten to favor them at the expense of other people. The roots of modern racism can be traced to this conquest and colonization.”

Human Behaviour

“Most human behavior is controlled by images. Image is a factor in how people look at themselves and what they use to reflect themselves. The control of images is a major factor in world power.”

Africa and its people

“Africa and its people are the most written about and the least understood of all of the world’s people. This condition started in the 15th and the 16th centuries with the beginning of the slave trade system. The Europeans not only colonialized most of the world, they began to colonialize information about the world and its people.”

View of God

“Anytime you turn on your own concept of God, you are no longer a free man. No one needs to put chains on your body, because the chains are on your mind.”

Unity among Black people

“I say if Black people don’t unite and begin to support themselves, their communities and their families, they might as well begin to go out of business as a people. Nobody’s going to have any mercy. And nobody’s going to have any compunction about making slaves out of them.”

Africa for Africans

“Africa is our center of gravity, our cultural and spiritual mother and father, our beating heart, no matter where we live on the face of this earth.”