John Henrik Clarke: A Scholar for All Seasons

by William Loren Katz on January 28, 2006

Though I had been reading his works for many years, my relationship with Dr. Clarke began back in the 1960s when he was editor of Freedomways, a liberation magazine I read and admired.

In 1968 when the New York Times considered me as an editor of a Black History reprint series, it was Dr. Clarke they turned to for an evaluation, and I got the assignment. A few years later my first scholarly article in Freedomways established a legacy of Black resistance to U.S. ventures against colonial peoples.

Though pleased with the article, he pointed out I had neglected to mention that Freedomways was the first U.S. publication to denounce the Vietnam war as blatant imperialism, and into the article this went. Freedomways went on to publish a dozen or more of my articles.

We continued to talk by phone over the years, especially during the orchestrated attack on Dr. Leonard Jeffries, and we appeared together on Gil Noble’s Like It Is to strongly defend vital issues Jeffries had raised. Dr. Clarke and I did not always agree, but he always enunciated his views clearly and I increasingly came to respect his scholarship, sincerity and enjoy his sense of humor. Above all he was devoted to the education of his people, and that was his great gift to his community. In the last few years we spoke by phone almost weekly, and I continued to learn from his wisdom and storehouse of knowledge.

John Henrik Clarke was a great teacher, a giant of our times and a scholar for all seasons. The world will miss his wisdom, generosity and his unfailing sense of humor.

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