On my journey now: the narrative and works of Dr. John Henrik Clarke, the knowledge revolutionary.

Author:Person-Lynn, Kwaku
Position:P. 59-83

The following (with the exception of three photos) was originally published by the Department of Pan African Studies at California State University at Northridge via a special issue of their journal titled The Journal of Pan African Studies: A Journal of Africentric Theory, Methodology, and Analysis (vol.1, no.2, winter-fall 2000; vol.2,no.1, spring-summer 2001; ISSN: 1532-9780), edited by David L. Horne, Ph.D. and published here by the permission of the author, Kwaku Person-Lynn, Ph.D.


In such a collective work as this, there are many to thank. The research alone involved people from all over the country who contributed in one form or another. It begins with the Creator, always. Isidra, my life partner, thank you for being there every second of everyday in so many ways. To my sons, for allowing me to have peace when I needed it, and making the honor roll, in spite of my not always being there. As long as I have breath, you and momma always have my love. John Henrik Clarke, around whom everything here centers, thank you for having faith that I could do "high quality work," and the generosity and time you gave to me. I am especially grateful for you opening up your home so that I could live and work inside your soul, which will never die. To Sybil Williams- Clarke, if ever Dr. Clarke had a loving and protective guardian angel on this earth, you would have to be the one. I guess that's why he married you before he went home. Thank you for the health advice.

To Chiri Fitzpatrick and Ann Swanson, Dr. Clarke's former secretaries, I could not have made the first step without your diligent efforts in organizing his files and aiding me in my work. Andre Elizee, of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, who oversees the John Henrik Clarke Papers, your efforts are as monumental as the building in which you work. Also to Betty Odadashian, of the Schomburg, for your valuable assistance. To Miki Goral, of the University of California, Los Angeles, University Research Library, you have to be one of the greatest reference librarians in the country. Faye Phinsee-Clack and Naomi Moy of the California State University, Dominguez Hills Library, thank you so much for your valuable help. Charles Freeney, of the Robert Woodruff Library, Clark Atlanta University (where Dr. Clarke donated 10,000 titles from his personal library), thank you. Also, to the staffs at the following libraries for their extraordinary assistance: A.C. Bilbrew Library in Los Angeles; University of Southern California--John Leavey Library and Doheny Library; Loyola Marymount University Library; The John Henrik Clarke Africana Studies Library at Cornell University; and The Mooreland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University.

Kimili Anderson, editor, Journal of Negro Education, thank you for your assistance, and you are still a great word person. James Fugate, again for the guidance, and David Boarman and Capril Bonner Thomas of Eso Won Books, in Los Angeles, for the research assistance. Ora Mobley, thank you for those rare but special references. You are a historical treasure yourself. Obadele Williams for being Dr. Clarke's greatest archivist. To Nathan Adams, of Ethnic News Watch database of SoftLine Information, Inc., your help and sharing the disks with me was more important than I could ever express in plain words.

It is rare when the scientific and space community support such an effort as this book, but it happened. The Space and Communications African American Network at Hughes Aircraft, in El Segundo, California, financed my trip to New York to work with Dr. Clarke. These special people are: Michael O. Smith, Chair, Bonnie D. Clark, Dr. Ronald E. Fountain, Geneva L. Dorsey, Donna M. Williams-Hale, Edna G. Merlo, Lorraine M. Johnson, William L. Garner, Eugene Robertson, Donald and Karen White, Travis G. Hicks, Jimmie Mitchell, LaRon V. Doucet, Roxanne M. McCrumby, Billie Carter Miles, Jr., Shirley J. Caldwell, Desalyn M. Stevenson, Chris N. Goodson, Hanna P. Starr, Kathy L. Quinn, Ward E. Martin, Denise Echols, Ronella Rose, Sophia L. McCord, Larry L. Dennis, A. David Stuart, Leonore B. Alex, Melvin L. Thomas, Beverly A. Barbee, V. Gail West, June S. Demps, Alice M. Hawkins, Sharon Pyne, Sharlotte A. Powell, JoAnn Fountain, Cole S. Smith and Rhonda D. Goins.

Included are some good friends who gave invaluable assistance, suggestions, ideas and encouragement. S. Pearl Sharp, thank you for that great idea. Yemi Toure, can't wait to see your book on the elders. Nzinga Heru, thank you for setting up a couple of the interviews. Barbara Eleanor Adams, thank you for that great book of yours, John Henrik Clarke: The Early Years.

Thank you Bill Tiernan of the Virginia Pilot for permission to use the photograph of Dr. Clarke for the cover.

Wesley Snipes, thank you for demonstrating that a highly celebrated actor does not have to lose his soul in Hollywood, and that through your company, Amen Ra Films, you could produce such a masterpiece: John Henrik Clarke: A Great and Mighty Walk, and for participating in this book. Thank you, brother.

Kwaku Person-Lynn, Ph.D.

Foreward: A Sacred Oracle in Harlem

I remember when I was living in the Bronx, my wife at the time was taking classes at Hunter College. Every now and then she would come home and talk about this teacher, this "really deep brother," whose class she just loved. Wondering if he was a teacher "teacher," or just some suave handsome brother with a good rap, mackin' in classrooms full of beautiful sisters searching for a sense of self-worth and a solution to black depravity, I thought I better go down and check this teacher out. My wife told me he held open classes. Even if I wasn't registered, I could sit in. "SIT IN? You mean even though I'm not enrolled, I can still sit in on his class?" "Yes!" she said, "but you better get there early if you want a seat. And another thing, if you do come, you don't know me."

I recall the day I actually attended the class and saw this teacher for the first time. Here I was expecting a tall, really handsome, fresh pressed dashiki-wearing-brother with some beautiful beaded necklace he got from the "motherland" swinging across the front of his chest like a hypnotist's pendulum.

What a surprise! In walks this short, medium built, balding man with the skin color of a tootsie roll, wearing what looked to be one of his Sunday school suits back in the day. He was carrying an old, I mean old looking briefcase in one hand, and even older looking books in the other. He was cool, though. Very cool. He reminded me of the men I used to see in the local barbershop in the Griffith Park section of Orlando, Florida.

They'd sit around the shop talking and playing checkers. Debating. Even though I didn't always know what they were talking about, I did like the way they said it, even if they did "talk funny." One of them always gave me a gift: a quarter, some candy or some soda water. Though I couldn't always predict which gift I'd get from time to time, it really didn't matter. Whatever it was, I knew it would be sweet to the pallet, yummy to the tummy. I always felt safe around those men.

I said to myself, "Could this man, this 'teacher,' be like those men from the barber shop?" And as if from my mouth to God's ears, Professor Clarke spoke, "Awwright now, let's get to it." From that moment on, not only could you hear a pin drop, but you taunted the deafness resulting from the thunderous explosions of brain cells being pummeled into submission by all the 'bombs he kept dropping.' Just like in the barbershop, but better. On top of all that, he talked funny too.

For the next year I attended his classes. Sometimes I did the homework and took the tests. Hell, I'd even show up when my wife couldn't make it. I would update her as to what new bombshell Professor Clarke dropped on us this time. Now you might say, "Wow! Wesley was making movies, and still taking Professor Clarke's classes too? A movie star hanging with the grassroots folks!" I wish I could say I was "that deep." The truth of the matter is, I wasn't working that much in movies. I had only done two, and it still didn't get me off the Number 4 and 5 trains. I had plenty of idle time on my hands.

Fortunately, I had some background in African and African Caribbean Studies. The lessons taught by Professor Clarke didn't cause a complete and total sensory overload. But he sure rocked the boat. I remember in the middle of a heated discussion about the disunity among people of African descent, based on language diversity and this strange psychosis that makes us think our local accent somehow affords us a higher position on the "shit stick." Professor Clarke interrupted and said, "Well, if nothing else unites us ...racism will."

"What?" a student said. "It's racism that got us in the condition we're in now. How can racism possibly bring black people together?" Professor Clarke replied, "Cause if we don't wake up soon and realize we're in the same boat, things are gonna get sooo bad ...we ain't gonna have no choice but to come together, or perish."

Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees, this was the kind of profound statement that could only come from years and years of study and deep meditation. In that one moment, Professor Clarke waylaid any questions I had about who and what kind of man he was. The barbershop of my youth had become his classroom. This time it wasn't soda water, candy or a quarter that would please me. This time, it would be spiritual insight and cultural fortitude conferred on me by the quintessential example of African genius. Funny, we didn't have to go across the ocean to that far away land to find the Great Oracle. The Oracle was right here in Harlem.

Professor Clarke taught us to think. He forced us to exercise that brain of ours in honor of grand mamahs and grand bahbahs for their love and sacrifice. He taught that not only did Africans give the world the first...

To continue reading