WHY THE JOHN HENRIK CLARK COLLECTION?
[Excerpts from the article by John Henrik Clarke in The Diversified Hexagon, vol. 8, no. 1, May 1991]
"As a person who is mainly self-educated, I grew up in this world craving for books that would answer my many unformed questions. I grew to early manhood in Columbus, Georgia in the years when Blacks could not use the public library. I often went into the public library with a note requesting that this boy be given a certain book, giving the impression that I was doing an errand for some well-known white person. This 'boot-legged-book-borrowing' worked well for a while, but it stopped when the person whose name I had used, on one occasion, appeared in the library. To this day, I do not know what he was doing there because I had worked for him after school and never saw him read anything, not even a newspaper. In my last years in Columbus, Georgia, I lived in a boarding house called Miss Rosa Lee's. The ladies who lived there, in respect for my liking to read, bought me a complete set of Winston Encyclopedia. Through these books, the borrowed ones and the gifts, and in spite of my miserable poverty, I grew up in a world rich with ideas.
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My decision to leave the most important books in my personal library to the Woodruff Library was made because I was born in Union Springs, Alabama and grew to early manhood in Columbus, Georgia and have always had the secret wish to make a literary contribution to one of these states. I have become a historian, educator, writer, lecturer, reviewer, and a curriculum specialist and credit both of these states with shaping the man I became. The Woodruff Library was chosen because of my relationship with Atlanta University, the consortium around it, and the fact that the Woodruff Library has some of the better facilities for the preservation of books than any college library I have visited. I learned of the special collections in the Woodruff Library the year my daughter Nzingha Marie Clarke spent at Spelman.
Most men start out in life with a certain goal and mission in mind and ultimately have to settle for a mission far short of their original intent. I was fortunate in this regard because I became, in my life time, what I set out to be- a creative and effective class-room teacher. I was the head of several organizations and for three years Chairman of the Department of Africana and Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, in New York City. But the center of my world was in the arena of books, documents and ideas relating to social change. My interest in the life, history, culture, politics and humanity of my own people taught me a respect for all people. The books in my library reflect my interest in my own people, in particular, and the people of the world in general.
I have related to the consortium of colleges that are served by the Woodruff Library for well over 15 years. Part of my decision to donate my books to this library is that I consider this consortium and other schools in the Atlanta area the basis of an educational center that speaks well for the United States and a progressive nation. Because I was born of a humble sharecropper (land-less peasants) background I have always wanted my life to make a cultural and political statement. This is a lesson I learned from my fifth grade teacher, Ms. Everlyna Taylor, who taught me the meaning of education and said that I should strive to never be anything less than my best self. She taught me to believe in myself, my people and the humanity of all people. This along with my curiosity is reflected in the books that I read and still collect. It is part of my personal mission and it is also what I hope will be a moderate legacy that a son of an Alabama sharecropper can leave for all human kind."
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