Sybil Williams-Clarke, widow of internationally famed historian/educator John Henrik Clarke, died on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2019 of natural causes in New York City. She was 96.
Born into a very racially conscious family in Jamaica, “Mama Sybil,” as she was affectionately called, was instilled with a dedication to support and move forward the Black community - not just in words, but in action.
In 1947, Williams-Clarke moved to the United States. Although trained and working as a legal secretary before leaving Jamaica, her credentials were ignored in the U.S., forcing her to accept a regular secretarial position at a law firm in Harlem, New York. Williams-Clarke worked herself up to legal secretary for the firm, though she left and eventually started working as a coordinator in the NAACP's youth department.
She coordinated the various youth organizations from around the country to participate in the 1963 March on Washington.
“We've always had women in the movement who are behind the scenes, making things happen," explained Leonard Jeffries, former chairman of the Black Studies department at City University of New York, and protégé of Clarke.
"They are the queen mothers and she was one of the truly important queen mothers.”
William-Clarke’s knowledge and participation in organized struggles in the Caribbean in the earlier half of the 20th Century made her an asset to the African-American cultural groups of the latter day who were reaching out to their Caribbean and African counterparts.
"Mama Sybil was a formidable and intellectual revolutionary organizer in her own right, of course," said Greg Carr, chair of Howard University's Department of Afro American Studies.
"She was an original and very forceful thinker around Pan-Africanism - about revolutionary theory in general."
She worked as an assistant for Clarke for more than a decade before marrying him on Sept. 21, 1997, and was instrumental in organizing the movement of his books and documents to the Atlanta University Center, as well as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture shortly before his death in July 1998.
"He probably would have left us sooner than he did if he wasn't for her," Carr said.
"I watched her as she made him take his medicine."
Viewing will be held Oct. 25 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Benta's Funeral Home, 630 St. Nicholas Avenue, New York, N.Y. Services will be held Oct. 26 at 10 a.m. at Benta's. Burial is in at Rose Hill Cemetery in Linden, New Jersey.