Where Now for Black History Month?

November 3, 2013 in Blog, Gus talks, Papers

"African Diaspora" by beautifulcataya (Flickr - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“African Diaspora” by beautifulcataya (Flickr – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Most every year at this time, a debate ensues about the purpose, merits and direction of Black History Month (BHM), a debate fuelled in the main by frustration about the focus of BHM programmes over the preceding four weeks. 

On Thursday 31 October 2013, some 1,000 people gathered at the Church of Christ the Redeemer in Allenbury Road, Greenford, for the funeral of the publisher and political activist Jessica Huntley and to acknowledge and celebrate her distinctive contribution to British schooling, British social history and Black History over the last half a century.

One of the many educational and inspirational events Jessica organized and contributed to in the period before her death was a debate in November 2012 about ‘the way forward for Black History Month in the UK’.  On 22 February 2013, Nubian Jak organized a symposium at the Africa Centre in Covent Garden, London, on a proposal for an annual ‘African Heritage Month International‘ celebration in February.  On February 23rd, the 8th Huntley Conference was held at the London Metropolitan Archives. This also marked Jessica’s 86th birthday and turned out to be her last conference.

I was unable to contribute to the Huntley debate but wrote this paper for the Africa Centre symposium.  I reproduce it here because among the very many discussions that took place around Jessica’s funeral about the many projects she was actively involved with up to the day before she passed on, was one about her take on the future of Black History Month. Read the rest of this entry →

Jessica Huntley, veteran political and cultural activist dies at 86

October 16, 2013 in Blog

London mourns the passing of one of its inveterate activists in the struggle for social liberation and against racism in schooling and education. Jessica Huntley, co-founder and director of Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications and bookstore in West Ealing, passed away at Ealing Hospital yesterday morning, 13 October, following a short illness. She was 86 last February.

"Jessica Huntley" by Robert Taylor (Photo: Connecting Stories)

“Jessica Huntley” by Robert Taylor (Photo: Connecting Stories)

I first met Jessica in 1967 at the West Indian Students Centre (WISC) in Collingham Road, Earls Court, which hosted community meetings on a wide range of issues to do with the Caribbean community in London, including political and economic issues in the countries from which we had not long come.

WISC became a rallying point for a community, a platform from which students from the Caribbean engaged with the struggles and social life of migrants in all works of life and a ‘home’ for the Caribbean Education Association which soon morphed into the Caribbean Education and Community Workers Association (CECWA).

Jessica and Eric, her husband of over sixty years, established and ran one of only two black publishing houses in the UK. They established Bogle-L’Ouverture towards the end of 1968, after a popular and fierce campaign against the Jamaican Government’s decision, under Prime Minister Hugh Shearer, to ban the late Dr Walter Rodney from ever returning to Jamaica and to his post at the University of the West Indies, where he had taught after returning from the University of Dar-es-Salaam in 1967, combining his academic work with political activism and worker organisation among workers and peasants in Jamaica.

Rodney’s message resonated with the poor and dispossessed in that island and especially with the Rastafarian Movement. The ban led to mass protest in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean, including what became known as the Rodney Riots.

It is small wonder, then, that when Jessica and Eric Huntley and a small committee of comrades who had been active in the anti-ban campaign met and decided to establish a publishing facility and bookshop, they decided to name it after Paul Bogle, a revolutionary anti-imperialist and anti-plantocracy leader of the Morant Bay Rebellion in St Thomas, Jamaica, in 1865, and Toussaint L’Ouverture, the leader of the Haitian Revolution some seventy five years earlier.

Walter Rodney provided the newly formed Bogle-L’Ouverture with his account of the background to the ban, including his work among the working and peasant classes and his assessment of the politics of the day. His seminal work ‘The Groundings with my Brothers’ thus became Bogle L’Ouverture’s first published title. Read the rest of this entry →

‘The Black Vote’: Public Discourses in the Public Sphere

September 23, 2013 in Blog

In this blog, I return to the subject of my last: ‘The Black Vote’ and the 2015 General Election.

Simon Wooley, head of Operation Black Vote - by Coventry City Council (Flickr - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Simon Wooley, director of Operation Black Vote – by Coventry City Council (Flickr – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

It is clear that Operation Black Vote (OBV) was not well pleased with the blog. Indeed, OBV director Simon Woolley (pictured – right) called me a few days ago to raise his objections to the article on two grounds. One was that in OBV’s view the article misrepresented their position by claiming that OBV appears to want to send out a message to Black Britain that hope, if not salvation, lies in throwing in their lot with these politically and morally bankrupt political parties’ and the other, implying that OBV sees ‘the black electorate as some unified, undifferentiated mass that can collectively bring about change’.

Simon Woolley’s more fundamental objections, however, had to do with what he saw as my undermining of the efforts of people such as OBV who were fighting the same cause as myself by writing in this ‘critical tone’ rather than picking up the phone and speaking to him. He felt he had a right to expect that, rather than a blog in which I was effectively ‘washing our dirty linen in public’.

It is possible for me to say much about OBV’s objections to the blog. In this article, though, I want to address their last point about having internal conversations as black people fighting for a common cause so as not to appear ‘disunited’ and to be ‘pulling one another down’. In their view, the latter is what happens when we ‘wash our dirty linen in public’. Read the rest of this entry →

50 years after Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ Speech

August 28, 2013 in Blog

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

These famous words, the second sentence of the American Declaration of Independence on 4th July 1776, were the cornerstone of Dr Martin Luther King’s speech on 28 August 1963.  That speech is rarely remembered in its entirety and consequently over time the last part which is most frequently quoted has come to represent a rallying cry for black and white integration rather than a ‘call to arms’ in the struggle for equal rights and justice.

Why is that important and what is its relevance for Britain?

It is important because while desegregation was high on the political and social agenda of the civil rights movement, it is the denial of access to opportunities for self advancement and to justice under the law for ‘coloured Americans’ that segregation represented that so preoccupied King. Racial segregation was, after all, imprisonment with hard labour in what that great novelist of the African Diaspora, George Lamming, described as ‘the castle of my skin’.  And while racial segregation has never been stated policy and state-sanctioned practice in Britain, the ethnic penalty that is carried by descendants of enslaved Africans in the British Isles is nevertheless a benign form of racial segregation within a nation state with a veneer of ‘tolerance, fairness and justice’. Read the rest of this entry →

Doreen Lawrence’s Gain Is Black Britain’s Loss

August 5, 2013 in Gus in the Media, Print

Print screen from "The Voice"'s website (http://bit.ly/16v3cHp)

Print screen from “The Voice”‘s website (http://bit.ly/16v3cHp)

IN THE past few days, I have had many people from the Global African Diaspora, women especially, express their delight that ‘Doreen is now the Right Honourable Baroness Lawrence’ and that ‘there is one more of us in the Lords’. They all thought I was being churlish and, as one put it, ‘typically anti-establishment’ when I disagreed.

One wonders why Doreen Lawrence was made a Labour peer and not an independent ‘cross-bench’ member of the House of Lords, the unelected second chamber of the British parliament. After all, she has been held up by the entire British political class, not just the Labour Party. She is the revered emblem of the British establishment and an ambassador for the supposed ‘openness’, ‘inclusiveness’, ‘justice’ and ‘antiracism’ of British society.

In 2003, she was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for ‘services to community relations’ (sic). In July 2012, she received worldwide exposure as the totem of the British establishment when she took part in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, carrying the Olympic Flag. In October 2012, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 14th Pride of Britain Awards. And now, as Baroness Lawrence, she has reached the top of the totem pole. Read the rest of this entry →