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 →

My highlights: History, Education, and Policing

March 1, 2013 in Blog

The week of 18 February 2013 offered many opportunities for reminiscing, reflection, critical analysis and for planning collective action on a number of fronts, history, education and race and policing and community security among them.

On Wednesday 20 February, Global Hands and DeMontfort University, Leicester, hosted a one day symposium on Police Reform and Developing the Community Security Sector in the Emerging and Developing World, looking at police practices, community policing, non-state policing and policing and national security in Britain, Nigeria, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

My contribution to the symposium was ‘an overview of policing and human rights issues in the developing and emerging world’.  In that presentation I examined a number of issues that are common to Britain, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, South Africa, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, to name but a few.  Age old notions such as policing by consent and the centrality of public confidence in the police and in the structures that hold them accountable for their actions are under serious strain in many countries.  This is a consequence of police routinely abusing their power without being held to account, as well as weak government and compromised politicians being seen as incapable of protecting the citizen and upholding the rule of law.  Read the rest of this entry →

The Grenada massacre: Lest We Forget!

October 19, 2012 in Blog

Another anniversary, another series of events to mark the brutal execution of the Prime Minister of the People’s Revolutionary Government of Grenada, Maurice Bishop, several members of government and of his Party, another year of not knowing where the bodies of Maurice Bishop and his comrades were buried.

In Grenada, as in previous years, representatives of the Government will join the Maurice Bishop and Martyrs Foundation in conducting a modest ceremony of remembrance in the place on Fort Rupert (renamed Fort George) in St George’s, the capital of Grenada, where on 19 October 1983 Maurice Bishop, Fitzroy Bain, Norris Bain, Evelyn Bullen, Jacqueline Creft, Keith Hayling, Evelyn Maitland, Unison Whiteman, were summarily executed. Remembered, also, will be: Andy Sebastian Alexander, Simon Alexander, Gemma Belmar, Eric Dumont, Avis Ferguson, Vince Noel, Alleyne Romain and Nelson Steele who were killed on the Fort that fateful day.

On 25 October, a public holiday in Grenada which some ruefully call ‘Emancipation Day’, more elaborate ceremonies will be held, topped by church services attended by members of the government and other civic leaders, to ‘give thanks’ for ‘Papa Reagan’ and the ‘liberation’ of Grenada from the Revolutionary Military Council and the remnants of the leadership of the Grenada Revolution! Read the rest of this entry →

Gus John pays tribute to Bob Marley & The Wailers

September 27, 2012 in Blog, Speeches

Credits: Félix Foueillis/ United Reggae

Professor Gus John delivers his feature address

On September 8th, Gus John attended the Bob Marley & The Wailers Heritage Blue Plaque Commemorative Unveiling Ceremony at 15, The Circle, Neasden and paid his tribute to the reggae legends with the following feature address:

It gives me great pleasure to be able to make a contribution to this historic event today and I want to congratulate Delroy Washburn and his team at Reggae Focus – ”Sounds of Jamaica’‘ for their hard work in getting this plaque created and making it possible for us to be present here for the unveiling of the plaque.

Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to Mr and Mrs Atkinson, whose home this is, for allowing us to acknowledge for all time through this plaque fixed to the house they now own, the historical record of the fact that Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh and other members of their band lived in this house in 1972 and off and on in the years following.

I am old enough to remember the influence of Ska, Rock Steady and Blue Beat, musical genres originating in Jamaica and bursting onto the British scene in the middle 1960s onwards.  I was a theological student at Oxford and a Dominican Friar, but I managed to frequent parties organised by Jamaican nurses at the Radcliffe and Churchill teaching hospitals in Oxford at which we danced to Jamaican music, Ska especially, as if we were in Kingston.  That was interspersed with Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge and other musical giants from the USA, West African ‘high life’ and calypso from Sparrow and Kitchener… In other words, music with its roots in Africa and the Global African Diaspora. Read the rest of this entry →

Bob Marley & the Wailers: Blue Plaque unveiled in London

September 27, 2012 in Blog

I was happy to be able to accept an invitation from the Federation of Reggae Music (FORM) UK and Brent Council to attend the Bob Marley & The Wailers Heritage Blue Plaque Commemorative Unveiling Ceremony at 15, The Circle, Neasden NW2 7QR on Saturday 8 September 2012, and to open the proceedings by pouring Libation to the Ancestors.

The Blue Plaque Ceremony was the first in a series of Reggae Focus ‘Sounds of Jamaica’ events to honour the lives and careers of iconic Reggae artists and promote Reggae to global audiences. The prestigious Blue Plaques will be unveiled in Brent districts including Harlesden, Neasden, Willesden, Cricklewood and Kilburn.

Invited Guests to the event included the Mayor of Brent, Councillor Michael Adeyeye, the Leader of Brent Council, Cllr Muhammad Butt, FORM Chairman Delroy Washington (who also lived at 15 The Circle with Marley and co.), Cllr Lincoln Beswick, a long serving Brent Councillor and Dawn Butler, former Brent MP and High Commissioners from various Caribbean countries.

The event formed part of the Reggae Focus ‘Sounds of Jamaica’ Initiative – a 3 year marketing and PR type strategic campaign to create awareness of Reggae and its significance to African-Caribbean and global culture. FORM is seeking to regenerate the UK Reggae sector and has a focus on the Borough of Brent in the first instance. Read the rest of this entry →