Obituary: Richard (Dick) Hart, 1917-2013

January 5, 2014 in Blog

Richard Hart (right) receiving a gift from Audrey Smith of the PNP Women's Movement, while Everton Pryce looks on during the celebration of his 75th birthday in 1992. (Credits: The Gleaner)

Richard Hart (right) receiving a gift from Audrey Smith of the PNP Women’s Movement, while Everton Pryce looks on during the celebration of his 75th birthday in 1992. (Credits: The Gleaner)

We mourn Richard Hart who joined the Ancestors after a long life of struggle for workers’ and peasants’ rights and against colonialism and neo-colonialism. Dick as he was popularly known, was a founder member and Honorary President of Caribbean Labour Solidarity. An avowed Marxist and socialist lawyer, Dick Hart acted as legal consultant to Maurice Bishop’s People’s Revolutionary Government in Grenada, becoming its Attorney General in 1982 until the demise of the Revolution and the subsequent US invasion of that island in October 1983.

Dick Hart’s life-long work started when he was not yet into his twenties. His political activism which both drew upon and informed his theorizing, his praxis in other words, and especially his writings on slavery, capitalism and colonialism places him in the same league as CLR James, Eric Williams and Walter Rodney (to name but a few).

What is common to the work of all those giants is the position of enslaved Africans on a spectrum that runs from the Middle Passage itself, to the plantations, to the reconfigured plantations under neo-colonialism, to the betrayal of workers’ and peasants’ struggles by successive neo-colonial governments that have been wagged by the tail and the nose simultaneously by former colonialists and imperialists whose shoes too many have been massively eager to fill. All those ‘giants’, irrespective of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, forged their politics against the backcloth of the work of the Rt Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey and the movement in the Caribbean towards Pan-Africanism to which it gave rise.

Dick Hart’s death comes at a time when the debate about reparations for the enslavement of Africans and their use as chattels to create the wealth upon which most of Western Europe was built is gaining pace.

WATCH: Gus John, Richard Hart & the campaign for the release of the Grenada 17

A report in the Jamaica Observer 12 December 2013 notes that the Caribbean Community (Caricom) Reparations Commission, chaired by historian Professor Sir Hillary Beckles, said that ‘its first report that speaks to reparatory justice for the region will be ready for submission to next February’s Heads of Government meeting. Sir Hillary Beckles said following consultations with British attorneys from Leigh Day, which he described as an internationally respected law firm that specialises in cases of this nature, the commission agreed that Caricom member states should request reparatory dialogue with past slave-owning European states — Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Denmark in a move to formulate a new development agenda for the Caribbean’. Read the rest of this entry →

Barbados thanks God for Margaret Thatcher

November 19, 2013 in Blog

Two church events took place in Barbados on Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th November respectively, each in thanksgiving and celebration of a life and in each case, a life lived in Britain.

On Saturday 16 November, at the magnificent St Matthew’s Church, Hothersal Turning, St Michael, Barbados, the funeral and burial service took place of Ralph Adolphus Straker, BSM, OBE, who had arrived in London from Barbados on 31 August 1956 to work on London Transport. Throughout his 57 years in the UK, Ralph Straker struggled against state-sponsored racism and for racial equality and social justice. He died in London on 12 October 2013, aged 76. The service was conducted by the Rt Rev Bishop Wilfred Wood, an anti-racist activist himself and the first African Church of England Bishop in the UK, now retired to his native Barbados.

"THE IRON LADY, MARGARET THATCHER", by ROBERT HUFFSTUTTER (Flickr - CC BY 2.0)

“THE IRON LADY, MARGARET THATCHER”, by ROBERT HUFFSTUTTER (Flickr – CC BY 2.0)

On Sunday 17 November, at St Mary’s Church, Jubilee Gardens, Bridgetown, Barbados, a Remembrance and Thanksgiving Service for Baroness Margaret Thatcher (pictured right) was held. Jubilee Gardens was established to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The land on which St Mary’s Church was built served as a burial ground for the non-white residents of the City of Bridgetown during the 45 years between the destruction by hurricane of the first St Michael’s Cathedral in 1780 and the construction of St Mary’s Church beginning in 1825. Officiating at that service, under the auspices of the Prime Minister of Barbados and the British High Commissioner, were the Bishop of Barbados, who delivered the sermon, the Dean of St Michael’s Cathedral and the Rector of St Mary’s.

The letter of invitation to the Remembrance and Thanksgiving Service, sent by Owen O Eversley OBE, founder of the Barbadian Families and Friends Relocation Association (BFFRA), stated:

‘It was Baroness Thatcher’s Conservative Party that from 1955–1965 opened the door for thousands of Barbadians of all ages to migrate to the UK, voluntary (sic) or on a contractual capacity, e.g., nurses, London Transport, British Rail, Lyons, etc. It was also the Conservative Party that lifted the imposed monetary restrictions from £10-£50 back to normal. It also introduced the ‘Right to buy housing’ policy which benefited many Barbadians. It is for those reasons this service was conceptualised’.

The contrast between these two conversations with God could not be more stark. Indeed, given what those of us who spoke at Ralph Straker’s funeral at St Mark’s Church, Dalston, in the borough of Hackney on 9 November had cause to remember, his life was extraordinary not on account of birth or title but because of his relentless struggle against what Margaret Thatcher herself and her Party in government had done and were still doing to African and Asian people ever since Ralph Straker first arrived in the UK. 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 →

Jayne Cortez: one last word

February 9, 2013 in Blog, Speeches

On February 6th, professor Gus John joined Jayne Cortez’s friends and fellow poets, writers and performers in New York to celebrate her life and work. Here’s Gus John’s tribute, which was read out during the ceremonyRead the rest of this entry →

Gus John joins Jayne Cortez celebration

February 9, 2013 in Blog

It was a huge honour to be invited to join Jayne Cortez’s friends and fellow poets, writers and performers at the celebration of her life in New York on Wednesday, 6 February 2013.

The celebration took place in a most fitting venue, the Great Hall of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859. The building — today a New York City landmark — quickly became a common meeting place of intellectuals, inventors, tinkerers, and people from across the social strata. Perhaps its greatest feature was the Great Hall.

"Lisette Santiago" by Margaret Busby (Picasa - BY-NC-ND 3.0)

“Lisette Santiago” by Margaret Busby (Picasa – BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The Cooper Union website records that:

The Great Hall of The Cooper Union has stood for more than a century as a bastion of free speech and a witness to the flow of American history and ideas. When the hall opened in 1858, more than a year in advance of the completion of the institution, it quickly became a mecca for all interested in serious discussion and debate of the vital issues of the day.

The Great Hall was the platform for some of the earliest workers’ rights campaigns and for the birth of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the women’s suffrage movement and the American Red Cross. To the Great Hall’s podium has come a pageant of famous Americans — rebels and reformers, poets and presidents. Before they were elected, Presidents Lincoln, Grant, Cleveland, Taft, Theodore Roosevelt and Barack Obama all spoke there. Besides Woodrow Wilson, two other incumbent presidents have spoken in the Great Hall: William Jefferson Clinton, who, on May 12, 1993, delivered a major economic address on reducing the federal deficit and Barack Obama, who, on April 22, 2010, gave an important speech on economic regulation and the financial markets.

During the past century’s times of tremendous upheaval, it was through meetings in Cooper’s famous auditorium that the politics and legislation necessary to build a humane city took shape.

In that place, steeped in the history of the birth of social movements, the contestations of ideas and ideologies and the shaping of liberation struggles, some of the most progressive voices and talents gathered to honour an extraordinary woman with an equally extraordinary talent, Jayne Cortez.

In a programme moderated by Danny Glover, actor, film director, political activist, ally and dear friend of Jayne and husband Mel Edwards, poets, academics, musicians, cultural and political activists gathered to honour Jayne Cortez and celebrate her life. Read the rest of this entry →