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 →

An eulogy to Willis Wilkie

February 22, 2013 in Blog, Speeches

Every day in every community, ordinary working people do extraordinary acts of great selflessness and courage in the service of their community. We tend to hear and write about luminaries and celebrities and not about them.

I was privileged to be asked to join Fr Nigel Orchard at Christ the Redeemer C of E church in Hanwell, West London, on Friday 22 February 2013 to conduct a service to celebrate the life of one such active citizen, Willis Wilkie (3 Oct 1926 – 5 Feb 2013), who spent most of his life serving communities in the Borough of Ealing.

The eulogy I wrote and delivered at the service coincidentally cuts a swathe of social history through almost 60 years of Caribbean life in Britain. Read the rest of this entry →

Jayne Cortez: one last tribute

January 5, 2013 in Blog

We mourn our sister’s passing and give the Creator thanks for her purposeful and inspirational life that enriched us so very much and made us so much stronger and more resolute in struggle.

She was in every sense a kindred spirit and a clarion voice, making the medium of poetry work in ways that many traditionalists found bewildering, especially in the academy.

As synchronicity would have it, we are remembering and celebrating all she gave to us even as we are congratulating our brother Linton Kwesi Johnson for his equally unique bending of the medium in the service of the Jamaican language and his dynamic bilingualism as a world first that eminently qualified him for the Golden Pen award.

May we ever celebrate and validate our prophetic voices and see them as the gifts of the Universe that they are, loaned to us for a purpose and for a time, and abandon the tendency to take them and their presence among us and as part of us for granted.

Our Sister Jayne remains very much a part of us through the impact she has had, the way she touched us individually and through the immortality of her words and of her fighting and liberating spirit. Read the rest of this entry →

Jayne Cortez: A Star is Dimmed

December 30, 2012 in Blog

It is with profound sadness that I write about the passing of Jayne Cortez, globally renowned poet and cultural activist and a dear friend of the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books and its successor, the George Padmore Institute.

I was a member of the Book Fair organizing committee and a founder trustee of the George Padmore Institute.

Many will recall Jayne’s electrifying poetry readings at the Book Fair festival and her participation in the literary debates at the Book Fair.  The very first Book Fair in 1982 was opened by the late CLR James and was followed by annual and then bi-annual fairs until 1995.  Jayne attended most if not all and was a star performer at poetry evenings at the Book Fair festival.  She thus became a well-loved member of the International Book Fair family. Read the rest of this entry →

Gus John pays tribute to Gerry German

May 3, 2012 in Blog

It is with deep, deep sadness that I inform you of Gerry German‘s passing.  He died at 03.00 this morning of a heart attack at home.  I am sure that, like me, you will be shocked at the suddenness of his death.

Gerry was a life-long campaigner for children’s education rights and an unwavering supporter of all our struggles.  Having been a former headteacher and Principal Education Officer at the Community Relations Commission/Commission for Race Equality, he helped to establish the Working Group Against Racism in Children’s Resources and 13 years ago invited me and a couple others to join him in setting up the Communities Empowerment Network (CEN).

Over those 13 years, CEN has dealt with an average of 1,000 school exclusion cases per year, providing advocacy to school students and their parents and representing them at School Governors Disciplinary Committees and at Independent Appeals Panels.  Each year, we have taken some deserving cases to Judicial Review and won most of them.  Gerry remained the main case worker for CEN and its unpaid Director until yesterday.  I am currently Chair of CEN for the second time, having been its Founding Chair.On Monday 30 April, Gerry introduced and made the closing remarks at a session at Lambeth Town Hall:  The Power of Love  -  Spiritual Leader Dadi Janki (age 96) of the Brahma Kumaris in Conversation with Professor Gus John.

He was 84.

We give thanks for his extraordinary life and his giving and compassionate spirit.

Peace and Hope!

A tribute on Facebook

Picture (homepage):

Yellow Blooms” by Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton (Flickr)