C.L.R James

C.L.R James – 4th January 1901 – 31st May 1989

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This is a short storytime about C.L.R James, a celebrated author, historian, journalist, and activist.

Cyril Lionel Robert James was born in Trinidad. After graduating from school he became a teacher.

In 1932 he moved to the UK, settling in the northern county of Lancashire.

One of his first jobs was to write for the Manchester Guardian as a cricket correspondent.

Growing up in Trinidad, cricket was one of his first loves.

James was a proud Pan-Africanist and an advocate for Caribbean independence. Pan-Africanism is an ideal that championed African independence. One of the most famous Pan-Africanists was Marcus Garvey.

In 1933, James moved to London and lent his support to the LCP, where he contributed to The Keys (which was a publication about the League of Coloured People) in 1935, and spoke at early conferences.

In 1936 he wrote a play about the Haitian revolutionary Toussaint Louverture. It was shown in The West End starring actor and activist Paul Robeson.

Then in 1938, he wrote about the most successful slave revolt in Haiti from 1791-1804.

The Black Jacobins Toussaint Louverture and the San Domingo Revolution

Up until that point we only knew of failed slave revolts. But this piece of work changed the way we viewed colonial history as it detailed the enslaved people standing up to their oppressors.

“I was tired of hearing that the West Indians were oppressed, that we were Black and miserable, that we had been brought from Africa, and that we were living there and that we were being exploited” James explained.

Later that year James moved to America. During his stay, he met with Leon Trotsky – The Russian Revolutionary and artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

James stayed in the United States until 1953, where he returned to England and picked up his post for the Manchester Guardian covering cricket once again. 

In 1958, he worked in Trinidad to edit The Nation newspaper for a while before moving back to England.

In 1963, he published About A Boundary, which was a memoir about cricket.

The Black Jacobins influenced the work of Darcus Howe, and James went on to befriend and mentor some of the Mangrove Nine in the 70s.

If you have been watching the Small Axe series on BBC/Amazon, you will see Malachi Kirby (who plays Darcus Howe) holding a copy of the book.

James continued to write and spent his remaining years in Brixton, South London until he died in 1989.

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