Cyril Lionel Robert James, best known as C.L.R. James, was a Trinidadian historian, journalist, socialist theorist and essayist.
It’s been over twenty years since he passed in May 1989, yet James continues to be one of this country’s most remarkable figures. James was an early advocate of Pan-Africanism as well as being a leading figure in the Trotsky movement. One of his most seminal publications in 1938 was The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, which was a widely acclaimed history of the Haitian Revolution and later turned into a play starring Paul Robeson. His research, writing and activism continued throughout the rest of his life. James came to Britain in 1932, spending time in Nelson Lancashire with the cricketer Learie Constantine, before moving to London. Whilst in England, James continued to write and to agitate for the end of Colonial rule in the Caribbean supplementing his income by writing on cricket for the Manchester Guardian. In 1938 he moved to America, to be deported in 1953 due to growing anti-Communist feeling, also known as the McCarthy era.
His writing and activism continued not only in England, but also Ghana and Trinidad., In 1963 he published one of his best known works Beyond a Boundary, part autobiography, and part social history of cricket. In 1968 he was invited back to America, where he taught at the University of the District of Columbia.
James eventually returned to Britain in 1981 to spend his remaining years in Brixton. James’ legacy continued through the foundation of The C.L.R. James Institute in New York in 1983, as well a public library in Dalston being named after him in 1985.
BCA has been gifted a new donation this month, that provides a unique insight into the last few months of C.L.R. James’ life. The donor, Tony Vaughan, was a student in his third year on a Cultural studies degree at North East London Polytechnic. He was fortunate enough to interview him only a few months before he passed away.
This exceptional donation includes scans of images and documents from an album compiled by the donor, a number of original photographs, a copy of his project report, as well as scans of the transcriptions. The most exclusive item is a copy of the original cassette recording from Mr Vaughan visits with C.L.R. James in early 1989. He discusses all manner of subjects including culture, Marxism, politics, religion and cricket.
The materials will be accessible as part of the Black Cultural Archives’ collection. Our new heritage centre located in Brixton will open in June this year. For future updates join our mailing list: www.bcaheritage.org.uk/newsletteror follow us @bcaheritage.
Image reproduced by kind permission of Anthony Vaughan.