Bogle-L’Ouverture

This London-based publishing house was founded in 1968 by Guyanese activists Eric and Jessica Huntley. It was named after Jamaican hero of the Morant Bay uprising, Paul Bogle, and Haitian revolutionary, Toussaint L’Ouverture. Its bookshop in South Ealing was renamed the Walter Rodney Bookshop in 1981.

The Huntleys migrated from Guyana to Europe in the late 1950s. They had encountered John La Rose first in the Caribbean through their involvement with the People’s Progressive Party in British Guiana, now Guyana. When they met again in London, their bond was strengthened by political discussions and their shared social circle (Goulbourne, 144). The Huntleys lived with Irma and John La Rose in Uplands Road in 1964-'65 and they emphasise the formative role played by John La Rose’s wide knowledge of the Caribbean islands in their conversations (Alleyne, 25; Interview). The 1965 Guyana Symposium, organised by the Huntleys, debated dissatisfaction with Forbes Burnham’s government, race riots in Guyana and the involvement of the US in the country. Speakers included Walter Rodney, and it was during this event that the Huntleys’ long friendship and strong working relationship with Rodney was cemented.

Their first publication, in 1969, was a collection of papers by Rodney, The Groundings with my Brothers, with a cover by Errol Lloyd. This was published in response to the banning of Walter Rodney from the country by the Jamaican government in 1968. The forced exile of this rising leader and exceptional pedagogue led to riots in Jamaica, where political stagnation had set in since the independence of 1962. The Huntleys, together with lawyer Richard Small and prominent mathematician Ewart Thomas, organised a demonstration at the Jamaica Tourist Board in London in response and Jessica Huntley organised community funding to finance the publication. The autonomy of this funding initiative was crucial to the ethos of what then became Bogle-L’Ouverture Publishing (Goulbourne interviews, tape 2, LMA). Eric Huntley notes the importance of publishing in transforming the status of written knowledge in the black community in Britain. This is linked to a growing awareness of the function of publishing in mediating knowledge:

In the '70s, people didn’t know what publishers did […]. When you said that you were a publisher people looked at you: what does that mean? People in the community didn’t know exactly. They knew what a printer did. Or they had an idea what a printer did. But what publishers did… (Eric Huntley, Interview)

Rodney’s book set out in clear, incisive prose the major political issues faced by the region and potential political solutions, informed by his research in London and Dar-es-Salaam. As Harry Goulbourne writes: “where many radical black Americans drew a simple line between black and white, Rodney’s work hinted at a more complex situation in which racial and ethnic identities were wrapped up with the interlacing histories of a wide Atlantic world” (147).

Bogle-L’Ouverture turned to John Sankey to print Rodney’s essays as a stapled book. They had originally planned a pamphlet run off on the Gestetner duplicating machine, as was common in left-wing campaigning groups. It was Jessica Huntley’s idea to publish the book, as Eric Huntley acknowledges:

All credit to her, she realised that as usually certain types of work is given over to women and she would have had to type the stencils and it was a messy affair, so Jessica decided, ‘Let’s print it’. And hence the printer came into it, rather doing it on a Gestetner. (Interview)

There were both practical reasons and symbolic reasons for publishing this book, which was then sold or given away in order to raise consciousness of the situation in Jamaica. John La Rose offered further support when the Huntleys moved to Ealing and in 1972 set up their own bookshop in their front room. He lent stock and gave advice, as Jessica Huntley recalled:

John was very instructive: get a book and see what we like about the book, he would say. And I’ve heard myself telling people who want to publish what they can do. See if they like that particular style of the book and so on. (Interview)

Cover of Bogle L'Ouverture pamphlet. Archive Ref: GB2904 LRA/01/0698/1In its early years, Bogle-L’Ouverture was a less planned enterprise than New Beacon’s long-term gestation. The Huntleys were from a different social milieu and had not played an active role in the CAM movement. Nonetheless they were close to many CAM members, in particular Andrew Salkey and Errol Lloyd and recall sharing discussions of the novels of Sam Selvon, George Lamming and V.S. Naipaul. They published children’s books (a series of three books by Bernard and Phyllis Coard was planned, though only the first one, Getting To Know Ourselves, was produced), poetry (by Linton Kwesi Johnson, Lemn Sissay, Valerie Bloom), and Walter Rodney’s seminal work, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972; joint publication with Tanzania Publishing House), which has since sold over 100,000 copies. The Huntleys faced some early accusations of dividing the community by creating a rival bookshop and publisher to New Beacon: criticisms which both John La Rose and the Huntleys have repeatedly refuted. The Huntleys’ valuable archive is housed at the London Metropolitan Archive and testifies to the role of publishing at the heart of their activism. An annual Huntley conference is also held at the LMA, organised by the Friends of Eric and Jessica Huntley.