Published Pieces

Published Pieces A collection including newspaper articles and obituaries arranged in alphabetical order

 

 

David Abdulah 'In Memory of a Comrade' in Sunday Newsday, Sunday 5 March 2006

 

 

 

Today I remember a friend and a comrade — John La Rose, political and cultural activist, poet, essayist and publisher, who died on carnival Tuesday. Those were the words that John used when asked for a bio-statement of himself. They of course do not capture fully the breadth of his persona nor adequately describe his many accomplishments and all the activities in which he either participated or initiated, but the description does give a suggestion of his multifaceted talents and life.

By his own admission, John was firstly a writer – a poet in fact – and it is through his love for literature that he came into contact with revolutionary politics. In his youth in Arima he joined a literary group which had amongst its leading lights one Arnold Thomasos (later well known as the Speaker of the House of Representatives) and Neville Giuseppi. At the Opening of the First Caribbean Peoples’ International Book Fair and Book Fair Festival on the 27th June, 1987 and for which the principal organizer was the OWTU, one of the persons John dedicated his Address to was “Neville Giuseppi, an important early Trinidad poet, who introduced me to Marxism and modern English poetry”.

John remained a poet, but now for him artistic expression took on a new meaning. As he said in that Address “This Bookfair with its Bookfair Festival veers us towards a momentous direction. In this historic cultural event we explore the marriage of revolutionary conceptual ideas and humane feeling to the fountains of renewal within the folk and popular tradition. Culture cannot be simply ornament”. His entire life was a testimony to that view. He therefore walked the talk like few others before or after him.

John was a renaissance man, as was his lifelong friend and comrade Lennox Pierre. They were multidimensional. Both were artistes in their own right, John as poet, Lennox as poet and musician (Lennox played the violin, composed music and was a highly regarded singer as part of the very musical Pierre family). I never knew John to be a sportsman as Lennox was (played forward for QRC and was a fast medium bowler, though was not as quick or well-known as his brother Lance Pierre who played for the West Indies), but John followed sport avidly. I recall, for example, being with him in Berlin (West Berlin in those days of East and West Germany) in 1988 and seeing his excitement when we looked at the 100m men’s final which Ben Johnson won and then lost, and at the races won by Flo’ Jo. And I know that for the last World Cup in 2002, his family couldn’t let him see the games live because the excitement was not good for him, he being in recovery from a serious angina attack.

John spoke French and Spanish fluently and taught in Venezuela for several years at the end of the 1950’s. He regularly went to Paris to attend and participate in seminars and conferences and helped to bring to the attention of Caribbean English speakers the works of the Cuban poet Nicolas Guillen and the Martiniquan poet Aime Cesaire. John loved music, but unlike Lennox who couldn’t stand much of the popular music – including soca which he claimed was a travesty to calypso – John recognised the importance and relevance of popular culture. Thus, he did an extensive interview with David Rudder for BBC (channel 4, I think) which interview was later published as Kaiso Calypso Music. In all the International Book Fairs of Radical Black and Third World Books of which John was a Director he insisted that the theme of popular culture be included and there were always performances by poets and musicians. Some of these were highly respected international artists — Linton Kwesi Johnson the Jamaican-born British based dub poet, Randy Weston the acclaimed jazz pianist, Jayne Cortez, Sonya Sanchez and Amiri Baraka – radical poets from the US – but there were also spaces for young artistes.

This demonstrated another side of John. He always encouraged young activists. He was a full generation older than myself but saw in me and colleagues here in Trinidad and Tobago and throughout the world a continuum of the work that he had begun as a political activist in the Marxist Workers’ Freedom Movement in Trinidad in the late 1940’s and in the West Indies Independence Party which was formed in 1952 and of which he was its General Secretary. He was barely in his twenties but like us 30 years after did not regard youth as a limitation to intervening in the national politics. Though he worked with Lennox in the Trinidad Youth Council for a period and produced its fortnightly radio programme (Voice of Youth) on Radio Trinidad, John was not just a youth activist. He was out to transform the world.

As he said in a Tribute to Lennox — “we began to move the Youth Council in the direction of support for Independence and Socialism”. And the WIIP “was the most dangerous ideological and political opposition the colonial authorities had encountered since the 1930’s. Moreover we were linked in our Caribbean organizational, ideological and political perspective with the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP). Our own slogan, in one of the biggest May Day demonstrations yet seen in Trinidad, at the time was “British Guiana today, Trinidad and Tobago tomorrow!” ... this development terrified the British colonial authorities”. The British eventually was able to crush the WIIP, thus paving the way for Williams and the PNM. The rest, as they say, is history.

Although being forced by political victimization to leave Trinidad, John never ceased his activism. In London it assumed a broader dimension. He never lost contact with his home and the politics of it. George Weekes was his friend and comrade from the early days of the WFM and WIIP and John was an integral part of the Rebel Movement that brought George into office in 1962. He sustained that relationship with the Union till the end. He and I conversed every few months at great length on all everything — from Bush to Chavez to Mugabe to Caribbean politics. It was a most rewarding exchange. But John, being in London and being the person that he was, was able to link the continents as perhaps only George Padmore, before him, had been able to do.

Initially through the Caribbean Artists Movement but more so through the Book Fairs, activists from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas were able to interact. The relationships of “mutual solidarity” (John’s elaboration of simply solidarity) have endured to this day. It is impossible to quantify what John did in this regard. His work with Ngugi Wa Thiong’o in Kenya, solidarity or with Nigerian activists like the late Bala Ousman, or with Abdul Alkalimat (a founder of the Black Radical Congress) in the US, or with us in the Caribbean have been invaluable. And even after the Book Fairs ended the work continued, even at a pace more amenable to his health. In my last conversation with him he related how Kole Omotoso the Nigerian academic and writer who lectures and works in South Africa, was to visit.

And this was so typical of John. The home of John and his wife and partner Sarah White was a place of meeting and discussion. And always about change for which he never lost hope. In his own words “The transition to socialism and building socialist societies can be no different. There have been advances and difficulties, zig-zags, victories and defeats. But the human spirit will triumph against all obstacles. And poets, novelists, sculptors and painters and other artists will chronicle the inwardness of their perceptions which cover the surface outwardness of our concealment. The Caribbean has been the cockpit of the modern world and we strive to consolidate its unique identity and historical movement. And we with our books, our ideas, and our actions are committed to change”.

Farewell John, we shall all miss you! Your life’s work will live on!

(c) David Abdulah

 

 

 

Thomas L. Blair

 

Know your past, but march forward

Loss of scholar-activist, John La Rose,

A challenge for Black British public intellectuals

The ageing brotha man's words at the post-funeral reception were almost Dickensian. "Life so poor, wages too low, we need thinkers to help us on our way". This reaction is one extraordinary effect of the death of John La Rose, poet, publisher and activist, which so far seems to have attracted little attention. It highlights the challenge and special role of black public intellectuals in racially divided Britain.

The problem, simply put, is this. Unlike every other racialised minority in Britain – Muslims, South East Asians, Chinese, even Jews and Poles – it is solely Afro-Brits who show a serious lack of continuity with their cultural, creative and ideological antecedents.

Lack of engagement

Hence, without a clear self-definition, they are overrun by false experts, posers, political hacks, think-tankers and craven media personalities who could care less about the future of black people.

Educated blacks, too, are part of this sad saga. Many work in the government, public authorities and the do-good race relations industry. The few collegiate staff safely graze in the olive groves of academe, tucked safely away from the cut and thrust of urban political discourse. This despite fewer rewards and esteem than their white colleagues. Self-advancement and self-enrichment, and just keeping their heads below the parapet of controversy, is all they know.

As a result, low status, low-wage and under-esteemed black communities seldom get a reasoned expression of their needs and demands in an increasingly hostile urban environment.

Furthermore, their aspiring youth face a torrent of media messages dumbing down the mind and spirit to street level caricatures. Some have learned that playing up to stereotypes is a profitable game. Others, enthralled by trash consumerism, never look up to scale the heights of black thought and positive action for collective advancement and equality.

Honoured legends

Fortunately, in the past, we've had a measure of black public intellectuals who searched for truth on public issues.

They were social critics, of some education, who were independent in spirit and could take on all-comers on social issues

Olaudah Equiano and Ignatio Sancho were leading abolitionist spokesmen during the 1770’s era of the slave trade. Their letters, journals and autobiographies chronicled a deep desire for liberty and freedom in Britain and their homelands.

The formidable minds of colonial Caribbeans in post-World War II Britain, Una Marson, Dr Harold Moody, Learie Constantine, CLR James and Claudia Jones, and other critics and social theorists, challenged widespread race-class bias.

Pause and renaissance

With the death of these noble persons, honoured legends, there was an ominous intellectual pause.

Then along came John La Rose leading a small band of writers, artists and partisans against the racialised politics of Britain. They joined with grassroots activists to tackle impoverishment in schooling, housing and labour markets and the danger of race-haters in the streets.

Trinidad-born La Rose (1927-2006), a trade unionist at heart, explained to black communities that they were more than mere actors on the stage of someone else's play.

This quintessential "West Indian gentleman" inspired other migrant intellectuals, and then young blacks born in Britain, to study, to learn, and to excel in developing their minds. They, like him, called Britain home but carried a vibrant sense of the Caribbean.

Testament

One of these, Devon Thomas of Brixton, London, a multi-racial district considered the spiritual home of post-war West Indian settlers, has this to say in tribute: "John La Rose, Founder of New Beacon Books, founding member of the Caribbean Artists' Movement, and Chair of the organising committee of the Radical Black Book fair, was indeed a beacon that lit the way in our struggles in the UK. He was also a man of immense international stature. He was renowned in the African Diaspora as a man of radical politics, culture and learning. His deep knowledge of our histories and struggles was always at the service of the community. He always sought productive alliances with other progressive forces who were in concert with his principles."

Scholarly activism

Uniquely, for his time, La Rose epitomised the Black British public intellectual — shaping thought to action. He was instrumental in organising many campaigns for justice against police oppression, the criminalising of black youth, and for better state education and support for the black working class, says long-time friend, dub reggae poet Linton Kwesi Johnson in his obituary in the Guardian newspaper.

Moreover, La Rose founded a centre for educational and cultural activities dedicated to George Padmore, the Trinidadian socialist and Pan-Africanist — one of the talented West Indians who helped shape black world events in the 20th century

Through his writings and speeches, La Rose defined "a radical history of anti-colonial struggle, working class politics and politically committed intellectual and artistic endeavours that span the Atlantic world system," according to Brian W Alleyne, a Trinidad-born sociologist at Goldsmiths College, London.

Jenny Bourne of the Institute of Race Relations, a radical organisation that La Rose chaired in the early 1970s, has celebrated his far-reaching concerns. "They were not just Black, but also Asian, not just First World, but also Third. And the politics was never narrowly nationalist, but invariably incorporated a socialist perspective." she says.

What happens now?

Now, that La Rose has passed, what will happen to the historic legacy of black public intellectuals to empower, promote and mentor black progress? The brotha man's lament needs further elaboration.

Who will challenge the abusive stereotypes of blacks and their aspirations? Who will demolish the questionable research findings of insensitive administrators that demean and criminalise black people? Who will denounce the "afrophobia" that sours all black-white social relations? Yes, who will have the courage and dedication to step outside academia and confront the discredited social structures that limit the freedoms of all disadvantaged peoples?

Who, indeed, is to speak with us, and for us, from the mountain top of ideas and liberating action?

Talented actions

We live in an age when bold, innovative and creative thinking is needed. Against all odds, hope must come from a convergence of talents and tasks.

John La Rose's comrades – Gus John, Roxie Harris, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Milverton Wallace, John's partner Sarah, and sons, Michael, Keith and Wole – will be keen to extend the publishing activities of New Beacon Books, extend the networks of the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books, and continue the work of the George Padmore Institute.

In time, there will emerge a class of Afro-Brits with sufficient income, time and energy to counter the persistent social inequities and moralistic posturing about "good race relations". The most advanced elements among them will marshal black public opinion, along with the black media and political activists, towards the goal of equal citizenship in the wider society.

Youth will create a parallel universe of scorching political debate and critical commentary in their e-mails, CDs, cassettes and broadcast voting. A new "Black bloggeratti" will express themselves in everything from blogging and mobcasting, to citizen journalism and "video mashups".

Sections within the black working class will recognise the need for imaginative action. They will create an agenda-shifting critical and theoretical discussion and analysis of the Black experience — its politics, its economics, its social patterns, its history and cultures.

These efforts will be matched by the rise of a new generation of Black British Public intellectuals. They will be guided, as W.E.B. Du Bois avowed, by "Reverence of the Truth, a hatred of Hypocrisy and Sham, and an absolute sincerity of purpose".

This corps of scholar activists, reared with rigorous application in the highest and most demanding institutions, will have a special talent and set of tasks. They will be able to confront and deal perceptively with British race-class and societal realities. They will connect up cultural and political criticism with just demands and programmes for change. They will be committed to testing theories about black people's behaviours and putting the positive results into practice.

Armed with the new information technologies — computers, mobiles, the Internet and the worldwide web — the new Black Public Intellectuals will initiate global scholarly and radical discourses. They will raise questions in all discussions about the future of cyber-spacial democracy. Above all, they will be committed to carry on the historic intellectual defence of black people in tandem with their quest for advancement, social justice and equality.

(c) Thomas L Blair 2006.

Thomas L Blair, editor and publisher of the Chronicleworld.org, a public service Internet news magazine. E-mail: tb@thechronicle.demon.co.uk For more on John La Rose and on the crisis of the Black British public intellectual see: www.chronicleworld.org, click Books - Go, then Books, Books 12, and scroll for "Partisans, writers and artists". See also Archive 01, items 2.301 and 2.302.

 

Margaret Busby John La Rose Obituary in Publishing News

 

 

John La Rose, who died on 28 February at the age of 78, was the pioneer of black publishing and bookselling in Britain. However, his importance and influence stretches far beyond UK book trade, as was movingly demonstrated at his funeral last week, attended by hundreds of people – famous and ordinary, young and old – whose lives he had touched. Among the publishers, writers, musicians, political activists and others were many who had flown into London especially from New York, Trinidad, Johannesburg and Lagos and elsewhere. His standing in the black community of this country was unparalleled, but John’s concerns and connections were always international.

Born in Arima on the Caribbean island of Trinidad on 27 December 1927, he was educated in the local Roman Catholic schools with which his family were associated, and indeed at one time might have found his vocation as a priest. At a young age he won a scholarship to St Mary’s, the premier Catholic secondary school in the capital Port of Spain, where he himself later taught Spanish. His involvement with Caribbean politics went back to the 1940s when he helped found the Workers Freedom Movement in Trinidad and edited its journal Freedom. He was general secretary of the West Indian Independence Party and began a lifelong connection with the radical Oilfield Workers Trade Union.

Arriving in Britain in 1961, he was soon fully launched into cultural activism here. In 1966 he founded the first Caribbean bookshop and publishing company and international book service in Britain: New Beacon Books, at 76 Stroud Green Road, continues to fulfil a unique role in supplying schools and libraries. Together with Andrew Salkey and Kamau Brathwaite, he co-founded the Caribbean Artists Movement in the late 1960s, and he was chair of the Institute of Race Relations (1972-73), which published the radical campaigning journal Race Today, edited by Darcus Howe. John instigated or was allied with numerous other movements and campaigns, including the important black education movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

He was the linchpin of the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books (conceived together with Jessica Huntley of Bogle L’Ouverture Publications), which ran between 1982 and 1995. Anyone who ever attended what became known simply as “The Black Book Fair” will testify to the vibrancy and excitement it unfailingly engendered, due in no small measure to John’s personal commitment and enthusiasm. Together with the week-long festival that accompanied it, the black Book Fair was indeed “a meeting of the continents for writers, publishers, distributors, booksellers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, and people who inspire and consume their creative productions” that is sadly missed.

John La Rose was himself also a writer, an essayist and poet, as well as being immensely knowledgeable about politics and the arts in general, to the extent that any passing conversation with him was liable to turn into a fascinating seminar at the drop of a hat. Several of the tributes to him (including that by his protégé Linton Kwesi Johnson) have rightly referred to him as a renaissance man. As an organiser he was indefatigable, and the George Padmore Institute that he created (housed above the bookshop) plays an invaluable role as educational research centre, archive and forum for discussion.

The New Beacon list garnered some fine names and titles (including C.L.R. James’s only novel, Minty Alley), but John La Rose – an erudite, smiling and deceptively unambitious man – once told me that he was content to run a “publishing maisonette”. Rare modesty in the world of publishing.

(c) Margaret Busby

Margaret Busby was born in Ghana, West Africa, and was educated in Britain. On graduating from London University she co-founded the publishing house Allison & Busby Ltd, of which she was editorial director for 20 years. She subsequently became editorial director of Earthscan Publications, and now works as a writer, editor, reviewer, consultant and broadcaster. She is the editor of Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Words and Writing by Women of African Descent, has contributed to many national and international publications, has written drama for the stage and for radio, and served as a judge for many literary competitions.

 

G.G. Darah 'For John La Rose, the Revolution is Endless' in the Nigerian Guardian, 13 March 2006

John La Rose who passed on in London on February 28 was one of the foremost revolutionary thinkers and organisers of the past half a century. He was born in Trinidad, worked as a trade unionist in Venezuela and came to Britain in 1961 where he lived until his death. Although he was born in a comparatively obscure corner of the world, his work and life inspired millions of people across all continents. Yet he was neither a head of state nor a statesman in the sense in which these concepts are usually understood in political discourse. John’s death at 78 puts him solidly in the haloed pantheon of longevity. The pain is that he was so versatile, creative and warm that those of us who drank from his fount of humanity never associated him with ageing, much more dying.

John’s mortal remains will be interred in London on March 13, 2006. Were the rites of passage delayed by just one day, his funeral date would have coincided with that of Karl Marx who was buried in the Highgate cemetery in the north of London on March 14, 1883. John was the 20th century incarnate of all that Marx and his followers have represented in history, namely, the liberation of the oppressed and exploited of the world.

Obituary tributes by Biodun Jeyifo (Nigeria) and Gus John and Linton Kwesi Johnson (UK) have underscored the theoretical and ideological issues that defined the revolutionary identity of John La Rose. In the days and years ahead, there will be more outpourings of appreciation for this remarkable and accomplished citizen of the world. I will confine my remarks to some of the encounters and experiences which remain emblazoned in my memory.

I had the privilege of meeting John in the early 1980s when he came for the Ife Book Fair at the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in Nigeria. He came to display works by the New Beacon Books which he and his partner, Dr. Sarah White, founded in 1966. The University town was the rendezvous of radical academics at the time, including Wole Soyinka, Segun Osoba, Toye Olorode, Jeyifo, Kole Omotoso, Dipo Fashina, Geoff Hunt and Yemi Ogunbiyi. I was spending my first years as a member of this academia. While the book fair was on, John needed to go to Ibadan to meet Comrade Ola Oni who had opened the Progressive and Socialist Books Depot in his house at Bodija area.

A few years earlier, the General Obasanjo military regime had sacked Oni, Omafume Onoge, Bade Onimode, Akin Ojo and other left-leaning lecturers in the country for allegedly backing the students’ uprising in 1978. I accompanied John La Rose to Ibadan where he struck a business deal with Oni on book imports. Comrade Oni’s bookshop got sole distributor rights for Dr. Bala Usman’s new book, For the Liberation of Nigeria, published by New Beacon Books. The first 3,000 copies that came to Nigeria were sold out within a year.

John also visited Zaria and other cities in the north of Nigeria. The Peoples Redemption Party headed by Mallam Aminu Kano had won power in Kaduna and Kano States and a whirlwind of radical changes was blowing. The pro-poor (talakawa) policies introduced by Governors Balarabe Musa (Kaduna) and Abubakar Rimi (Kano) thoroughly frightened the feudal and conservative forces in the region. John’s brief stay enabled him to detect the revolutionary pressures then emerging. When he got back to London, he analysed the process in a seminal article, ‘Nigeria: The Long War’ in an edition of Race Today journal. The insights in that essay have remained relevant a quarter of a century after.

As President Vladimir Lenin of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics once remarked, the revolutionary process does not move in a straight line; it often zigzags and meanders. In all my encounters with John on the enigmatic situation in Nigeria, he always expressed optimism that the forces of change and progress in the country will eventually triumph. He saw the signs in the mass movements in the north of the country, which he understood very well. Following the death of Chief M. K. O. Abiola in 1998, John saw the tinder of radical transformation lit by the fury of the mass revolts that turned Lagos and other cities in western Nigeria to volcanoes of vengeance against neocolonial dictators.

My encounter with John at the Ife Book Fair brought me into the liberating pathway he carved in the lives of all of us. In 1982, the maiden edition of the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books took place in London. I attended with fellow travellers from Nigeria. Needless to add that the entire trip including air fares, stay and purchase of books cost me less than a N1,000 (one thousand Naira). That amount is now the equivalent of four pounds sterling! The 1982 event and its subsequent editions hugely transformed all of us and we have not remained the same since then. The opening by C. L. R. James had a searing effect. When James died in 1989, I had little difficulty crafting an editorial for the Daily Times where Yemi Ogunbiyi was the Managing Director.

The book fair project was a variant of the Pan African Congresses, which John’s ideological ancestors such as Sylvester Williams and George Padmore organized from 1900 to 1945. That pan-African movement was to lead to the independence of Africa from colonial rule. This illustrates the pivotal role of the people of African descent in the liberation of the home continent. John La Rose and others sustained that tradition, using methods and strategies offered by technology and global history.

The beauty of it all was that the fair and its accompanying events connected us all to the finest moments of the struggles of peoples of Africa. The fairs brought us into dialectical embrace with the best thinkers and humanists in all nations of the world, but the emphasis was on neglected and exploited peoples of the former colonies whom Frantz Fanon described as the “wretched of the earth”.

Also celebrated in the fairs was the power of the written word and memory, two attributes of history which had their intellectual roots in the anti-slavery writings of Olaudah Equiano and Frederick Douglass. Equaino was a freed Nigerian slave who published his memoirs in 1789, the year of the French Revolution. As a student of literature and folk/popular culture, my self-discovery was in meeting or hearing of great African American writers and artists many of whom came to the fairs. I cannot forget the thunderous voice of Abdul Akalimat from the 21st Century Bookshop in Chicago. I have been increased and enlarged by the voices and messages I heard from distinguished poets and musicians from all parts of the world. I recall the memorable evening in 1982 when the Ugadan writer, Oko p’Bitek stumbled on to the stage in London to sing fragments of his ‘Song of Lawino’ and ‘Song of Ocol’. It was Okot’s last public performance before death uprooted his pumpkin of the homestead.

Being a troubadour, Nigeria’s Kole Omotoso was already used to crowds at reading halls, but Odia Ofeimun and Ben Okri, also from Nigeria, killed their stage fright in these nocturnal events. How can I forget that cold winter day of March 14, 1983, when Dr. Jonathan Silas Zwingina (now a Nigerian Senator) and I joined the jubilant throng of marchers to the grave of legendary Karl Marx for his centenary celebrations in London. We sang, swayed and serenaded along the streets and hoped to return to our native lands renewed enough to answer the proletarian summons, “Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains!”

John La Rose taught us how to struggle without stumbling irrecoverably. He neither banged tables to emphasize a point nor did he invoke tiresome quotes of Marxist stuff to exhibit his mastery of these knowledge sites. John was urbane, eloquent, poetic and poignant. His delivery left you with little room to escape with arrogance and self-conceit. John persuaded with the efficacy of a natural teacher, scholar and humanist. We are indebted to John, Sarah and their collaborators for helping us to participate in all the struggles that went on in the world during the book fair years of 1982 to 1995. For example, neocolonial fascism was baring its fangs in Kenya in the early 1980s. The revolutionary writer, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, was in detention along with others. The book fairs offered avenue to mount global pressure against the government. The fair venues also welcomed many refugees from Jerry Rawlings Ghana where a pseudo regime of change was on rampage.

In 1983, the reactionary government of President Ronald Reagan of the United States invaded the island nation of Grenada in the Caribbean. The invaders murdered the radical Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop, all his cabinet and masses of innocent people. The resistance resonated in the book fair venues for years. These encounters helped me to know Alex Pascall and his family from Grenada. He had been part of the contingents of artists who came to FESTAC 77 in Lagos. Alex was so enamoured of his return to roots that all his children at the time bore Yoruba names. The name of one of John’s sons, Wole, is an echo of Wole Soyinka.

Military juntas in Nigeria were often targets of coordinated protests from the London festivals. Thanks to John and colleagues, the struggles of popular movements in Nigeria were amplified by black and international organisations. When the General Muhammadu Buhari regime arrested me and other leaders of the Academic Staff Union of Universities in 1984, our plight and photographs graced the pages of all publications in the John La Rose universe of freedom fighters. Their intervention with printed matters and rallies shortened out stay in Buhari’s gulag. Soyinka was to open the 1984 book fair but his travel plans were hampered by the prevailing military situation in Nigeria. The night before, Kole Omotoso was asked to take over the responsibility. He acquitted himself with applause.

When the police murdered innocent students in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in 1986, we received instant support of solidarity from John and associates. Chief Frank Kokori led the revolt of oil workers against General Sani Abacha’s usurper regime in 1994. One day I got to John’s house at № 2, Albert Road in the north of London and he showed me cuttings of solidarity and intervention messages from all branches of the chemical workers’ union in Europe and other regions of the world. Abacha’s defeat in that deadly combat with progressive Nigeria was hastened by the work done by groups and organizations inspired by John and his comrades-in struggle.

The sectarian divisions in Nigeria’s movements for change pained John to no end. He always hosted us to robust debates in his home during the book fairs. We would bare fangs at each other as if we were not fighting the cause of the same country. The north-south rifts often manifested in our positions. The late Dr. Bala Usman and his followers would stand their ground and we ours. In 2001, Bala engaged Professor Peter Ekeh, Chris Akiri and I in a series in the Nigerian Guardian newspaper over the issue of the Niger Delta and the political economy of oil and local colonialism. Bala had argued that the nations of the Niger Delta had no right to their resources because the British conquest of those nations made them vassals of Nigeria. Ekeh, Akiri and I countered this arrogant thesis by insisting that the oil-rich lands of the Niger Delta are free nations which voluntarily entered into a federal union at Nigeria’s independence in 1960.

John kept the cuttings of this hot exchange and showed me when I visited later. On the day Chief Abiola died in 1998, I watched the CNN news with John in his house in London. He was grieved to see the flag of “Oduduwa Republic” hoisted by the angry protesters in Abiola’s residence. He feared that a major opportunity for united action was being driven into an ethnic channel. John had similar anxiety when the Ken Saro-Wiwa debacle was being misinterpreted by the military regime as simply an Ogoni matter.

Always the teacher, John relentlessly admonished us to learn to coordinate our struggle for change in a manner that placed premium of larger issues. The problem with us, he would reason, was how to conduct a revolutionary process in a multi-national and diverse country. He would urge us to examine multiracial Britain and Europe and South Africa. How much we learned from him in this regard is difficult to fathom.

The crisis of post-colonial Africa burned in John’s heart. He and his contemporaries had taken active part in the anti-apartheid movement from the 1960s. He knew all the major actors of the African National Congress and other groups in the region. The arrested liberation process in South Africa interested him but he had a keen concern for how President Thabo Mbeki was trying to reconstruct a rainbow nation after the four year rule of Nelson Mandela. John showed me the copy of Mbeki’s path-breaking address, “I am an African” where he adumbrated the foundations of a multi-racial personality. John and I debated this and acknowledged our differences and apprehensions in the case of Nigeria with 400 languages. South Africa has 11. What of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe whom British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the West would want dead so that white land grabbers can return to power? John was unequivocal in support of Mugabe on the land question.

At a discussion with him in August 2005, I informed John of how President Mbeki explained the issues at a lecture organised by the Nigerian Guardian newspaper in Lagos in 2004. The 1980 Lancaster House talks in London that ended the Zimbabwe war of liberation had agreed that dispossessed Africans would have their lands back 10 years after. When the time was due in 1990, the Commonwealth and the Organisation of African Unity persuaded Mugabe not to insist on return of the stolen lands. The strategic thinking then was that such a move could frighten the white supremacists in South Africa to abandon the negotiations to end apartheid. Mugabe obliged. That was in 1990. South Africa became free in 1994, yet in 2000, Zimbabwean white farmers still held on to the stolen lands. John was excited at this revelation and urged me to write an article for the sake of vilified Mugabe and Africa. That was the depth of John’s abiding concern for justice and freedom from colonial bondage.

John was so meticulous and compassionate that he kept records of meetings with everyone. The addresses he got from every visitor to his home or the bookshop were kept and preserved. Any time you visited him thereafter, he would bring out the address book to make sure the address was still relevant. John’s large heart showed when our daughter, Erere, was born in London in 2001. Every subsequent Christmas, John and Sarah sent a card and they always asked of her and spelt her name correctly. With such wonderful couples like John and Sarah, revolutionary life appears so edifying, dignifying and pleasurable.

John in particular would update you with information on events and activities he reckoned were of interest to you. A new book, a journal, an article, a television programme, a new film or music, a scientific discovery in some obscure country or laboratory — whatever the subject or source, John kept track of it. He would make more than one photocopy of an interesting material and would readily give you one. This instinct for archiving every memory was itself a revolutionary attribute. One reward for this was the 1991 founding of the George Padmore Institute which shares the same premises with the New Beacon Bookshop.

One remarkable element of the John La Rose legacy has to do with the versatility of the members of the groups he mentored. Each of them seems to know everything. John’s principal partner, Sarah White, has a doctorate in energy matters with reference to the former Soviet Union. But she manages the new Beacon Bookshop, edits books and journals and runs Internet contacts as if she were another Bill Gates. John’s sons — Michael, Keith and Wole are chips from the old block. Roxy Harris (from Sierra Leone) is a linguist, pedagogist, scholar, event manager and entrepreneur.

Linton Kwesi Johnson is a poet, musician, populist, editor and human resources expert. Professor Gus John is not only a conflict engineer and grassroots organizer, he is also a fountain of knowledge or “babalawo” (practitioner of Ifa divination of Yoruba). Tony Wallace pioneered international congresses of Internet technology and users. There are many more and in each of them you have the DNA of the prodigy called John La Rose.

A final point to remark is on the importance of building institutions and sustaining them. John was a veteran in this respect. Consider the monumental influences and transformations indicated in the foregoing range of activities. Yet they were initiated by small, almost obscure organisations. The Caribbean Artists Movement was founded by John, Edward Kamau Brathwaite and Andrew Salkey. The book fair programme was started by New Beacon Books, Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications and Race Today Publications. These intellectual businesses were founded by a few dedicated African Caribbean social workers living in Britain.

The names of the outfits recall memories of historic events and personalities that drove them. New Beacon came from an old journal in John’s Trinidad and Tobago. Bogle-L’Ouverture was the leader of the revolution in Haiti that overthrew French colonial rule in 1804. Race Today was a journal by an organisation once headed by John. In 1982 when the maiden book fair started, Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications was headed by Eric and Jessica Huntley while Darcus Howe headed Race Today. From these humble, tentative beginnings, the book fair project expanded to embrace the five continents of the world.

Regrettably, the Nigerian contingents to these important global encounters never managed to replicate these initiatives at home in a sustainable manner. The progressive and Socialist Books Depot in Ibadan collapsed with Comrade Ola Oni’s death in 1999. The Theory and Practice radical journal edited by Onoge at Ibadan did not survive into the 1980s. The Positive Review journal initiated by Jeyifo, Omotoso, Ogunbiyi, Femi Osofisan and some of us did not go beyond a few editions. Under Segun Osoba’s leadership, the radical academics in Ife published a journal which also died prematurely. Inspired by his extensive experience with the black Diaspora, Omotoso once planned to build a “House of Books” in Akure in Ondo State, but the project has been stalled.

With their tell-tale resilience, Eddie and Bene Madunagu have managed to keep a grassroots outfit alive in Calabar. In this regard our comrades in Northern Nigeria would appear to have fared better. The group fostered by Bala Usman established a viable centre for research and documentation, which is active. The group has also been able to produce the Analyst journal, which was started over 20 years ago.

The tsunami of structural adjustment policies of the 1980s drove some of the leading Nigerian radical academics to greener pastures overseas. Their exodus has left a gulf in our history and so we have not been able to repay the debts we owe John La Rose in this critical area of historical reconstruction. Not to be ignored is the disease of inertia and bondage to orality which disables many of us from committing our thoughts and ideas to written form. In the United Kingdom where John and other Caribbean thinkers operated, writing and publishing are an integral part of self-identity.

A Meeting of the Continents is the title of the 553-page book that chronicles the 12 book fairs held in London, Bradford and Manchester from 1982 to 1995. The book is jointly edited by Sarah White, Roxy Harris, and Sharmilla Beezmohun. The book’s sub-title of History, Memories, Organisation, and Programmes conveys the challenge which John La Rose has left for us and humanity. We must make and remake our histories, record and analyse our memories and build organizations with programmes that can change the world to emancipate the poor and creative masses whom John loved so much that he gave his life and all. In this enterprise, even with John’s death, it is morning yet on revolutionary renewal.

(c) G. G. Darah

Professor Darah, former chair of The Guardian Editorial Board, is Chief of Staff, Government House, Asaba, Delta State, Nigeria.

 

Hornsey Journal & Islington Gazette Hundreds turn out to mourn 'inspirational' John’s death by Rob Bleary

 

 

UP to 1,000 people packed a Wood Green church on Monday to mourn the man behind Britain's first black bookshop and publishers — a man hailed as one of the most inspirational figures of his generation.

Among the guests at the funeral of John La Rose, at the New Testament Church of God, Arcadian Gardens, were poet Linton Kwesi Johnson and EastEnders actor Rudolph Walker.

Mr La Rose, of Albert Road, off Stroud Green Road, died two weeks ago from a heart attack at the age of 78. But as a tireless campaigner for racial equality and social justice, and as the founder of New Beacon Books, in Stroud Green Road - the first black publishers and booksellers in Britain — his legacy is sure to live on.

In a published tribute, Mr Kwesi Johnson wrote: "Like Marcus Garvey, CLR James, George Padmore, Fidel Castro and Frantz Fanon; John belongs to a Caribbean tradition of radical and revolutionary activism whose input has reverberated across continents.

"He was a man of great erudition whose generosity of spirit and clarity of vision and sincerity inspired people like me.

"John was not only my mentor, friend, comrade, he was like a father to me. He was the most remarkable human being I have ever known."

Fellow Trinidadian Trevor Carter, of Bickerton Road, Archway, was a friend and comrade of Mr La Rose's in the struggle against inequality in Britain. He said: "The funeral was amazing. John's influence was so varied that there were streams of different people who knew him for different things. Some knew him as a poet, others as a writer, trade unionist and cultural and political activist.

"Everyone there felt a great loss because at the moment there is nobody who can fill his boots."

He added: "He was a man with humility and leadership qualities, respected not only here in Britain but in Africa and the United States.

"He was brilliant but he never demanded the limelight, and he was a mentor to hundreds of young people."

Mr La Rose arrived in Britain in 1961 from Trinidad where he had co-founded the Workers Freedom Movement. In 1965 he set up New Beacon Books, which proved vital in the fight against racism in this country.

Mr Carter said: "One of his greatest achievements was to combat the racism which saw many West Indian children placed in schools for the educationally sub-normal when they first arrived in this country. But his influence went even wider.

"Britain had been an empire and one of the things that allowed it to rule the world was to teach its people that they were superior to the people in the colonies.

"In order to accommodate the thousands of people coming from the islands and the other colonies the perception of these people had to change.

"John La Rose's bookshop and international book fairs were the fulcrum that helped change imperial racist attitudes."

Mourners toasted Mr La Rose at Chestnut Community Centre, St Ann's Road, Tottenham, following his burial at Islington and St Pancras Cemetery in East Finchley.

New Beacon Books will continue to open.

(c) Hornsey Journal and Islington Gazette, 15 March 2005

 

 

 

Islington Tribune Black community's farewell in song to its elder Statesman by Mark Blunden and John Gulliver

NEARLY 1,000 people gathered on Monday morning for the funeral of John La Rose, the celebrated campaigner regarded by many in the black community in the UK as their elder statesman.

From the moment members of John La Rose’s family slowly carried his coffin down the carpeted aisle of the crowded Wood Green church to the slow beat of a steel drum, accompanied by a piano and an oboe, it became apparent the people who had filled every seat, with scores forced to stand, were going to say goodbye in a Caribbean style.

The man they had come to honour, John La Rose, who died at 78 from a heart attack, had already established a reputation as a radical leader of the oil workers in Trinidad before he came to London in the early 60s to become a leading campaigner for the rights of the early waves of immigrants from the West Indies.

In 1981 he helped to organise the first and biggest protest among blacks when 20,000 marched in protest against an arson attack which killed 13 black youngsters in New Cross.

Later, he organised a series of book fairs for radical black writers, then set up the New Beacon bookshop in Stroud Green and founded an educational trust in the name of the famous black leader George Padmore whose archives carry the most comprehensive records of the black community in the UK.

But John La Rose was more than just a socialist activist and publisher. He was also a poet and a political dreamer, a man who in his teens had thought of becoming a priest.

And it was this side of John La Rose that showed itself in a two-hour funeral service where tributes were paid by old comrades – many of whom had come from all over the UK as well as the West Indies – and poets like Kamau Brathwaite and Linton Kwesi Johnson, a moving steel drum performance by a pan player who had flown over from Trinidad for the funeral.

Mr La Rose’s son, Michael, gave a eulogy while his daughter Chantelle read a poem. Michael La Rose said: "Thank you comrade, renaissance man, political warrior. In the words of an old West Indian folk song, it’s time for man go home”.

An old friend David Abdullah said: "John La Rose had total faith that the human spirit would triumph over obstacles. He was a veritable beacon of light which offered hope, inspiration and sobering realism." Messages were also read from Ian Macdonald QC, who was working in New York, and an old friend, Wilfred Wood, the former bishop of Croydon now living in Barbados. The Revd Wood, who has become blind through glaucoma, praised his friend John La Rose and lamented the world of today where the big powers bombed innocent civilians and described them as “collateral damage” while their misguided opponents fought back with suicide bombs.

But the extraordinary moving quality of the service owed itself largely to one of John’s oldest friend Gus John — an eminent black campaigner himself, Hackney’s former education chief, and author of a government report into race riots in Birmingham in the 1990.

Gus John, who described himself as a Roman Catholic, led the service as its “moderator”. He described John La Rose as a man who combined his fight for racial and social justice with a generosity of spirit, a true revolutionary.

He recalled the hours he spent with John La Rose and particularly remembered how he loved leading the family in Georgian chants in the kitchen of their home in Albert Road, Finsbury Park. Then Gus John – who revealed himself as a distinctively good singer throughout the service – sang one of John’s favourite Georgian chants in Latin.

After the service more than 250 of the mourners attended the burial at East Finchley cemetery where Gus John took a spade and began to fill in the grave, followed by members of the La Rose family and friends all of whom slowly shovelled in earth for nearly two hours until the grave was filled, a mound lay on top of it, covered with flowers — and all the while the mourners sang an eclectic mixture of hymns, popular folk songs, political songs such as ‘We Shall Overcome’ and, with the encouragement of Gus John, who declared “Don’t forget, John was a socialist”, also sang ‘The Red Flag’. While the songs filled the air, Gus John sprayed the grave with incense. For everyone who had come to honour John La Rose the funeral had not only become an extraordinary moving ceremony but a send-off for – in their eyes – a great man.

(c) Islington Tribune, 15 March 2006

 

Gus John 'John La Rose - Radical, Resolute and Revolutionary' in The Independent, 22 April 2006

John La Rose, poet, writer, publisher and political and cultural activist, has been a beacon in the political, artistic and cultural life of Britain for all of the last forty five years. In that period, no single person has been more consistent in struggling for social and racial justice and empowering communities to put an end to racial oppression and to safeguard hard won rights. As such, John La Rose was committed to the humanising of civil society in Post War Britain. His activities in the West Indies, Britain, Africa and Europe position him as one of the political giants of the twentieth century. He is best known across the five continents as a political activist and theorist and the founder director of the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books which was held in London, Manchester and Bradford from 1982 to 1995, and Chair of the Trustees of The George Padmore Institute which he co-founded in 1991.

John was born in Trinidad in 1927 into a staunchly Roman Catholic family. He attended the prestigious St Mary's College in Port of Spain and later became one of their most brilliant teachers. His family, the church hierarchy and his tutors at St Mary's College saw him as good material for the Roman Catholic priesthood, but John held a much too radical perspective on the role of the church in Trinidad society and in relation to colonialism and imperialism to nurture that aspiration for very long. He developed a keen interest in music, literature and art and in the link between cultural expression and politics, a link that was as evident in the so-called 'high art' among the elite in the society as in the folk language, stories, and art forms of the workers and peasants. At a time, therefore, when steel band music, stick fighting, calypso singing and other such popular arts were being frowned upon by high society, John La Rose was finding deeper meanings in such popular expression and in their revolutionary potential among the masses of the people. In the middle 1950s, for example, he co-authored with the calypsonian Raymond Quevedo –Attila the Hun – the first study of the calypso, originally entitled Kaiso A Review and subsequently published as Attila's Kaiso (1983)

He helped to form the Workers Freedom Movement in Trinidad in the 1940s and edited their journal Freedom. He became an executive member of the Federated Workers Trade Union (now merged into the National Union of Government and Federated Workers) and later General Secretary of the West Indian Independence Party. He was later involved with the struggle within the Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU) of the 'Rebels' for a radical, democratic and more representative trade union, for one member one vote in regular periodic elections by secret ballot. John was to remain a firm supporter and mentor of the leadership of the OWTU and the European representative of that Union.

John La Rose moved to Venezuela in 1958 and lived there, extending his involvement in the anti-colonial struggle and teaching in secondary schools until he left for Britain in 1961. On arriving in Britain, he studied Law but decided not to go on to practise as a lawyer.

His cultural and political activism and anti-colonial struggles in Trinidad and Venezuela, part of what he later described as his 'Life Experience with Britain' outside Britain, prepared him well for the political struggles he embraced in Britain around education, workers' rights, publishing, policing, immigration and independent organisation of workers, parents and students. He founded New Beacon Books, the first specialist Caribbean publisher, bookseller and international bookservice in 1966. New Beacon has not only stood the test of time, remaining the most successful and organised venture of its kind in multi-ethnic Britain, it has also given impetus to and supported the development of other black publishers and booksellers. Unlike New Beacon which has never sought nor accepted public funding, many of the later black publishers and booksellers that were established with the support of grants or as part of funded community projects ceased to function as a result of funding cutbacks.

John La Rose shared his experience unstintingly and provided newcomers with a sense of direction with regard to the relationship between publishing and bookselling and the advancement of culture and politics in the society, especially in the context of the development of social movements and the struggle against oppression in all its forms. John La Rose and cadres within New Beacon thus provided curricular material (English, English literature, history, geography, science, etc.) for use both in Saturday/Supplementary schools and in mainstream schools at a time when all children, and black school and college students especially, were being fed an unashamedly white and eurocentric curriculum. As a bookseller, John generously shared his vast knowledge with school children, college and university students, teachers, parents and community activists. He thus gave them the courage and the ammunition to challenge education providers about the absence of black and third world representation in their curriculum and pedagogy. He combined the development of New Beacon Books with community struggles against banding in classrooms, against bussing of black children from their neighbourhoods to schools in areas with less black people, and against the scandalous practice of placing excessive numbers of West Indian children in schools for the educationally subnormal (ESN). Whenever he attended community meetings, rallies or education conferences, he could be depended upon to set up a bookstall and relate the books on display to the particular issues under consideration in those meetings.

In 1966, also, he founded with Edward Kamau Brathwaite and the late Andrew Salkey the highly influential Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM), a movement that created space for the development of less well known Caribbean and Caribbean heritage artists. The work of CAM members had a profound influence upon the growth of the black movement in education, the development of black creative and visual arts and later the activities of the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books.

In 1969, he founded the George Padmore Supplementary School, the first such school in London. Starting with his own sons around the kitchen table, later to be joined by their friends, John discovered the limitations of the pedagogy and content of the schooling black children were receiving and especially the low expectations teachers had of black children. He decided that if black parents did not take steps to repair and to reduce the damage schools were doing to children, black underachievement and black children's lack of belief in themselves and their own ability would come to characterise the schooling experience of West Indian children. John took that message abroad and encouraged parents to be vigilant about how schools were setting up black children to fail and to lose any sense of their own black identity. The George Padmore Supplementary School grew to the extent that it divided into two age cohorts, the secondary age children forming the George Padmore group and the primary age cohort being catered for by the sister organisation, the Albertina Sylvester Supplementary School, both operating in John's home in Albert Road in Finsbury Park. The George Padmore & Albertina Sylvester Supplementary School thus operated as a single entity, providing tuition and learning support to students during the week and on Saturdays.

John La Rose helped to found the Caribbean Education and Community Workers Association in 1969, which drew national attention to the ESN crisis by publishing the following year Bernard Coard's How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Sub-Normal in the British School System. That ground breaking little book propelled the development of the Black Supplementary/Saturday School Movement and the wider Black Education Movement. Despite the fact that those forms of self-organisation within black communities led to the rescuing of thousands of black children from education failure and a sense of worthlessness, successive governments and mainstream education continued to ignore their success and what their experience was saying about the quality of the state education black children were receiving. Indeed, it was only during this Labour Government's first term in office that the education establishment acknowledged that Supplementary/Saturday Schools had been successfully doing for years the things which Tony Blair was exhorting communities and mainstream schools to do as part of his raising achievement agenda, e.g. home work centres, Easter colleges and the rest. But for the fact that the Saturday/Supplementary School movement has been actively providing education for the scandalously high number of black students excluded from school over the years, many more of them would no doubt have joined the ranks of those in youth custody and in prison.

John La Rose was a member of the Council of the Institute of Race Relations in the early 1970s, becoming its Chair from 1972 to 1973. During that crucial period in the Institute's life, he helped to secure the independence of the Institute form the stranglehold of representatives of conglomerates operating in the West Indies, South America and the Indian subcontinent. John was Founder Chair of Towards Racial Justice, the political arm of the Institute which gave a new, radical, direction to the development of the journal Race Today.

In 1975, John La Rose founded the Black Parents Movement from the core of the parents involved in the George Padmore & Albertina Sylvester Supplementary School and other parents who had come together to support a young black schoolboy beaten up by police outside his school in Haringey. The Black Parents Movement later formed an Alliance with the Black Youth Movement, the Black Students Movement and Race Today Collective, publishers of the radical journal Race Today. That Alliance was poised to lead the national response to the massacre of 13 young black people in the Deptford fire on 18 January 1981, to organise the New Cross Massacre Black People's Day of Action on 2 March 1981, an event which brought some 25,000 people, predominantly black, to command the streets of London in protest at the year-on-year racist killing of black people, and to organise and support the families and their legal team during the initial inquest into the killings.

In 1982, with John La Rose and Jessica Huntley of Bogle L'Ouverture Publications as its Co-Directors, the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books was inaugurated. Organised by New Beacon Books, Bogle L'Ouverture Publications and Race Today Publications, the first book fair was held at Islington Town Hall in March 1982, with CLR James giving the Opening Address. John was later to become the sole Director of the Book Fair when Bogle L'Ouverture withdrew from the organising committee. The Book Fair ran first annually and then biennially until 1995.

The Book Fair was essentially a publishers' fair and brought together publishers, writers and artists from across five continents. It thus not only exposed the widest range of radical black and third world books to a huge European audience, through the accompanying Book Fair Festival, it also provided a forum for free, open and democratic debate, for sharing information about and critiquing political and cultural struggles of people all over the world, and for cultural expression. The Book Fair generation of writers, artists, students, activists and parents had a unique experience of political and cultural organisation and the products of political and cultural activism across the globe.

Throughout those active years, John found time to edit the half-yearly journal, New Beacon Review and to write his wide collection of essays and poems, including his first collection of poems, Foundations (1966) and Eyelets of Truth Within Me (1991).

Since the end of the Book Fair, John has led the George Padmore Institute (GPI), an archive, library educational research and information centre, the trustees and principal participants of which have been involved with John La Rose in struggle from the middle 1960s. The GPI is a monument to another historical giant in the anti- and post-colonial movement, George Padmore, also from Trinidad, who played a pivotal role in the 1945 Pan-African Congress held in Manchester, a congress that spurred the anti-colonial and West Indian Independence movement that so preoccupied the young La Rose.

In his tribute to John La Rose on the occasion of the 10th Book Fair, the poet and historian Kamau Braithwaite, co-founder of CAM, wrote: ‘A man lives long like you whose actions become thoughts creating actions in the world that is his thought that never seems to end and those who thank you think yr thoughts & those who think you thank you, Proteus my friend.’

New Beacon Books, GPI trustees and activists and progressive people across five continents salute our friend and twenty first century 'Renaissance Man' and acknowledge our huge indebtedness to him.

Biographical note:

John La Rose was born on 27 December 1927 in Arima in Trinidad.

He married Irma Hilaire in 1954 and they had two sons, Michael and Keith.

The family moved to London from Venezuela, Irma's birthplace, in 1961. John and Irma separated in 1964. He and Sarah White have been partners since 1965 and have one son, Wole.

He died on 28 February 2006 from a heart attack while attending hospital after suffering persistent chest pains.

(c) Gus John

Gus John is an international management consultant and Visiting Professor of Education at the University of Strathclyde. He’s a former Director of Education and Leisure Services in Hackney.

 

Linton Kwesi Johnson Obituary for John La Rose in The Guardian, Saturday 4 March 2006

John La Rose, who has died aged 78, was the elder statesman of Britain's black communities. Like Marcus Garvey, CLR James, George Padmore, Fidel Castro and Frantz Fanon, John belongs to a Caribbean tradition of radical and revolutionary activism whose input has reverberated across continents. The depth and breadth of his contribution to the struggle for cultural and social change, for racial equality and social justice, for the humanisation of society, is unparalleled in the history of the black experience in Britain. He was a man of great erudition whose generosity of spirit and clarity of vision and sincerity inspired people like me. John was not only my mentor, friend, comrade, he was like a father to me. He was the most remarkable human being I have ever known.

A poet, essayist, publisher, filmmaker, trade unionist, cultural and political activist, John was born in Arima, Trinidad, where his father was a cocoa trader and his mother a teacher. At nine he won a scholarship to St Mary's College, Port of Spain, where he later taught before becoming an insurance executive. He later also taught in Venezuela. Culture, politics and trade unionism were central to his vision of change. He was an executive member of the Youth Council in Trinidad and produced their fortnightly radio programme, Noise of Youth, for Radio Trinidad. In the mid-1950s, he co-authored, with the calypsonian Raymond Quevedo (Atilla the Hun), a pioneering study of calypso entitled Kaiso: A Review (republished in 1983 as Atilla's Kaiso).

One of John's favourite sayings was "We didn't come alive in Britain", an allusion to the struggles that had been waged by Caribbean peoples in the Caribbean against colonialism and for workers' and people's power. In the 1940s in Trinidad, he helped to found the Workers Freedom Movement and edited its journal, Freedom. He was an executive member of the Federated Workers Trade Union, later merged into the National Union of Government and Federated Workers. He became the general secretary of the West Indian Independence Party and contested a seat in the 1956 Trinidad general election after being banned from other West Indian islands by the British colonial authorities. He was also involved in the internal struggle of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union, siding with the "rebel" faction that wanted a more radical and democratic union. The rebels prevailed in the 1962 union election and John became their European representative, a position he held until his death.

Soon after he arrived in Britain in 1961, he was again engaged in activism. In 1966 he founded New Beacon Books, the first Caribbean publishing house, bookshop and international book service in Britain. In that same year, together with the Jamaican writer and broadcaster Andrew Salkey and the Barbadian poet and historian Kamau Brathwaite, he co-founded the Caribbean Artists Movement. In 1972-73, he was chairman of the Institute of Race Relations and Towards Racial Justice, which published the radical campaigning journal Race Today, edited by Darcus Howe.

John was also involved in the Black Education Movement in the 1960s, particularly in the struggle against banding, and the placing of West Indian children in schools for the educationally sub-normal. He founded the George Padmore Supplementary School for West Indian children in 1969 and was one of the founders of the Caribbean Education in Community Workers Association. That organisation published Bernard Coard's groundbreaking How the West Indian Child Is Made Educationally Sub-Normal in the British School System (1971). He was also instrumental in the founding of the National Association of Supplementary Schools in the 1980s and was its chairman for a couple of years.

In 1975, after a black schoolboy was assaulted outside his school by police in the London borough of Haringey, John, together with concerned parents, founded the Black Parents Movement to combat the brutalisation and criminalisation of young blacks, and to agitate for youth and parent power and decent education. By then the Race Today journal had severed links with the Institute of Race Relations and was now the journal of the Race Today Collective. The Black Parents Movement allied with them and with the Black Youth Movement.

This alliance became the most powerful cultural and political movement organised by blacks in Britain, winning many campaigns for justice against police oppression, agitating for better state education and supporting black working class struggle. It was the alliance which formed the New Cross Massacre Action Committee in response to an arson attack which resulted in the deaths of 13 young blacks in 1981, and mobilised 20,000 people in protest. John was the chairman of the action committee and gave tremendous support to the bereaved families.

In 1982, John was instrumental in the founding of Africa Solidarity, in support of those struggling against dictatorial governments in Africa. That year he also became chairman of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners in Kenya, whose founding members included the Kenyan novelist and critic Ngugi wa Thiong'o. In response to the rise in fascism and xenophobia, John helped to found European Action for Racial Equality and Social Justice, bringing together anti-racists and anti-fascists from Belgium, Italy, France and Germany. He made a short film on the Black Church in Britain for a special Caribbean edition of Full House, which he produced for BBC2 in 1973, and co-produced and scripted Franco Rosso's documentary film Mangrove Nine, about the resistance of the black community to police attacks in the popular Mangrove restaurant in London.

One of John's greatest achievements was the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books (1982-95), organised jointly with Bogle L'Ouverture Books and Race Today Publications. He was joint director with Jessica Huntley of the book fair and, after the withdrawal of Bogle L'Ouverture, its sole director. In the call to the first book fair, John wrote: "This first international book fair of radical black and Third World books is intended to mark the new and expanding phase in the growth of the radical ideas and concepts and their expression in literature, politics, music, art and social life." The book fair was, indeed, "a meeting of the continents for writers, publishers, distributors, booksellers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, and people who inspire and consume their creative productions".

The George Padmore Institute, a library and educational research centre housing materials relating to the black community of Caribbean, African and Asian descent in Britain and continental Europe, was established in 1991 and chaired by John. He was also the editor at New Beacon Books and of their journal, New Beacon Review, and published two volumes of his own poetry, Foundations (1966) and Eyelets of Truth Within Me.

John could have been anything he wanted, but he was without ambition. He preferred to stay in the background and make things happen. He was a man who dreamed of changing the world.

He is survived by his first wife, Irma, and their sons Michael and Keith; and Sarah White, his partner, and their son Wole.

· John La Rose, intellectual, trades unionist, campaigner, poet, born December 27 1927; died February 28 2006

(c) Linton Kwesi Johnson

Linton Kwesi Johnson is a reggae poet, recording artist and political activist.

 

 

 

 

New Nation John La Rose Funeral by Shaun Hutchinson

Up to 1600 people packed the New Testament Church of God, in Wood Green, London on Monday 13 March for the funeral service of John La Rose, veteran political activist, writer and publisher who died recently.

In a sombre, yet defiant and hopeful atmosphere La Rose’s family and friends were joined by a multi-national congregation, with young and old present.

The depth of the community organiser’s influence on the political, cultural and literary scene in Britain, and globally, over the past four decades was also manifest with the presence of a who’s who of writers, poets, academics and intellectuals bidding farewell to the noted writer and activist.

Messages of condolence and tributes were received on behalf of Wilfred Wood, ex Chair of the Institute of Race Relations, Talib Kibwe, who dedicated a performance to be held in New York City that same evening [13/03/2006] to the memory of the veteran publisher, and Ian Macdonald QC who described the poet as the embodiment of a partner, father, grandfather, great grandfather, political analyst, artist organiser, friend and comrade.

As stated during his son Michael’s moving eulogy, one of the sayings often used by the community activist was: ‘culture unites with politics for change’ and reflecting this, the funeral service began with singing and steel pan and flute music.

With poems recited in his honour by granddaughter Chantelle La Rose, Kamau Braithwaite and Linton Kwesi Johnson, the moving service combined culture with remembrance. Tributes were also given by Kole Omotoso, Professor of Drama at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, David Abdulah, representative of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union of Trinidad and Tobago, of which La Rose was the European representative, together with academics Susan Craig-James and Abdul Alkalimat.

The Reception at Haringey was a festive affair – a ‘Trini Lime’ – with food, drink, ‘ole talk’ and memories of John La Rose accompanied by Steel Pan and Calypso in an atmosphere of purpose and togetherness.

Doctor Abdul Alkalimat, speaking at the Reception, said that “those who didn’t know John La Rose will come to know him through the influences of his legacy.”

Alex Pascall, broadcaster,said that “There are so many people who admired him and with these memories he hasn’t left us really”

David Abdullah of the Oilfield Workers Union of Trinidad and Tobago described the political analyst as someone who: “Through his influence and many discussions contributed to the development of the workers movement in Trinidad and Tobago.”

John La Rose is survived by his first wife Irma and their sons Michael and Keith, and Sarah White his partner and their son Wole.

© New Nation, 20 March 2006

 

Leela Ramdeen 'Tribute to elder statesman' in the Trinidad Guardian 16 March 2006

On Monday I attended the funeral in London of a stalwart of black struggle in Britain, John La Rose, who died at age 78 on February 28. John was a poet, essayist, publisher, filmmaker, trade unionist, cultural and political activist. The international gathering and tributes paid at the funeral reflected the love that so many have for this great man.

I am indebted to John, whom I first met in the 1980s when I was appointed to lead a team of teachers to promote success among children of Caribbean origin in primary schools in the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA).

In many ways I was “wet behind the ears.” I had to learn quickly about the nature and extent of the struggles of the black community in Britain. It is people like John who “educated” me. He helped to unlock my potential.

John, who was born in Arima, had arrived in Britain in 1961. In 1966, the year before my arrival there, he founded New Beacon Books, the first Caribbean publishing house, bookshop and international book service in Britain. He was extremely helpful to my team in identifying books written about and by black people for use in London’s schools.

John and others helped me to understand the history to the position which I held at that time. For years John and other members of the black community had pressed the British Government to investigate issues relating to the education of African-Caribbean children.

He had been involved in the Black Education Movement in the 1960s, particularly in the struggle against “banding,” and the placing of Caribbean children in schools for the educationally sub-normal.

By the time I met him I had read Bernard Coard’s book: How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Sub-Normal in the British School System (1971). John was one of the founders of the Caribbean Education in Community Workers Association—the organisation that had published Coard’s book. He played a key role in the establishment of the National Association of Supplementary Schools in the 1980s and was its chairman for a couple of years.

I recall the discussions John and I had about supplementary schools. Some believed that since the education system was failing our children, we should establish full-time supplementary schools and appoint black teachers to teach them.

While I saw the value of supplementary schools, e.g. to instil in our children a pride in their culture and history and to develop their literacy and numeracy skills, I believed that it was important to “fight” for our children’s right to equality of access and equality of opportunity in mainstream schools. I believed that we could defeat racism in the education system.

A parliamentary select committee was established and in 1977 it reported on discontent over a number of issues, including education, felt by the African-Caribbean community in Britain. This led to the establishment of a Committee of Inquiry into the Education of Children from Ethnic Minority Groups in 1979, chaired, in the first instance, by Lord Rampton and from 1981-1985 by Lord Swann.

In 1981 the committee’s interim report, the Rampton Report (‘West Indian Children in Our Schools’), was published. It argued that “a ‘good’ education cannot be based on one culture only; it will draw upon the experiences of the many cultures that make up our society and thus broaden the cultural horizons of every child.”

The report concluded that, while racism was not the only factor causing underachievement of “West Indian” children, there were also “various ways in which racism in the broadest sense in both schools and society can have a bearing on the achievement of West Indian children.”

The report pointed out that teachers’ attitudes towards and expectations of West Indian pupils may be subconsciously influenced by stereotyped, negative or patronising views of their abilities and potential which may prove a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Although to some extent “West Indian” children were still seen as a problem, for the first time the education system was found to be partly to blame for their underachievement.

Another major significance of this report is that the document used terminology which distanced it from previous education policies of assimilation and integration. This was the first time the discourse of anti-racism found its way into an official government publication.

In 1985 Lord Swann and his committee published a final report entitled ‘Education for All’ which focused on internal and external problems concerning the education of ethnic minority children. Inter alia, the report highlighted the fact that children of African-Caribbean origin were over-represented in schools for the educationally sub-normal.

It stated that education should meet the needs of ethnic minority pupils and should “prepare all pupils, both ethnic majority and ethnic minority, for life in a society which is both multiracial and culturally diverse.”

The ILEA was one of the education authorities that sought to implement some of the recommendations of the Rampton and Swann Reports, e.g. by establishing in the 1980s the primary curriculum development project which I was appointed to lead.

I was later appointed as inspector of schools with responsibility, inter alia, for that project. In that role, as well as in my post as deputy director of education/head of quality assurance in Haringey and in my voluntary work to combat racism, I could always count on John for advice.

His clarity of vision was an inspiration to many. His generosity of spirit was evident in the time that he took to share with me the history of the struggles in which he and others had been involved — not only in Britain, but during his early years in Trinidad, e.g. on the Workers Freedom Movement, the Federated Workers Trade Union, the West Indian Independence Party, the Oilfields Workers Trade Union etc.

Each year, from 1982-1995, I looked forward to attending the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books which John organised jointly with Bogle L’Ouverture Books and Race Today Publications. He was joint director with Jessica Huntley of the book fair and, after the withdrawal of Bogle L’Ouverture, its sole director.

In 1991 the George Padmore Institute, a library and educational research centre housing materials relating to the black community of Caribbean, African and Asian descent in Britain and continental Europe, was established, with John as the chair.

John pursued his vision to the end. I agree with Lawrence Scott that “the depth and breadth of his contribution to the struggle for cultural and social change, for racial equality and social justice, for the humanisation of society, is unparallelled in the history of the black experience in Britain.”

I pray that our Government will honour this gentle genius who fought so valiantly against exploitation and oppression and for freedom and justice. Dear John, beacon of hope, we embrace your legacy. May you rest in peace.

© Leela Ramdeen

Trinidad Guardian, Thursday 16 March 2006 http://www.guardian.co.tt/archives/2006-03-16/LeelaRamdeen.html

Leela Ramdeen is lawyer and education consultant

 

Lawrence Scott Obituary for John La Rose in The Guardian 4 March 2006

My good Trinidadian friend from Arima, my "pardner", had a remarkable insight into the people he met in his varied personal and political life. He made people feel he knew their history, because he listened and remembered. I experienced this as a Trinidadian living in London for whom life here was made more possible by the intuitive understanding of John. I will miss him for this. Making a home in Britain while carrying a living sense of the Caribbean was a creative tension he achieved and helped others achieve.

When we first met we engaged in a passionate discussion of Trinidad's teachers' trade union politics. He was a West Indian renaissance man, a poet as well as an oilfield workers' trade unionist and campaigner. His poems are as powerful as were his rhetorical skills with the megaphone. The world passed through his kitchen and his bookshop; you were as likely to meet a coalminer or steelband man, novelist or chef, dancer or theologian.

Last Christmas we had dinner in his small kitchen with friends from South Africa and Nigeria. He spoke passionately about the politics of Chavez's revolution in Venezuela. He saw the world through the prism of Trinidad's creole culture, and believed it to have changed Britain entirely. He has left us two legacies: New Beacon Books and The George Padmore Institute. It is there he will continue in spirit, listening and remembering the history of ordinary people. It is there we can go to meet him any day.

John La Rose, intellectual, trades unionist, campaigner, poet, born December 27 1927; died February 28 2006

© Lawrence Scott

 

 

 

Marika Sherwood 'John La Rose (1927-2006)' in Black and Asian Studies Association Newsletter 45, April 2006

My friend, my colleague, my mentor, John La Rose has died suddenly. He had suffered from heart problems for some time, but his death was unexpected. At least it was rapid. He would have hated to be incapacitated and unable to work.

I first met John and his equally supportive wife Sarah White in the early 1970s when I was working with children expelled from Haringey schools. Unsurprisingly they were all black. I took them to the New Beacon Bookshop to encourage, enlighten them — and myself.

I did not then know that John had been a founder of the Caribbean Artists Movement here in Britain and that in Trinidad he had been a mainstay of the Federated Workers’ Union in Trinidad prior to emigrating to the UK. But I had heard of the wonderful bookshop and the supplementary school he was running from his home. This developed into the Black Parents Movement; and the bookshop, I discovered, was also a publishing house!

John was active, and often the initiator of many of the Black movements in London from the 1960s: for example, in 1981 after the arson which killed 13 young black people attending a party in south London, he was one of the founders of the New Cross Massacre Action Committee; the following year he helped to set up Africa Solidarity and chaired the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners in Kenya. In 1990 he co-founded the European Action for Racial Equality and Justice. John also maintained his working connection with Trinidad, especially the Oilfield Workers Trade Union.

One of the most wonderful events for many of us researching, teaching or reading about the black world, was the international Book Fair of Radical Black Books, which John and Sarah organised jointly with Bogle L’Ouverture (the other Black publisher in those days) and Race Today Publications from 1982 till 1995. In that final year I was one of the speakers at the Conference, both in London and other cities, as New Beacon had published The 1945 Manchester Pan-African Congress Revisited (Hakim Adi & Marika Sherwood). I shall never forget a young black woman attacking me, a white woman who was clearly writing this history in order to make a fortune, etc etc … John got to his feet, and clasping my hand in his said something like ‘is that what you think of me?’ (I cannot recall the exact words — but the memory will never leave me.)

In 1991 John and Sarah and their co-workers established the George Padmore Institute to serve as an archive for all their (and others) materials, as a library and education centre. The public lectures, usually given by activists and writers, which used to be held under the aegis of the bookshop are now held at the Institute.

The bookshop is a treasure-trove. As was John and Sarah’s household. You were likely to meet anyone and every one there, African, Caribbean and Black British — writers, activists, political figures, poets. John himself was a poet, a film maker, an essayist an inspiring speaker and a patient teacher. Thank you for your friendship.

Read: Anne Walmsley The Caribbean Artists Movement 1966-1972, New Beacon 1992; Sarah White et al (eds) A Meeting of the continents: the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books – Revisited, New Beacon 2005

© Marika Sherwood

 

 

 

Stabroek News, Guyana Trinidadian Activist Passes on in London

John La Rose died in England on Tuesday, 28th February, 2006. Born in Trinidad in 1927 he had made his home in London since 1961 where he founded the well known bookshop and publishing house New Beacon Books in 1966.

He was also chairman of the George Padmore Institute, an educational library and research centre housing materials relating to the black community in Britain and continental Europe, whose office is above the bookshop in Stroud Green Road, Finsbury Park, London.

La Rose had said that at the heart of his experience was the struggle for cultural and social change in Britain, across Europe and in the Caribbean, Africa and the Developing World.

In December 1966 he was the co-founder with Edward Kamau Brathwaite and Andrew Salkey, of the Caribbean Arts Movement, which later gave birth to the journal Savacou.

Later he became chairman of the Institute of Race Relations in 1972/73. He was also chairman of Toward Racial Justice, the vehicle for publishing the campaigning journal Race Today.

He was part of the Black Education Movement and the social and educational struggles of the 1960s and 1970s. Out of these events came the Black Parents Movement, the Black Youth Movement and the Race Today Collective, which fought against arbitrary police actions and for better state education. Writing about these experiences himself he had noted: “All this culminated in the largest and most effective demonstration of black political power in Britain over the last 40 years – the New Cross Massacre Black Peoples Day of Action on March 2, 1981. I can remember the magnificence of that day when 15-20,000 black people and their supporters, under the banner of the New Cross Massacre Action Committee, demonstrated through the streets of London.

“They were mobilised to protest the mishandling by police officers of investigations into the fire which claims the lives of 13 young blacks at a birthday party in January 1981 at the home of a West Indian family in New Cross Road, South London.”

John La Rose had been a contributor to the New World fortnightly magazine published in Guyana in the sixties.

The editor of that journal, David de Caires, paid tribute to him and to his wife Sarah, who in recent years had been in charge of the bookshop noting that he had visited more than once and a wide selection of Caribbean literature was available. The bookshop, he said, had been of significant value to the Caribbean community in London and elsewhere over the years providing books that were otherwise very difficult to access.

John La Rose had helped a number of West Indian and African writers over the years and had been deeply involved in many projects for the general benefit of the West Indian community in Finsbury Park and elsewhere.

© Stabroek News, Guyana, Friday March 3 2006