Black hero CLR dropped by Hackney council

CLR James (picture courtesy LBH)
The Brixton house with the James plaque and the young writer (picture courtesy LBH)

* Update 031010: the council has capitulated to the Loving Dalston campaign to save the name  

THE BOOKS of the West Indian writer-philosopher Cyril Lionel Robert James are still in print and he and his work are commemorated in the name of the library in Dalston Lane, much valued by local people.

Not for long. The building will be demolished and the library, along with the borough archives, moved into new premises at the end of 2010 as part of Dalston Junction “regeneration” (a euphemism for big-money-making schemes).

A permanent exhibition of the author’s life and works will be displayed in the new centre, but is that not a lessening of respect for a name that became a part of Dalston vocabulary?

The problem for Hackney is that the merging of the two libraries makes difficult preserving the names of both.

The archives building was named the Rose Lipman, after Rose Stitfel Lipman (1903-1974), a teacher who set up a faith school in Clapton and persuaded the council to twin Hackney with Haifa, Israel’s main port.

Close-up on the plaque in Brixton

Connections between James and Hackney, let alone Dalston, are not obvious. The name may have been chosen for the Dalston library from a desire by Hackney’s Labour regime of the 1980s to appease West Indian-origin voters.

James moved in 1933 to London, where he became known for his Marxist views and his agitating for rights. His play about Toussaint l’Ouverture (1743?-1803), the revolutionary who led Haiti to freedom from French rule, was staged in the West End in 1936, starring Paul Robeson (1898-1976). James returned to Trinidad in the 1950s and edited The Nation.

His magnum opus is Beyond a Boundary (1963), which wittily uses cricket as a metaphor to discuss race (a now academically mostly discredited concept), colonialism and philosophy.

In 2005 his widow, Selma James, attended a ceremony at the library to mark its 20th anniversary.

Apart from Loving Dalston, nobody now seems interested in retaining the name for the library. Some rooms in the new building may carry his and Lipman’s names but that, apparently, will be all.

One way or another, it looks as though memories of these under-commemorated but significant people will fade from the face of Hackney.

David Altheer 190210

* Emboldened underscored words in most cases indicate a hyperlink, a reader service rare among websites. If a link does not work, it is probably because the site to which the URL refers has not been maintained.

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5 thoughts on “Black hero CLR dropped by Hackney council

  1. The long delayed new library ( now due to be ready may 2011) is threatened by spending cuts – reduced staff and stock.

    Please lobby the council on 5th February – e-mail Jules Pipe with a message of support for library services.

    from Library staff, Hackney

  2. A modest people’s literary revolution? CLR would approve.

  3. We could all just identify the new library by its old name and see if it takes root?

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