Jules Pipe, Mayor of Hackney unveiled a new plaque to formally open the plush new Dalston C.L.R. James Library. As well as giving out prizes to nine year old Samuel Tadese, eleven year old Milo Rothchild-Davies, eleven year old Nikita Kaur and nine year old Dijon Hughes for their winning entries to the 'I Love Dalston C.L.R James Library because...' competition.
The Mayor also acknowledged the presence of Sam Weinstein, son of the author, historian and political theorist C.L.R. James in whose honour the library is named. However there was seemingly not sufficient time for him to make mention of BEMA’s role in ensuring the retention of the name. It was left to Head of Libraries Ted Rodgers and LBH Cabinet member Jonathan McShane to remind the those in the packed out library of our network’s pivotal input. With readings and performances by local author Nick Hornby and the excellent poet John Hegley it was a good event. Although some in the audience did wonder if it would not have been appropriate for such an occasion to feature at least one local author or publisher of colour, particular as there were several of them in the room . BEMA is now intending to develop a programme of activity at the library.
Launch of the permanent exhibition dedicated to the life and legacy of Cyril Lionel Robert James (C.L.R. James) (1901 - 1989) - Friday 2 March
CLR was a historian, playwright, novelist, activist, cultural critic, sports writer and social theorist whose work greatly influenced ideas and political movements for independence in the West Indies and Africa.
Speech given by BEMA Chief Officer Ngoma Bishop at the event.
‘Time does not allow me say very much about CLR’s philosophies and teachings. Besides, there are others here more qualified to do so than I am. What I will say however, is that his lifelong commitment to the pursuit of equality and his passion for literature and other areas of the arts is very much in keeping with the ethos of BEMA, ‘the Arts in Harmony Network’. So it was with a sense of outrage of which I am sure CLR would have approved, that the network reacted to the proposal to call this new facility; Dalston Library, or the library near Dalston Junction Overhead Station; in fact anything at all that did not mention the name CLR James. For it seemed, that whilst there are some to whom a name bears no significance, there are also those to whom the name CLR James is in so significant, that it should be jettisoned - even though to do so would be a betrayal of the local and international community, black and otherwise. Our position was unequivocal and clear: the name must be retained. For were it to be otherwise, it would be a retrograde step at best and a statement of intentional disrespect at worst, a fact we would try to make the world aware of.
We were not at first taken seriously by the powers that be. With a profound arrogance, some simply pretended that we did not exist. Others implied that we were not a representative voice. However the establishment of an on line petition that soon attracted over three thousand signatories, outrage from the good people of Dalston and much further afield, and the fact that a number of Hackney Councillors found it impossible to ally themselves to such a Philistine act, rather changed the dynamics. The good sense and political leadership showed by Haggerston Councillor and Cabinet Member for Health, Social Care and Culture in, Hackney Jonathan McShane; and the integrity shown by Hackney Libraries staff and other LBH Officers, also played a major part in bringing us to where we are today. We looks forward to a positive partnership with Hackney Council made possible through the success of our campaign.
In conclusion I would pay tribute to the BEMA volunteers and Directors; in particular Andrea Enisuoh, Lloyd French, Janice Wynter, Dennis Bartholomew and Lesley Laniyan; to our esteemed Honorary Patrons; Diane Abbott the Member for Hackney South &; Shoreditch, the Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons; actress Judith Jacob; to Selma James, Margaret Busby and contributors too numerous to mention. To Hackney Unites, as well as the Hackney Gazette for their unwavering support of the campaign. To Hackney CVS for not evicting us when we were too busy campaigning to remember to pay our rent; and last but not least, to you all and to the other friends of BEMA and of CLR James not able to share this moment.
I hope that you enjoy the evening and I look forward to the expansion of the exhibition and to your future participation in events at the CLR James Library as may be organized by BEMA and or its partners and friends. I thank you all on behalf of the Black & Ethnic Minority Arts Network.
An oral summary of the life and work of the great man was given by his widow Selma James. This was followed by a screening of 'Fire in Babylon', a documentary film about the world-beating, highly successful West Indies Cricket Team of the 1970s and 1980s.