Friday, 1 October 2010

CLR James Library campaign open letter

Open letter to the Council of the London Borough of Hackney

The decision to lose the name CLR James library when the proposed new facility is built as part of the Dalston Square Development is nothing short of scandalous. It is a scandal that no individual seems prepared to take responsibility for, but one for which someone needs to be held accountable.

The Council says that the name of the library should reflect its geographical location. Why? Dalston Station is less than a hundred metres from the proposed location of the new library and Dalston Kingsland Station almost as close, so it is inconceivable that many users (most of whom will be local) will wander into the library not knowing where in the world they are. It is also perhaps worth noting that those in other parts of the borough, throughout London, nationally and internationally are more likely to be aware of the facility because it is called CLR James Library than because it is in Dalston. What will follow, changing the name Ridley Road Market to Dalston Market? Another reason put forward is that as the library will house the borough archives, the name should perhaps also reflect this. Then why not call the new building, ‘The C.L.R. James Library & Archives - Dalston’? This is not an overly long name and would satisfy the stated requirements of the Council as well as the demands of the campaigners; both parties would be seen to be acting in the interest of the community and of common sense.

The African Caribbean community in Hackney make very few demands (or even requests) of its Council and it would understandably be perceived as a huge insult if this modest and reasonable request was denied. It would be an insult not just to its African Caribbean residents and staff, not only to the family and memory of this great intellectual, literary figure and humanitarian. It would also be an insult to all those in the borough and beyond who are aware and proud of Hackney’s long history of taking a principled stand with regards to matters of public interest and its positive approach to community members from all cultural backgrounds.

The library was so named after members of Hackney’s staff and community made a sound case for honouring a legendary figure, acknowledged by forward thinking academics, writers and even cricket lovers. As has been pointed out by the campaign organisers and by many on line petitioners; the decision to name the facility ‘the CLR James Library’ was seen as Hackney making a public statement and commitment regarding the literary contribution of African Caribbean people to world literature. This was appropriate in a borough with such a high percentage of African Caribbean people. It would be just as profound a statement if this recognition was now rescinded.

This is an issue that rather than become a much bigger problem than it currently is, can be made to go away just by the taking of a rational and correct decision. It should not require a petition, deputation to the Council, judicial review or demonstrations.

Signed by:

Selma James (widow of CLR James)

Professor Gus John, Founder Trustee of the George Padmore Institute and former Director of Education and Leisure Services in Hackney

Judith Jacob, Actress (Eastenders, No Problem & the Real McCoy (Yabba Yabba)

Cllr Patrick Vernon, Queensbridge Ward (London Borough of Hackney)

Professor Richard Drayton, Department of History Kings College London

Cllr Carole Williams - Hoxton (London Borough of Hackney)

Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Vicar of Westminster, Chaplain to the House of Commons & Hackney resident

Linton Kwesi Johnson, poet

Ngoma Bishop, Chair of the Black & Ethnic Minority Arts Network (BEMA), House of Arts & Music Promotion Services (H-AMPS) and Save the CLR James Library Campaign Coordinator

Andrea Enisuoh, Hackney Unites & CLR James Library Campaign Administrator

Edited to add: This campaign has since been victorious, after a mass petition which was online here

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