UWI&The1960s: THE CLR JAMES MOMENT!

CLR James has been the focus of our latest UWI and the 1960s occasional series – in which the University of the West Indies Museum and the UWI Mona’s Department of History & Archaeology explore the university’s connections with regional and international philosophies and icons during that dynamic decade.

Trinidadian and Caribbean icon CLR James wholeheartedly engaged with the young and vibrant University College of the West Indies as it moved towards its own independent status in the early 1960s; and his importance was recognised with the award of an Honorary degree of Doctor of Letters in 1971.

It was CLR James the activist artist and author of iconic texts like The Black Jacobins, Beyond a Boundary, and Mariners Renegades & Castaways with whom UWI sought to engage its students through lectures such as the Artist in the Caribbean. Of course James was also aTrotskeyite, an anti-imperialist and a philosophic revolutionary.

UCLA Emeritus Professor Robert Hill, Garvey scholar and James’ Literary Executor, told an interested audience: “James felt that the university as an experiment in the development of the Caribbean had to be asking philosophical questions.” And he certainly elicited an enthusiastic response from some of the students who heard him; one that continued for years as they pursued academic careers, as correspondence in the CLR James Collection at UWI St Augustine indicates.

Norman Girvan: In 1959, James “…spoke about The Artist in the West Indies, and listening to him was one of those experiences that leaves its mark forever imprinted upon the mind and memory…”

Walter Rodney:At the university in Jamaica, CLR James exercise(d) a force as a kind of model figure…”

Trevor Munroe: “Though you many not recall, we have met before – once at Mona and again last year at an ‘open house’ you had in London on returning from Trinidad…”

Chair of the Department of History & Archaeology Prof Matthew Smith and UWI Museum Curator Dr Suzanne Francis-Brown welcomed the audience and contextualised the event in terms of the UWI & The 1960s series and James’ UWI connection; and Prof Hill introduced the afternoon’s main focus: a 2016 WORLDwrite documentary on CLR James titled Every Cook Can Govern.

Clips from the event will give you a taste:

The pop-up exhibition on CLR James and the UWI, which complemented the event, will remain up in the UWI Museum for another two weeks.

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