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Front cover of Walter Rodney's, The Groundings with my Brothers, 1969

​Walter Rodney, The Groundings with my Brothers, printed in London, 1969.

Archive Treasures: The Huntley Archives

Maureen Roberts and Richard Wiltshire

London has long been a centre for migration of people from across the world, and it is important that the City’s collections represent the diversity of its population. In recent years, a number of important Black and Caribbean community archives have been acquired, building on projects of the early 2000s which explored this area, such as Moving Here, an online image database concerning migration to Britain, and Black and Asian Londoners, which focused on the Black and Asian presence in parish registers from the 16th century.

The Huntley archives were deposited by Eric Huntley (b 1929) and his wife Jessica (b 1927), Black political activists and publishers, who played a prominent role in the Black Caribbean community. They emigrated from British Guiana to London between 1957 and 1958. They met Dr Walter Rodney (1942 – 1980), a Guyanese academic historian and political activist who studied at the School of Oriental and African Studies during the 1960s. In 1968 the Jamaican government banned Rodney for his radical Marxist philosophy, and for teaching students and Rastafarians about the intellectual, sociological and military prowess of ancient African civilisations. The resulting ‘Rodney Riots’ triggered the development of Black Power, Pan-Africanism and political awareness on a global scale.

In reaction to the ban, the Huntleys helped to mobilise support, and arranged the printing and street distribution of Rodney’s lectures. This culminated in their founding Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications Ltd in 1969, named in honour of Toussaint L’Ouverture and Paul Bogle, both figureheads of Black rebellion against the Caribbean slave trade. The firm became a political weapon to spread Rodney’s works further afield. The first publication was the collection of his lectures, The Groundings with My Brothers. This was followed in 1972 by How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, a seminal work by Rodney on the history of post-colonial liberation struggles. Following Rodney’s murder in Guyana in 1980, the Huntleys kept his legacy alive by renaming their bookshop the Walter Rodney Bookshop and organising public memorials and anniversary lectures in his name.

The archive comprises 50 linear metres of records, from 1952 to the present. These include authors’ files with original manuscripts and correspondence, publications, photographs and films, documenting grass roots publishing across the African Caribbean Diaspora. Papers also document the Huntleys’ political, educational, community and family activities in London and internationally. Correspondence, case files, posters and leaflets survive for over twenty organisations in which the Huntleys were active participants. These include campaigning groups like the Black Parents Movement and the Committee Against Repression in Guyana. The former was established to safeguard Black community rights in British society, and sought to challenge the treatment of Black youth by the police, particularly after controversial events such as the 1979 Southall Riots. The Committee Against Repression in Guyana was founded in reaction to the news that senior members of Guyana's leading opposition party, the Working People's Alliance, including Walter Rodney, had been arrested after an explosion which destroyed Guyanese government offices in 1979.

Greeting card, printed in London, 1970s

​Greeting card, printed in London, 1970s

The motivating force behind the Huntleys’ preservation of their records has been their belief in the power of the written word, and the importance of history in education. They have committed to a sustained involvement to promote the use of archives in supporting community involvement and learning. This has led to the establishment of annual Huntley Archive conferences, held mostly at London Metropolitan Archives, which focus on the history of Black Caribbean publishing, the impact of Rodney and his work, the Black supplementary school movement, and campaigning. The conferences have showcased the relevance of archives to current issues concerning the community, and have attracted new audiences, with the engagement of young people as a significant objective. Youth groups which have been involved have included the Black Experience Archive Trust (BEAT), the Writing, Acting and Publishing Project for Youngsters (WAPPY) and the Manchester Supplementary School.  Further deposits of Black Caribbean material have included the archives of Clapton Youth Centre (a Black youth centre in Hackney), Hansib Publications Ltd (publishers specialising in newspapers and books covering African, Afro-Caribbean, Indo-Caribbean and Asian community issues and subjects), and the papers of Sybil Phoenix, the first Black woman to have been awarded an MBE.

 

The article above appears in a book which has been published to showcase the holdings not only of LMA, but also of Guildhall Library and Guildhall Art Gallery. The contents of London: 1000 years range in date from 1067 to 2007 - the latest items are the memorabilia left at the 7/7 bombing sites - and they include not only the obviously iconic material like love letters from the dying Keats, or one of the very few documents in the world carrying Shakespeare’s signature, but also less expected, more ephemeral items. All of it tells a story.

You can buy London: 1000 Years from Amazon or all good booksellers (as the saying goes), price £29.95, but it is also available from City of London Corporation outlets (Guildhall Library, Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London Information Centre) in a special paperback edition for just £19.95.

David Pearson (ed.): London 1000 Years: Treasures of the Collections of the City of London.  London (Scala Publishers), 2011.  160pp. ISBN 978-1-85759-699-1

Published:
12 November 2013
Last Modified:
01 November 2018

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