The battle to save the name of the CLR James Library in Dalston has been won. A statement on the Black and Ethnic Minority Arts site announced the victory:
“Following a short meeting between representatives of BEMA and Members and officers of Hackney Council, an in principle agreement has been reached that the new facility will carry the name of CLR James Library. Many thanks to the thousands who have supported our successful campaign online and in other ways.”
As East London Lines reported in September, Hackney council’s decision not to recognise CLR James in the name of the replacement library, which opens next year, was met with a strong campaign from local residents.
Over 2000 people signed the online petition to keep the name of the celebrated Afro-Trinidadian writer and social activist, and an open letter to Hackney council, calling the decision “nothing short of scandalous” was signed by Selma James, CLR James’ widow. The letter stated:
“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.”
Other signatories on the letter included local councillors Carole Williams and Patrick Vernon, poet Linton Kwesi Johnson and Professor Gus John, former Director of Education and Leisure Services in Hackney.
It went on to say:
“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.”
Speaking about her involvement with the campaign, Selma James said: “I am following the lead of the local people – I learnt that from CLR. We must decide which side we’re on and throw our weight behind others. That’s what our job is and that’s what I feel my job is with this.”
She was hopeful that the council would change their mind and said: “I think that whatever happens at the end of this process, people will know the name of CLR James better. So perhaps you can call it a blessing in disguise.”
Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington had also added her support, telling the Hackney Citizen that the proposed name change for the new library, which opens next year, was “an insult to his memory”.
Hackney council told us then:
“This is not the end of the council’s affiliation with CLR James, who we are proud to be associated with. As part of the new library, there will be a permanent exhibition to chronicle the life and works of CLR James; an annual event in his memory and we are pleased to report the art education room will also be named after this influential figure.”
Black and Ethnic Minority Arts (BEMA) say that they will play, “an ongoing role in the development of a permanent CLR James exhibition at the new library as well as the establishment of an annual event commemorating his life and work.”