Two great heroes who are not often highlighted, so much so that their Blue Plaque Memorial had to be ‘Crowd Funded’ by admirers and those who understood their true contribution.
Eric Huntley (1929), incarcerated for leaving his village without permission in what is now known as Guyana, came to England in 1956 with his wife, Jessica Huntley (1927-2013). He was once an important part of the Peoples Progressive Party in what was formerly known as British Guiana (now Guyana). They published a book, “Bougle L’Ouverture”, during a tumultuous time in conservative Britain and it became a reminder that things were changing rapidly. The high streets were no longer dominated by white-only businesses thanks to the Race relations Act 1965. The Walter Rodney bookshop was now one of hundreds of shops owned by Black and other Ethnic minority citizens, so naturally, it was attacked by the National Front.
“They used to leave dog faeces on the front of the shop.” Eric says in an interview with Omar Alleyne-Lawler, “They must have thought it would scare us away. But I’m still here today.”
The two went on to effect the change of Britain’s colonial rule in the West Indies through spreading ideals of independence and equality. One of the major things they organised was the Black People’s Day of Action march of 20,000 black Britons from all over the country and was the largest protest march of black people.
In truth Eric and the late Jessica Huntley are two ordinary people who have transformed the world around them through a shared commitment to publishing, community action and justice.
Eric and Jessica Huntley, pioneering Black political and social activists and radical book publishers born in what then was, British Guiana arrived in England in the 1950’s and wasted no time before becoming active in political and social issues relating to the British African-Caribbean community’s in and around London.
For over 50 years the Huntley’s participated in many significant grassroots campaigns. These included:
• Founder member of the Caribbean Education and Community Workers Association (CECWA), the first specialist Black education group to have been established in the UK.
No Colur Bar – Huntley Archives Timeline
• The Black Parents Movement (BPM) formed in 1975 following the arrest and assault by Haringey police of a Black schoolboy named Cliff McDaniel outside his school. This organisation built up alliances with similar organisations nationally and internationally going on to participate in campaigns involving political crises in South Africa, Grenada and Guyana.
• Involvement with the Anti-Banding protest movement organised by the North London West Indian Association (NLWIA) that played an important part in challenging Haringey Council’s plans to assess all pupils in its schools using the now discredited IQ tests and to teach children in “bands” according to their performance.
• Organisers of the 1981 Black People’s Day of Action march that attracted 20,000 black Britons from all over the country and was the largest protest march of black people.
• The Supplementary School Movement, created to supplement the shortcomings of an education system that was failing Black children.
The establishment of Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications, to promote radical Black writing. Bogle-L’Ouverture went on to publish texts by Walter Rodney, Bernard Coard, Lemn Sissay and Valerie Bloom
In 1974 the Huntley’s opened their, Bookshop, at that time called ‘The Bookshop’, in West Ealing, London. The bookshop was later renamed as the ‘Walter Rodney Bookshop’ and quickly became a place of importance for Britain’s Black community.
Eric later described it as an ‘oasis in the desert of West London’. Visitors to the shop were able to discover new radical publications, meet authors at book launches and find books to suit children from diverse backgrounds. It also became a place for teachers to learn new ways to teach their subjects and was frequently visited by artists and intellectuals visiting the UK.
It was during the ‘Bookshop years’ that the launch of the first International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books,1981 took place and the establishment of the Peter Moses School in Ealing.
The Huntleys’ went on to publish, in 1994 Cry a Whisper by Lucy Safo, winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize for, Best First Book.
In 2005 the Huntleys deposited their archives at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) and this sees the start of another chapter of their lives as along with the HAAG committee (Huntley Archives Advisory Group) they begin to arrange annual ‘Huntley’ conferences at the LMA, starting in 2006. Six years later in 2012 the first youth conference is held at the LMA.
2013 will be remembered for being the year that the first Huntley Symposium took place, being addressed by keynote speaker Hilary Beccles from the University of the West Indies, Friends of The Huntley Archives, the group that replaced HAAG, is granted charity status and sadly Jessica died in October. Eric continues to work with the Conference planning group while also accepting speaking invitations and pursuing his personal writing.