JOHN LA ROSE (Trinidad, 1927 – England, 2006)

Born in Arima, Trinidad, on 27 December 1927. At nine he won a scholarship to St Mary’s College, where he later taught before becoming an insurance executive with the company Colonial Life. He later lived and taught in secondary schools in Venezuela before he came to the UK in 1961.

John La Rose was an executive member of the Youth Council in Trinidad and produced their fortnightly radio programme, ‘Voice of Youth’ on Radio Trinidad. In the mid-1950s he co-authored with the calypsonian Raymond Quevedo – Atilla the Hun – a pioneering study of calypso entitled Kaiso: A Review, which was finally published in 1983 as Atilla’s Kaiso.

In the 1940s John La Rose helped to found the Workers Freedom Movement and edited their journal, Freedom. He was an executive member of the Federated Workers Trade Union, later merged into the National Union of Government and Federated Workers. He became General Secretary of the West Indian Independence Party and contested a seat in the 1956 General Election for the party. He was later involved with the struggle within the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) by the ‘Rebels’ for a radical, democratic and more representative trade union, for one member one vote in regular periodical elections by secret ballot. The ‘Rebel’ candidates won the elections in 1962 and La Rose maintained his close links both with the OWTU and the international trade union movement, becoming the OWTU’s European representative from 1962 onwards.

John La Rose arrived in Britain in 1961. In 1966 he founded New Beacon Books, the UK’s first Caribbean publishing house, which one year later expanded to include a bookshop and international book service. Growing up in a colonial society in the Caribbean made John acutely aware that colonial policy was based on a deliberate withholding of information from the population. There was also a discontinuity of information from generation to generation. Publishing, therefore, was a vehicle to give an independent validation to one’s own culture, history and politics – a sense of self – and to make a break with discontinuity. It is this conception which permeates the work of New Beacon.

In 1966 John La Rose, along with the Jamaican writer and broadcaster Andrew Salkey and the Barbadian poet and historian Kamau Brathwaite, co-founded the Caribbean Artists Movement, providing a platform for Caribbean artists, poets, writers, dramatists, actors and musicians. From 1972-73 he was Chairman of the Institute of Race Relations and Towards Racial Justice.

John La Rose was involved in the Black Education Movement from the late 1960s, particularly in the struggle against banding, and the placing of West Indian children in schools for the educationally sub-normal. He founded the George Padmore Supplementary School for West Indian children in 1969 and helped found the Caribbean Education in Community Workers Association. In the 1980s he was instrumental in setting up the National Association of Supplementary Schools, and was its Chairman for a time.

In 1975, after a black schoolboy was assaulted by the police in Haringey, John La Rose and concerned parents founded the Black Parents Movement to combat the brutalisation and criminalisation of young blacks, and to agitate for youth and parent power and decent education. The Black Parents Movement, in alliance with the Race Today Collective and the Black Youth Movement, became the most powerful cultural and political movement organised by blacks in Britain. The Alliance formed the New Cross Massacre Action Committee in response to the arson attack on 18 January 1981 which resulted in the death of 14 young blacks. The Committee mobilised 20,000 black people and their supporters in March 1981 to protest the deaths of the young people and the lack of response from the media about the failure of the police to conduct a proper investigation. John La Rose was the Chairman of the New Cross Massacre Action Committee and gave tremendous support to the bereaved families.

John La Rose was also part of many organisations focusing on international concerns. In 1982 he helped to found Africa Solidarity, supporting the struggle against dictatorship and tyranny in Africa, and he also became Chairman of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners in Kenya. In response to the rise in fascism and xenophobia, he helped to found European Action for Racial Equality and Social Justice, bringing together anti-racists and anti-fascists from Belgium, Italy, France and Germany.

One of John La Rose’s greatest achievements was the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books (1982-95), organised jointly with Bogle L’Ouverture Books and Race Today Publications. He was joint director with Jessica Huntley of the Book Fair and from 1984 its sole director. John La Rose was the editor at New Beacon Books and of their journal, New Beacon Review, and published two volumes of his own poetry, Foundations (1966) and Eyelets of Truth Within Me (1992). He also did some filmmaking from the 1970s.

The George Padmore Institute, an archive, library and educational research centre housing materials relating to the black community of Caribbean, African and Asian descent in Britain and continental Europe, was established in 1991 and chaired by John La Rose. The Institute continues the traditions and methods of work that New Beacon Books and the organisations connected with it have developed since 1966.

John La Rose died on 28 February 2006. He is part of a Caribbean tradition of radical and revolutionary activism whose input has reverberated across continents. The depth and breadth of his contribution to the struggle for cultural and social change, for racial equality and social justice, for the humanisation of society, is unparalleled in the history of the black experience in Britain.

Main source for information: Approved by Sarah White, John La Rose’s partner.

Material by John La Rose

Books/ Booklets/ Films

La Rose, Anthony (John). Foundations: a book of poems. London and Port of Spain: New Beacon Books, 1966. Out of print.

La Rose, John. Eyelets of Truth Within Me. London and Port of Spain: New Beacon Books, 1992. Paperback ISBN 978 1 873201 02 2, hardback ISBN 978 1 873201 05 3.

—. Lessons of Grenada Revolution. London: Race Today Publications, 1985.

—. New Cross Massacre Story: interviews with John La Rose. 1984. London: Alliance of the Black Parents Movement, Black Youth Movement and Race Today Collective, 1984. Republished 2011. London: New Beacon Books for the George Padmore Institute, 2011. ISBN 9781873201312.

La Rose, John, ed. New Beacon Reviews: collection one. London and Port of Spain: New Beacon Books, 1968.

—. New Beacon Review. No 1 (1985). London: New Beacon Books, 1985. Paperback ISBN 978 0 901241 64 1.

—. New Beacon Review. Nos. 2/3 (Nov. 1986). London: New Beacon Books, 1986. Paperback ISBN 978 0 901241 69 6.

—. Racism Nazism Fascism and Racial Attacks – the European Response. London: The International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books and European Action for Racial Equality and Social Justice, 1991. Paperback ISBN 978 1 874252 00 9.

Quevedo, Raymond and John La Rose. Kaiso, A Review. Later published as Atilla’s Kaiso. 1983.

Rudder, David and John La Rose. Kaiso Calypso Music. London and Port of Spain: New Beacon Books, 1990. Paperback ISBN 978 1 873201 01 5.

Rosso, Franco and John La Rose, dir. Mangrove Nine. 1973 (Film on video). Reissued on DVD 2011. London: New Beacon Books, 2011. ISBN 2011 9781873201275.

Salkey, Andrew and John La Rose, ed. Savacou. Special Issue Nos. 9/10 (1974).

Essays in Books

La Rose, John. ‘All Are Consumed’. Colour culture and consciousness: Immigrant Intellectuals in Britain. Ed. Bhikhu Parekh. London: George Allen and Unwin 1974.

—. ‘Back Into Time’. Caribbean Essays. Ed. Andrew Salkey. London: Evans, 1973.

—. ‘Kamau Brathwaite a heartfelt memoir’. For The Geography of the Soul: emerging perspectives on Kamau Brathwaite. Ed. Timothy Reiss. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2000.

—. ‘Martin Carter 1927-1997: a Personal Memoir’. All Are Involved: the Art of Martin Carter. Ed. Stewart Brown. Leeds: Peepal Tree Press, 1998.

—. ‘Remembering The Past; Forging Forward Into the Future’. 12th Martin Luther King Memorial Lecture, 16 Jan. 1999. Published in Martin Luther King Memorial Lectures. London: The First Martin Luther King Twelve, date unknown. ISBN 9781903878002.

Articles in Journals/ Newspapers

La Rose, John. ‘Address at the opening of the 8th International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books’. At the Bradford Community Arts Centre, 16 Mar. 1989. Published as part of ‘A Dialogue on the Satanic Verses’. Black Scholar 20.2 (1990).

—. ‘Africa and Portugal’. Race Vol. XV1 (July 1974).

—. ‘The Changing Language of Riots in Britain’. Race Today Jan. 1986.

—. ‘Fallen comet: tribute to Michael Smith’. The Guardian 2 Sept. 1983. (Reprinted in the 1991 Book Fair Brochure. See White et al A Meeting of the Continents: 445.)

—. ‘Jamaica at the Crossroads’. Race Today Dec. 1976/Jan. 1977.

—. ‘Nigeria the Long War’. Race Today Review 1983: 160-164.

—. ‘The October Insurrection in Grenada’. Race Today Dec. 1976/Jan. 1977

—. ‘Self-Discovery and Self-Reconstruction in the Poetry of the Caribbean’. Encrages hiver 1985/6.

—. ‘Social exclusion and cultural creativity’. Excerpts from ‘Unemployment, Leisure and the Birth of Creativity’. The Black Scholar 26.2.

—. ‘Unemployment, Leisure and the Birth of Creativity’. Neue Zurcher Zeitung, Switzerland 4/5 (May 1996).

International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books Brochures 1982-1995

La Rose, John. Calls, biographies and some articles. See White et al A Meeting of the Continents.

Alleyne, Brian W. Radicals against Race: Black Activism and Cultural Politics. New York: Berg, 2002. Papberback ISBN 1-85973-527-4.

Busby, Margaret. ‘Obituary: John La Rose’. Wasafiri no.49 21.3 (Nov. 2006): 65-67. ISBN 0-415-40207-7, ISSN 0269-0055.

Dabydeen, David, John Gilmore and Cecily Jones, ed. The Oxford Companion to Black British History, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Paperback ISBN 9780199578771.

Harris, Roxy and Sarah White, ed. Changing Britannia: Life Experience With Britain. London: New Beacon Books and the George Padmore Institute, 1999. Paperback ISBN 978 1 873201 15 2.

—. Foundations of a Movement – tributes to John La Rose. London: the John La Rose Tribute Committee, 1991. Paperback ISBN 978 1 873201 07 7.

Markham, E A. ‘Bookmarks for John La Rose’. In At Home with Miss Vanesa. Birmingham, UK: Tindal Street Press, 2006. 3-14. Paperback ISBN 0-9551384-0-X.

Meehan, Kevin.’Brilliant Episodes of Invention: Jayne Cortez in Poetic Dialogue with John La Rose’. Wasafiri no. 49, 21.3 (Nov. 2006): 59–64. ISBN 0-415-40207-7, ISSN 0269-0055.

Ove, Horace, dir. Dream To Change The World: a film about John La Rose. Film on DVD. London: New Beacon Books and Red Box, 2006.

Phillips, Caryl. ‘John La Rose’. Colour Me English. London: Harvill Secker, 2011. 147-153. ISBN 9781846553059.

Salkey, Andrew. Georgetown Journal: a Caribbean writer’s journey from London via Port of Spain to Gerogetown, Guyana 1970. London and Port of Spain: New Beacon Books, 1972. Hardback ISBN 978 0 901 241 13 9, paperback ISBN 978 0 901241 14 6

Walmsley, Anne. The Caribbean Artists Movement 1966-1972: a literary and cultural history. London and Port of Spain: New Beacon Books, 1992. Hardback ISBN 978 1 873201 01 5, paperback ISBN 978 1 873201 06 0.

White, Sarah, Roxy Harris and Sharmilla Beezmohun. A Meeting of the Continents: the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books – Revisited: history, memories, organisation and programmes 1982-1995. London: New Beacon Books and the George Padmore Institute, 2005. Hardback ISBN 978 1 873201 18 3.