James, C. L. R. (Cyril Lionel Robert), 1901-1989

Alternative names
Birth 1901-01-04
Death 1989-05-31

Biographical notes:

C.L.R. James has made exceptional contributions as a historian, political theorist, activist, creative writer, and cultural and literary critic. One of the most influential figures in the West Indies, he has been acclaimed as one of the foremost thinkers of the 20th century.

From the description of The black Jacobins / by C.L.R. James, 1967. (Pennsylvania State University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 50616692

West Indian scholar, political activist and writer. Died in 1989.

From the description of C.L.R. James letters, 1939-1981 (bulk 1939-1946) (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122626512

From the guide to the C.L.R. James letters, 1939-1981, 1939-1946, (The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.)

Cyril Lionel Robert (CLR) James was born in Trinidad on 4 January 1901. He trained as a teacher, and worked as a teacher and journalist in Trinidad. James left Trinidad in 1932 at the instigation of the cricketer Learie Constantine (later Lord Constantine) and went to stay with him in Nelson, Lancashire. He worked as a cricket correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, 1933-1935, and also became a prominent member of the Trotskyist movement. For a time he was a member of the Independent Labour Party, and he campaigned actively against the Italian invasion of Abyssinia. He moved to the United States in 1938, and spent 15 years there writing and lecturing mainly on the Pan-African Movement. He left the Trotskyist movement in 1951, though he remained a convinced Marxist. He was expelled from the US because of his Communist views in 1953, returned to Britain and became active in the African independence movement. In 1958 he returned to Trinidad at the invitation of Dr Eric Williams, to edit the People's National Party newspaper. He also became secretary of the West Indies Federal Labour Party, and campaigned unsuccessfully against the break-up of the Federation of the West Indies. James soon quarrelled with Williams, and left Trinidad in 1963. In the 1960s and 1970s he lectured extensively in the United States and Europe. In 1963 he published Beyond a Boundary which explored the place of cricket in popular culture, especially in the colonial context, regarded by many as the greatest book ever written about cricket. He died in Brixton, London in 1989.

From the guide to the JAMES, Cyril Lionel Robert (CLR) (1901-1989), 1940-1965, (Institute of Commonwealth Studies)


From the description of C. L. R. James papers, [dates] [bulk]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 752386816

Cyril Lionel Robert James, writer, political activist and Marxist intellectual, was born in Tunapuna, Trinidad and Tobago in 1901. He attended Queen's Royal College and later migrated to England where he worked as a cricket correspondent. He read extensively and evolved as a leading Marxist thinker of his time. He spent periods of his life in the United States of America (1938-1953) and in his homeland (1958-1962 and 1964-1965), involved in political activity. Between 1968 and 1975 he lived in the United States, mostly engaged in lecturing. He spent his later years in London, lecturing and writing, and died there in 1989.

From the description of C.L.R. James Collection, 1936-1989 (bulk 1950-1989). [1936-1989] (The Alma Jordan Library, The University of the West Indies, Saint Augustine). WorldCat record id: 48230941

Epithet: writer

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000001124.0x000012

BIOGHIST REQUIRED West Indian native C. L. R. (Cyril Lionel Robert) James was an athlete, scholar, teacher, writer and political activist. James, known affectionately since childhood as Nello, was born in 1901 in Tunapuna, Trinidad. His father, Robert Alexander James, was a schoolmaster; his mother Ida Elizabeth (Bessie) Rudder James, a native of Barbados, was a home-maker. James, the eldest of three siblings, had one sister, Olive, and a brother, Eric. In 1910, at the age of nine, James won an "exhibition" or scholarship to Queen's Royal College (QRC)--located in Port-of-Spain--which he entered in 1911. James' formal education ended in 1918 upon receipt of his "school certificate" from QRC.

Through the 1920s James taught school, played cricket and wrote. His teaching stints included work at QRC where Eric Williams, future Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, was among his pupils. James played cricket with the Maples, a Port-of-Spain club team, and was a member of the Maverick, a local literary society. In 1929 James married Juanita Samuel Young, a native of Venezuela who worked as a stenographer. In 1932 he left for Britain alone.

James lived with Cricket star, Learie Constantine, and his wife Norma in Nelson, Lancashire, upon arriving in Britain. He picked up work as a sports writer, covering cricket matches, for the Manchester Guardian. In 1934 James moved to London where he joined the Independent Labor Party (ILP), wrote for its journal, New Leader, and honed his skills as a speaker at ILP rallies. In London James met George Padmore and renewed his ties to his former student, Eric Williams. James also attended the founding conference of the Fourth International in Paris in 1938.

Although James had published a few pieces in small literary journals Trinidad and The Beacon, and one short story, "La Divina Pastora," in The Saturday Evening Post in 1927, his career as a writer did not take off until he reached England. His literary accomplishments during these years included: a novel, Minty Alley, published in 1936; his play, Toussaint L'Oueverture opened in London, also in 1936, starring Paul Robeson; and The Black Jacobins, a history of the slave rebellion in Santo Domingo, which was led by Toussaint L'Oueverture, was published in 1938.

In 1938, with Leon Trotsky advocating for the Socialist Workers Party's (SWP) to address the "Negro Question" and at the invitation of James Cannon from the American wing of the SWP, James left London for a speaking tour of the United States. James traveled to Mexico in 1939 for a meeting with Trotsky. The six-month-long cross-country tour turned into a fifteen-year sojourn and although James remained long in the United States, his time with the SWP was short.

A rift among members of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) led to the creation of the Workers Party (WP) in 1940, and within the WP, the Johnson-Forest Tendency. Johnson and Forest of the Tendency were James, who wrote as J.R. Johnson, and Dunayevskaya, who assumed the moniker of Freddie Forest. James and Dunayevskaya were soon joined in their political, philosophical and writing endeavors by Grace Lee, whose pseudonym was Ria Stone. In 1947 the Johnson-Forest Tendency rejoined the SWP briefly, but by 1951 the Johnson-Forest Tendency was independent of both the SWP and the WP. James and Dunayevskaya wrote the Balance Sheet Completed, to explain their decision to finally leave the SWP and they established the Correspondence Publishing Committee, which published a mimeographed newsletter, Correspondence. Among the members of the Correspondence Publishing Committee were James Boggs, who was by then the husband of Grace Lee; Freddy and Lyman Paine; Filomena Daddario (Finch); and Morris Goelman (William Gorman). In 1955 Raya Dunayevskaya left Correspondence to form the News & Letters Committee. Yet another division occurred in 1962 when James, along with Martin Glaberman, broke with Correspondence to create the Facing Reality Group; James Boggs and Grace Lee Boggs, and Freddy and Lyman Paine remained with Correspondence. Facing Reality, whose official organ was Speak Out, disbanded in 1970. Some of the materials James wrote and collaborated on with these various groups included: The Balance Sheet (1947); The Invading Socialist Society (1947); The Revolutionary Answer to the Negro Problem in the USA (1948); Notes on Dialectics (1948); and State Capitalism and World Revolution (1950).

During his extended stay in the United States James was based in New York City where he developed friendships with Richard Wright and his wife, Ellen; Chester Himes; and Ralph Ellison among others.

In 1946 James married Constance Webb, whom he had first met during his speaking tour in 1939 and with whom he had corresponded ever since. Due to complications around James' divorce from Juanita James, the marriage proved to be invalid. They re-married in 1948, after James spent six weeks in Nevada formalizing the divorce from his first marriage. (From Nevada, James wrote extensively to Dunayevskaya and Lee; these letters became the basis of Notes on Dialectic.) In 1949 C. L. R. James, Jr., "Nobbie", the only child of Webb and James, was born. James was charged with passport violations and interned, by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service, on Ellis Island in 1952. While there he wrote Mariners, Renegades and Castaways (1953), a study of Herman Melville's Moby Dick. In 1953, facing deportation, James left the United States for England; Webb remained in New York with their son.

Brooklyn-born Selma Weinstein (sister of Correspondence member Cecelia Lang), and her young son Sam Weinstein, joined James in London in 1955; James and Selma Weinstein married in 1956.

Returning to London in the mid-1950s allowed James to renew his contacts with Kwame Nkrumah, whom he had met in the United States in 1943, and George Padmore along with others involved in the Pan-African Movement. In 1957 James traveled to Ghana for the country's first independence celebrations, his first trip to Africa. In the 1958 James and Selma left London for Trinidad, where they remained until 1962. During this time James edited The Nation, the paper of the Peoples National Movement (PNM). In 1962, shortly before returning to London, James was severely injured and concussed in a car accident in Trinidad. Modern Politics (1960) and Party Politics in the West Indies (1962) were published during James' time in Trinidad. Back in Britain, James completed Beyond a Boundary (1963), a study of cricket. In 1965 James once again traveled to Trinidad, this time as to report on cricket matches for several British papers. He was promptly, albeit briefly, put under house arrest by the PNM-led government. Once released James helped organize the Workers and Farmers Party of Trinidad and Tobago.

Late in the 1960s James made lecture tours of the United States, Canada and Africa. In 1970 C.L.R. James began teaching at Federal City College in Washington, D.C. where he stayed most of the decade.

In the last two decades of James' life several people served as his assistants, with the primary goal of completing the autobiography that he had begun in the 1970s. Teresa (Teri) Turner was his assistant for a few years in the 1970s; Jim Murray, who had been introduced to James by Paul Buhle, worked for James in 1983; and anthropologist Anna Grimshaw was James' last assistant, from late 1983 until his death in 1989. The autobiography was never completed. In 1984 James withdrew from public speaking, although he still granted some interviews. James died in 1989.

From the guide to the C. L. R. James Papers, 1933-2001, [Bulk Dates: 1948-1989]., (Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library)


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  • Political science
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  • Barbados (as recorded)
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  • West Indies. (as recorded)
  • West Indies, British (as recorded)
  • West Indies (Federation) (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
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