John La Rose


John Anthony La Rose was born in Arima on December 27th, 1927.

He was the younger son of Ferdinand La Rose, a cocoa trader and his wife, Emily, a teacher.

He had four sisters and a brother.

He attended the Arima Boys’ Roman Catholic School and St. Mary’s College.

On leaving school, he taught for a while at his alma mater, St. Mary’s, before going into the field of insurance at Colonial Life.

From an early age, he took a keen interest in culture and, as an Executive Member of the Youth Council, produced a fortnightly radio programme, the Voice of Youth, on Radio Trinidad.

In the mid 1950s, John and calypsonian Raymond Quevedo (Atilla the Hun) co-authored the first serious study of the calypso, originally entitled Kaiso, A Review.

La Rose played a key role in the formation of the Workers Freedom Movement in the 1940s and was editor of the few published copies of their journal Freedom.

He became an executive member of the Federated Workers Trade Union which eventually merged with the National Union of Government and Federated Workers and later served as General Secretary of the West Indian Independence Party which was formed out of a merger of the Workers Freedom Movement with active trade unionists.

He was later involved with the struggle within the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) by the “Rebels” for a radical, democratic and more representative trade union and for “One Member-One Vote” in regular periodical elections by secret ballot.

The “Rebel” candidates won the elections in 1962 and he retained his close links with the OWTU and the international trade union movement, serving as the European representative of the OWTU from the 1960s until his death in 2006.

He moved to Britain in 1961, making his home in London while maintaining his close links with the Caribbean.

In August 1966 he founded New Beacon Books, the first specialist Caribbean publishers, booksellers and international book service and, in December 1966, he was co-founder, along with Edward Kamau Brathwaite and Andrew Salkey, of the influential “Caribbean Arts Movement” (CAM)”.

He was chairman of the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) in 1972/73, the period when the IRR was establishing its independence, and was also chairman of Towards Racial Justice, which was the vehicle for publishing the campaigning journal Race Today.

From the mid-1960s La Rose became closely involved in the Black Education Movement, including the fight against Banding and against the wrongful placing of West Indian children in schools for the educationally sub-normal.

In 1969, he founded the George Padmore Supplementary School, one of the first of its kind, and helped to found the Caribbean Education and Community Workers Association, which published Bernard Coard’s “How the West Indian Child Is Made Educationally Sub-normal in the British School System”.

Later in the 1980s, John La Rose helped to found the National Association of Supplementary Schools and was its chairman for two years.

In 1966, he was a founder member of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign and a national council member of this important anti-war movement.

In 1975 he co-founded the Black Parents Movement from the core of the parents involved in the George Padmore Supplementary School after an incident in which a young black schoolboy was beaten by the police outside his school in the London Borough of Haringey.

The Black Parents Movement later formed an alliance with the Black Youth Movement and the Race Today Collective and together they established the New Cross Massacre Action Committee in response to an arson attack which resulted in the death of 14 young blacks.

The Alliance mobilised 20,000 black people and their supporters in March 1981 to protest the death of the young people and the failure of the police to conduct a proper investigation.

John La Rose served as Chairman of the New Cross Massacre Action Committee.

In 1982 he was instrumental in the founding of Africa Solidarity in support of those struggling against dictatorial governments and tyranny in Africa. That year he also became Chairman of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners in Kenya, whose founding members included the Kenyan novelist and critic, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o.

One of La Rose’s greatest achievements was the establishment of the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books.

Held in the United Kingdom between 1982 and 1995, the Book Fair brought together people from across the globe to participate in debates, forums, readings, musical events, films, plays and other cultural productions, as well as to browse through stalls from a multiplicity of publishers. They celebrated the enormous cultural and political achievements, addressed key issues of the times, and mirrored the achievements of black people throughout the world.

In response to concerns about the rise in fascism and xenophobia, La Rose helped to found European Action for Racial Equality and Social Justice in 1989, bringing together anti-racists and anti-fascists from Belgium, Italy, France and Germany.

He was editor-in-chief of New Beacon Books until his death in 2006 and published his first collection of poems, Foundations, in 1966 and his second collection, Eyelets of Truth Within Me, in 1992.

His poems and essays have been widely anthologised.

He co-produced and scripted the documentary film Mangrove Nine about the resistance to police attacks on the popular Mangrove restaurant in the early 1970s and produced a short film on the Black Church in Britain as part of a Full House BBC 2 television programme on the Caribbean arts.

In 1991 John La Rose, together with a number of colleagues, founded the George Padmore Institute (GPI), a library, archive and educational research centre housing materials relating to the life experiences of Caribbean, African and Asian communities in Britain. He served as the Chairman of the Institute from its inception until his death in 2006.

In May 1985, he gave a lecture on “The Politics of Culture: Writing and Publishing Today“. Introducing the lecture, the novelist, playwright and critic, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o wrote:

“John La Rose is immensely aware of the revolutionary potential of literature and culture in the world today. As a writer, publisher and cultural activist, he has helped in the growth of many writers in Africa, Caribbean, Europe and America. Rarely has anybody come into contact with him without being affected by his generous, searching, modern renaissance spirit.”

John La Rose, poet, essayist, trade unionist, cultural and political activist, died in the United Kingdom on the 28th February, 2006.

He is survived by his partner, Sarah White and his three sons, Michael, Keith and Wole.

Watch the film “Dream to Change the World” here on Vimeo:
Dream to Change the World — A Tribute to John La Rose

The George Padmore Institute (GPI)


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