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New Left Review I/223, May-June 1997


Selwyn R. Cudjoe

C.L.R. James and the Trinidad & Tobago Intellectual Tradition, Or, Not Learning Shakespeare Under a Mango Tree

Trinidad and Tobago has produced many outstanding scholars, particularly during the first half of the twentieth century: [1] This essay is based on a lecture prepared for the Caribbean Conference on Culture (Jamaica, March 1996) and delivered at ‘Works in Process: African-American Studies Program, Colloquium Series 1995–96’, Princeton University, 3 April 1996, and at the Afro-American Colloquium, Du Bois Institute, Harvard University, April 1996. Sylvester Williams, usually described as the father of Pan Africanism; George Padmore, author of Pan Africanism or Communism?, among other titles, and another prominent member of the activists in Pan Africanism; [2] See J.R. Hooker, Henry Sylvester Williams, London 1975. Eugene Chen, twice minister for foreign affairs in the Nationalist government of China under Sun Yat-sen; [3] In 1918, at the urging of Sun Yat-sen, Eugene Chen organized and edited the Shanghai Gazette, a newspaper devoted to ‘the revolutionary and republican cause in Shanghai.’ In 1918 he also accompanied Sun Yat-sen to the Versailles Peace Conference and, in 1920, was a representative on the Chinese delegation to the first meeting of the League of Nations in Geneva. Chen became so important in Chinese history that Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai erected a memorial to his memory in the Papasohan cemetery in Peking. See Percy Chen, China Called Me, Boston 1979, pp. 45, 362. Eric Williams, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago from 1962 to 1981 and author of Capitalism and Slavery; Oliver Cromwell Cox, author of Caste, Class and Race; C.L.R. James and others. As J.R. Hooker, author of Henry Sylvester Williams, remarked: ‘That Trinidad has produced a disproportionate number of unusual men is a truism; that so many of them have been forgotten is a scandal. Any small island capable of launching an Eric Williams, a C.L.R. James, a George Padmore, a Vidia Naipaul, to mention a few whose reputations are secure, requires attention.’ [4] Hooker, Henry Sylvester Williams, p. 3. Were he writing in 1996 he would have had to include Arnold Rampersad, author of The Art and Imagination of W.E.B. Du Bois and The Life of Langston Hughes. These exemplary talents did not drop from the sky. Rather, they were products of a nineteenth-century intellectual formation that has not been given due attention. We shall see that James was aware of this formation and acknowledged his intellectual debt. As he said in one of his many tributes to George Padmore, ‘The longer I live, the more I see that people are shaped to a degree that they do not yet understand by the social relations and family and other groups in which they grew up.’ [5] C.L.R. James, ‘George Padmore: Black Marxist Revolutionary, A Memoir’, in At the Rendezvous of Victory, London 1984, p. 251.

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Selwyn R. Cudjoe, ‘CLR James and the Trinidad & Tobago Intellectual Tradition, Or, Not Learning Shakespeare Under a Mango Tree’, NLR I/223: £3
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