About the George Padmore Institute

The George Padmore Institute is as far as John La Rose had reached in the realisation of his vision of change before he died in February, 2006. Established in 1991 by La Rose and a group of political and cultural activists connected to New Beacon Books, the GPI is an archive, educational, research and information centre with materials relating to the social, political and cultural history of the black communities of Caribbean, African and Asian descent in Britain and continental Europe. It is located in the same building that houses New Beacon Books in Finsbury Park, London.

The stated aims and objectives of the GPI are threefold: Firstly, to organize a library, educational resource and research centre that will make the materials in its care available for use by the public, both in person at the Institute and through the use of modern storage, retrieval and communication methods. Secondly, the organization of educational and cultural activities including conferences, courses, seminars, lectures, talks and readings. Thirdly, the publication of relevant materials.

Cognisant of the crucial role that education and schooling plays in combating bigotry, ignorance, prejudice and racism; and knowing that its archives is an important resource for the next generation in the humanisation of society, the publishing and public events programme of the GPI is focussed on learning. So together with its archive work, The GPI compiles oral histories, prepare educational materials based on its archives and consults with curriculum specialists in schools and colleges about their use.

The archives that the GPI has in its care consists of the following:

The Caribbean Artists Movement (1966-1972); The Black Education Movement and the Black Supplementary Schools Movement (1960s to the present); The Black Parents Movement, The Black Youth Movement and the Alliance with the Race Today and Northern Black Collectives (1975- late 1980s); The New Cross Massacre Action Committee (1981); The International Book Fair of Radical, Black and Third World Books (1982-1995); European Action for Racial Equality and Social Justice (early – mid 1990s); The Carnival Movement (1970-1990s); New Beacon Books (1966- present); The Macdonald Inquiry into Racism in Manchester Schools (1987); and the personal archives of John La Rose. These materials exist in the form of minutes of meetings, letters, leaflets, campaign material, posters, tape recordings, transcripts and photographs. In the case of the Macdonald Inquiry, the GPI has the entire body of evidence submitted to the inquiry; and in the case of New beacon Books, there are rare journals and newspapers and information about campaigns and organizations from the Caribbean, Africa and the USA relating to the interconnections between different communities of the black diaspora.

A substantial part of the archives have been cleaned, classified, catalogued and digitalised and can be accessed from the internet at www.georgepadmoreinstitute.org. Indeed, one of the highlights of the GPI in 2008 was the launch of the website.

Let me give you an idea of the eclectic nature of the GPI’s public programmes. Events this year, 2008, include a scholarly exposition by Britain’s leading immigration lawyer, Ian Macdonald, QC titled, ‘Expulsion, Rendition, Detention and Torture’ based on his experience as a Special Advocate which shed light on the US use of torture and indefinite detention to obtain intelligence. There was a conversation between GPI trustee Roxy Harris and James Kelman, the Booker award winning Scottish author around his new novel, ‘Kieron Smith, Boy’ much of which focussed on language. There was a presentation by David Hilliard, founding member and chief of staff of the Black Panther Party in the USA. He spoke about the Black Panther Intercomunal News Service, the party’s newspaper and its impact in the USA and abroad. On the publication of her book, ‘Left of Karl Marx; The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones’, Carole Boyce-Davis talked about the life and legacy of the pioneering newspaper publisher, activist and feminist. Colin Grant, black British author gave an insightful presentation on Marcus Garvey and read from his new biography of Garvey, ‘NegroWith A Hat’. The Guyanese world war two veteran Cy Grant, actor and folk singer read from his book,’Rivers of Time:Collected Poems’. And finally, as a small tribute to the memory of Amie Ceasaire, the GPI hosted a reading from ‘Notebook of a Return to My Native Land’ by Jamaican Actor and theatre director Anton Phillips, accompanied on flute by Jamaica painter, writer and musician, Errol Lloyd.

Now I would like to give you a sense of where the GPI is coming from, a sense of the ideas which underpin its work, by talking a little about its founder, John La Rose.He was an elder statesman of Britain’s black communities. Born in Arima, Trinidad in 1927 he migrated to Britain in 1961 and died in February 2006, aged 78. In the obituary I wrote for the Guardian newspaper, I asserted that, ‘Like Marcus Garvey, CLR James, George Padmore.. and Franz Fanon, La Rose belongs to a Caribbean tradition of radical and revolutionary activism whose input has reverberated across continents’. I also said of John that he was my mentor, friend and comrade, ‘the most remarkable person I have ever met’. He was a poet, essayist, publisher, filmmaker, trade unionist, cultural and political activist.

One of John La Rose’s favourite saying was ‘we did not come alive in Britain’ alluding to the fact that Caribbean people in Britain had brought with them a tradition of struggle against colonialism. In the 1940s he helped to found the Workers Freedom Movement in Trinidad 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 the General Secretary of the West Indian Independence Party and contested a seat in the 1956 General election for the party after being banned from other West Indian islands by the British colonial authorities. He was also involved in the internal struggle of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union, siding with the ‘rebel’ faction who prevailed in the 1962 union election. John La Rose became the European representative of the union, a position he held until his death.

Soon after he arrived in Britain in 1961 he became politically and culturally engaged. In 1966, together with Sarah White, he founded New Beacon Books, the first Caribbean publishing house, bookshop and international book service. His vision for New Beacon, named after the Beacon magazine of his youth in Trinidad, was clear and clearly stated in their catalogue: “Growing up in a colonial society made John La Rose 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, politics – a sense of self- and to make a break with the discontinuity”.

In the same year, 1966, together with the Jamaican writer and broadcaster, Andrew Salkey and the Barbadian poet and historian, Kamau Brathwaite, he co-founded the Caribbean Artist Movement, providing a platform for Caribbean artists, poets, writers, dramatists, actors, musicians and critics. In her book, ‘The Caribbean Artists Movement: A Literary and Cultural History’, Anne Walmsley writes, “They sought to discover their own aesthetic and chart new directions for their arts and culture; to become acquainted with their history; to rehabilitate their Amerindian inheritance and to reinstate their African roots; to re-establish links with the ‘folk’ through incorporating the people’s language and musical rhythms in Caribbean literature; to reassert their own tradition in the face of a dominant tradition.”

John La Rose was involved in the Black Education Movement in the 1960s, especially in the struggle against West Indian children being placed in schools for the educationally sub-normal. He founded the George Padmore Supplementary School for West Indian children in 1969 and was instrumental in the founding of the National Association of Supplementary Schools in the 1980s. In 1975, after a black schoolboy was physically assaulted outside his school by police in the London Borough of Haringey, John La Rose together with concerned parents, founded the Black Parents Movement to combat the brutalisation and the criminalisation of young blacks and to agitate for youth and parent power and a decent education. The Black Parents Movement joined forces with the Black Youth Movement, the Race Today Collective and the Northern Black Collective which became known as the Alliance. This became the most powerful political and cultural movement organized by blacks in Britain during the late 1970s to the mid 1980s, winning many campaigns for justice against police oppression, agitating for better state education and supporting black working class struggles. When a West Indian party was fire-bombed in 1981 resulting in the death of 14 young blacks, it was the Alliance who formed the New Cross Massacre Action Committee in response to the arson attack, and 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 was the chairman of the New Cross Massacre Action Committee. Other organizations which he founded or was instrumental in setting up include Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners in Kenya, Africa Solidarity and European Action for Racial Equality and Social Justice.

One of John La Rose’s greatest achievements was the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books (1982-1995), organized in the beginning with Bogle-L’Ouverture Books and Race Today Publications. In the call to the first Book Fair John wrote, ‘This First International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World books is intended to mark the new and expanding phase in the growth of radical ideas and concepts and their expression in literature, politics, music, art and social life’. The Book Fair was a tremendous success. It was indeed ‘a meeting of the continents for writers, publishers, distributors, booksellers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, and people who inspire and consume their creative productions.

I would like to conclude this presentation with John La Rose’s call to the 12th Book Fair. He wrote in 1995: “As we come to the end of the century and to the beginning of a new millenium, great vistas of hope and promise announce their presence. The foundations for the universal reorganization and humanization of societies on the basis of the rapid discovery and performance of new technologies are being laid. We are in the portals of a new world in the making, moving towards a new conceptualisation of the world out of the great modern social upheavals, revolutions and constant change; the revolutions from 1789 till now, a greater equalization of power and potential in the world we inhabit. We the peoples of the world,are involved in a new quality of witness to interactions between art, music, dance, language, thought, the theatrical into theatre. Through direct live international television, computers, video or the internet we are witness to the incessant interconnections between ourselves, between politics and economics, the inevitable transcuturation between religions, nationalities, ethnicities and cultures. Visions of change, survival and advancement are marred by doubts, uncertainties and hopelessness about the future; by human cruelties, inequalities, bigotry, sexism, racism and ethnic cleansing. Still many mountains to climb, still many barbarities to be confronted; the struggle to transform promise into reality. But the indomitable capacity of the human spirit to confront oppression and to make and remake change marches forward.”

5 Responses to “ “About the George Padmore Institute”

  1. Roots Defender Sound Kolektyw, Lublin, Polska says:

    How true sound the words evoked by you: “Visions of change, survival and advancement are marred by doubts, uncertainties and hopelessness (…)”.

    Great many thanks for your blog entry.
    be_wu (On behalf of Roots Defender Sound Kolektyw)

  2. Epenschmiede says:

    Keep up the good work!

    (German student studying for his exam in ‘Black British Literature – From Equiano to Evaristo’)

  3. Jah Lion Sound System Italy says:

    Many thanx Mr.Johnson for these informations.

    I’ve learned many things from your words.
    I have a Trini friend who lives in Italy and she didn’t know about John La Rose.
    I sent her an e-mail and now she knows and she is proud of him.

    GIPI is a great and important work, for remembering and never forgetting…

    I am italian and since 1998 i listen to all your songs and poems with big attention.
    During the years i have founded a roots reggae sound system using old speakers from Jah Trinity UK.

    I try to talk to the people about the truth also by a radio show called “rasta reggae radio” on air for the north of Italy and named like this in honour of Peter Tosh’s dream.
    (If you dont know about it, try to have a look on my website page:(www.jahlion.org/radio.html).

    This post also to let you know, dear Mr.Jhonson, that this Friday we will talk about the first age 80s in London.
    We will have a selection of crucial tunes and we will speak about you and about London reality during this hot period as you described it.

    For this occasion I have made an italian translation of Sonny’s Lettah and i will read it on air.

    This is my translation:
    I post it here to just to try to amplify the knowledge.

    Always my heartical respect for all you are and for all you have done Mr.Jhonson.


    From Brixton Prison, Jebb Avenue London S.W. 2 Inglan

    Dear mama
    good day
    I hope that when these few lines reach you they may
    find you in the best of health
    I doun know how to tell ya dis
    for I did mek a solemn promise
    to tek care a lickle Jim
    an try mi bes fi look out fi him

    mama, I really did try mi bes
    but none a di less
    sorry fi tell ya seh, poor lickle Jim get arres
    it was de miggle a di rush hour
    hevrybody jus a hustle and a bustle
    to go home fi dem evenin shower
    mi an Jim stan up waitin pon a bus
    not causin no fuss

    when all of a sudden a police van pull up
    out jump tree policemen
    de whole a dem carryin baton
    dem walk straight up to me and Jim
    one a dem hold on to Jim
    seh dem tekin him in
    Jim tell him fi leggo a him
    for him nah do nutt’n
    and ‘im nah t’ief, not even a but’n
    Jim start to wriggle
    de police start to giggle

    mama, mek I tell you wa dem do to Jim?
    mek I tell you wa dem do to ‘im?

    Dem thump him him in him belly and it turn to jelly
    Dem lick ‘im pon ‘im back and ‘im rib get pop
    Dem thump him pon him head but it tough like lead
    Dem kick ‘im in ‘im seed and it started to bleed

    Mama, I jus couldn’t stan up deh, nah do nuttin’

    So mi jook one in him eye and him started fi cry
    me thump him pon him mout and him started fi shout
    me kick him pon him shin so him started fi spin
    me hit him pon him chin an him drop pon a bin
    – an crash, an dead

    More policman come dung
    dem beat me to the grung
    dem charge Jim fi sus
    dem charge mi fi murdah

    mama, doan fret
    doan get depress an downhearted
    be of good courage
    till I hear from you
    I remain
    Your son,


    Dal carcere di Brixton, Jebb Avenue, Londra S.W. 2 Inghilterra

    Cara mamma
    buona giornata
    spero che queste poche righe ti possono raggiungere in ottima salute.
    Non so come dirti questo
    perché ti ho fatto una solenne promessa di occuparmi del piccolo Jim
    e fare del mio meglio per prendermi cura di lui

    mamma, ho fatto veramente del mio meglio
    niente di meno.
    Sono dispiaciuto nel dirti questo, il povero piccolo Jim è stato arrestato.
    E’ successo nel bel mezzo dell’ora di punta
    tutti correvano in un gran trambusto generale
    solamente per tornare a casa e poter fare la loro doccia serale.
    Jim ed io eravamo in piedi ad aspettare un autobus
    senza causare problemi

    quando ad un tratto arriva un furgone della polizia
    e saltano fuori tre poliziotti
    tutti e tre con in pugno un manganello
    camminano direttamente verso di me e Jim
    uno inizia a tenerlo
    cercando di portarlo via
    dice a Jim di venire con lui
    anche se lui non ha fatto nulla
    non ha rubato nemmeno un bottone
    Jim cerca di divincolarsi
    i poliziotti iniziano a ridacchiare

    mamma vuoi sapere che cosa hanno fatto a Jim?
    lascia che ti di racconti cosa gli hanno fatto

    Lo colpiscono violentemente sulla pancia, ed essa si trasforma in gelatina
    Lo colpiscono da dietro e gli rompono una costola
    Lo colpiscono forte sul capo, ma la sua testa è dura come il piombo
    Gli danno un violento calcio e lui ha cominciato a sanguinare

    Mamma, non potevo stare la in piedi senza fare nulla

    Quindi ne guardo uno negli occhi
    lo colpisco sulla bocca e lui inizia a gridare
    gli assesto un calcio sulla pelle e lui inizia a ruotare
    lo colpisco sul mento uno lui cade a terra
    – uno schianto, un morto.

    arrivano più poliziotti
    mi picchiano selvaggiamente
    caricano anche Jim
    mi picchiano per uccidermi

    mamma, non preoccuparti
    non deprimerti o scoraggiarti
    sii coraggiosa
    finchè non avrò tue notizie
    Io rimango
    Tuo figlio,

    Luca Pelizzatti
    Jah Lion Sound System

  4. Corina says:

    Dear Mr. Johnson,

    Thanks for the article. It has my interest, Hope and Victory, because of you.
    Two times I saw you perform, really do hope to see you again.
    Corina/ Holland
    -Long time lover me feel blue when i think of you-
    please keep writing on this blog, thanks again

  5. cornelia says:

    Dear Mister Johnson,

    My sincere apologies for quoting “Hurricane Blues” incorrect.
    “lang-time lovah
    mi feel blue fi true wen mi tink bout yu”
    “long time lover”
    I feel blue but true when I think about you”
    I hope this is the correct English translation.
    I have a book with German translations, but not in Dutch and English.
    I translated some of your poems in Dutch, in a way it’s not that difficult to translate or to find the words.
    I love your voice in this song, it makes me cry! (specially with the words;”like a lang lang rivah dat is wide and deep”)
    One of my most favourite sentence of this song is;
    “mi lang fi di marvelous miracle a hurricane
    fi carry mi go meeting stream agen”.
    I love the combination of your voice, words/ language, ritme and music.
    I love many other poems and/or songs.
    Many times I think about the sentence “di sun stay away fram work dat day”. I think this song/poem makes me cry for Bernhard and other victims of class-justice.
    Liesense fi Kill is a strong song, it keeps me aware of injustice and the shadowside of politics. I am always aware of this, but your words make me feel it!
    Again, thank you so much, you are a real inspiration for me because of your work and your true social involvement. I wish you only the best from the deepest of my heart!