Campaigners win battle over Dalston CLR James Library name

Cyril Lionel Robert James, Afro-Trinidadian historian, journalist and social theorist

Following campaigners’ efforts to preserve CLR James’s name in the title of Dalston’s brand new £4.4million library and archive collection in Dalston Square, a new name was announced in a joint statement by Hackney Council and the Black & Ethnic Minority Arts Network (BEMA) on 19 October.

After discussions between Hackney Council and BEMA, and further consultation with Hackney’s Library Users’ Consultative Forum and the Friends of Hackney Archives, the council and BEMA have confirmed that the new library in Dalston Square, set to open its doors in spring 2011, will be called Dalston CLR James Library. The archive service, which will also be located in the building, will be called Hackney Archives.

Councillor Jonathan McShane, cabinet member for community services, said said he was ‘delighted’ to announce the new name, adding that “this will ensure current and future generations can continue to learn about this fascinating and influential figure, who not only has local appeal, but also massive global appeal.

Ngoma Bishop, BEMA chair, said: “With this outcome, much confidence has been restored in Hackney Council, who having listened to the voice of the thousands of people locally, nationally and throughout the world, agreed to the campaign’s demand.

“BEMA would like to thank all those who showed their support and determination.”

Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington said, “I am pleased that Hackney Council has finally taken heed of the hundreds of people who signed petitions, wrote letters, and protested to ensure CLR James was given the respect he deserved.

“This victory is a triumph, and I congratulate all involved. I look forward to visiting the new CLR James library when it opens next spring.”

The council’s decision not to use the name of the Afro-Trinadadian writer in the appellation of the new facility, which will replace the current building in Dalston Lane, sparked considerable outrage both in Hackney and beyond.

An online petition set up by BEMA collected over 2,500 signatures. Diane Abbott called the move “an insult to his memory”. James’s widow Selma urged the council to think again and the story was even covered on Gayelle TV in Trinidad.

In a meeting with the Black and Ethnic Minority Arts network (BEMA) on Thursday 7 October, council officers admitted that before deciding to remove the words CLR James they should have consulted with BEMA and with Selma James – who only found out about the planned move when the national press contacted her for a reaction.

Dalston CLR James Library will include a permanent exhibition chronicling the life and works of CLR James, and an annual event will be held in his memory. The council and BEMA are set to work together to develop these ideas.

Note: this story was revised on Tuesday 2 November 2010