This is our first, immediate response to the news of Jessica Huntley’s death. There is much more to be said.
The late, but ever present Jessica Huntley, mother of Karl, Accabre and Chauncey, grandmother and greatgrandmother, life partner of Eric, celebrated pioneer publisher, tireless activist against injustice and for cultural affirmation and self-determination, has physically left a world she played a creative and significant role in helping to form, especially if we think of the world of the colonized.
It is our information that Jessica cut her political teeth in Buxton, Guyana, when her husband Eric came there as a postal worker and with three villagers they co-founded a political study group that met at their rented home at Buxton front. There, the late and loved Karl, the Huntley’s first offspring, was born.
If Jessica Huntley was not present at the formal formation of the People’s Progressive Party at Mr. Leslie Davis’s High School in Georgetown, it would be owing to her husband’s work location. But they were part and parcel of that development.
Leaving Guyana for the UK with no more formal education than the average person of those days, she became a part of movements for educational reform and a partner in some of the most critical developments of social thought at the time, concerned with the fate of peoples still oppressed or who had recently regained their independence without cultural sovereignty. Choosing the vocation of publisher and bookstore owner when she did, with the founding of Bogle-L’Ouverture and the publication of Walter Rodney’s path-breaking Groundings With My Brothers, she made a timely and indispensable intervention in the spread of liberating ideas in a variety of fields of political, social, educational and cultural urgency. The publication of Groundings With My Brothers by Bogle-L’Ouverture carried forward the spirit of the revolutionaries of Haiti reflected in CLR James’ Black Jacobins.
The Huntleys mobilised for Walter Rodney after his deportation from Jamaica and organised the Committee of Concerned West Indians in England to protest his banning from his academic post at the University of the West Indies.
They were founders of the Committee against Repression in Guyana in 1979, changing the name of their London-based bookstore from Bogle-L’Ouverture to the Walter Rodney bookshop after Walter’s assassination on June 13th, 1980.
Jessica and Eric were also in every major or minor protest in England whether against racism in Britain or acts of repression and exploitation in the Caribbean or North America.
Some of us knew of Jessica’s concern for her relatives in Guyana and had the honour of running errands on her behalf relating to an ailing brother on the East Bank of Demerara.
Her life as an example for women speaks for itself. As mother she was co-head of a household in the midst of a challenged community. She did not play a gender subordinate role in her public activity. She was a favourite speaker on multiple occasions and more than held her own with a large number of the critical thinkers of our time.
It is the duty of the Caribbean region to commemorate her in various appropriate ways.
May her memory remain fresh!
May her loved ones take comfort in the knowledge that many thousands in many countries across the globe share a sense of loss.
Karen de Souza
Clive Y. Thomas