Formidable husband and wife team Jessica & Eric Huntley were at the forefront of black people’s struggles in Britain over the last 50 years

1927-2013 (Jessica)

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In 1968 Eric and Jessica Huntley founded one of the first independently-owned black bookshops in the UK, Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications, naming it in honour of two Caribbean freedom fighters, Paul Bogle and Toussaint L’Ouverture.

Jessica Huntley, née Carroll, was born in British Guiana. She met Eric Huntley in 1948 and they married in 1950, going on to have three children. Eric Huntley was born in 1929 and was a founding member of Cheddi Jagan’s People’s Progressive Party, which came to government in the country’s first free elections in 1953.

In October 1953, the British colonial authorities ousted Jagan and arrested Eric and other PPP members, imprisoning them for a year. Eric settled in London in 1957 and Jessica followed a year later.

In 1968, the Guyanese scholar and activist Walter Rodney was banned from Jamaica, where he taught at the university. The Huntley’s helped mobilise support for him by setting up Bogle-L’Overture to publish his speeches and lectures. The result was Groundings with my Brothers (1969) and the seminal How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972).

Three years later, they brought out Dread Beat and Blood, a collection of verse by the, then little-known Linton Kwesi Johnson.In the beginning, the bookshop was run from the front-room of their house until the council intervened following complaints.

In 1974 the couple opened up the bookstore in the London borough of Ealing, which swiftly became a community hub, with talks, readings and a space to meet. In 1980 when Rodney was assassinated in Guyana by a car bomb, the Huntley’s renamed the bookstore, Walter Rodney Bookshop in his honour. The shop closed in 1989 due to rising rents.

Both Eric and Jessica were associated with the pivotal civil rights campaigns of the day, including the Black Parents Movement, which led to the establishment of supplementary schools all over the capital.

Jessica was a joint director of the International Book Fair of Radical and Third World Books. Held annually between 1982 and 1995, the fairs are considered to be the highpoint of black publishing in the UK.

Since 2006 an annual lecture has been held in their name at the London Metropolitan Archives, which holds their papers. In 2018 a Nubian Jak Community Trust plaque was unveiled at the couple’s home in Ealing, London, on the anniversary of Jessica’s death, aged 86.

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