Sat, Jan 04, 2014 - Page 18 News List

FEATURE: Anti-racist book celebrates 50th anniversary

Reuters, LONDON

Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr departed from a prepared speech to electrify a quarter of a million people packed into Washington by inviting them to share his dream of a nation in which all men and women would finally be equal regardless of color.

During the same year, former South African president Nelson Mandela faced the gallows when he went on trial for sabotage waged during an underground campaign to force the South African authorities to abandon their racial separation laws.

In England, West Indian migrants queued for hours in the hope of watching a cricket team captained by a black man conquer their colonial masters five years after the Notting Hill riots had highlighted growing racial tensions throughout the country.

As if to underscore a tumultuous year, an extraordinary book, subsequently acclaimed by the English poet, cricket writer and broadcaster John Arlott as the finest ever written about the game of cricket, was also published.

Like all sporting classics and, as its title explicitly promises, Beyond a Boundary by C.L.R. James is about far more than a ball game. It is instead based on the “clash of race, caste and class” on and off the field in Britain’s former slave colonies.

The final chapter of James’ masterpiece describes the triumph of the 1960 to 1961 West Indies team in Australia led by Frank Worrell, the Barbadian who went on to captain the wonderful 1963 side in England.

Before the team was selected, James had carried out an unsparing newspaper campaign in his native Trinidad to get Worrell installed as captain in place of the incumbent, Gerry Alexander.

“I would have been able to keep it up for 50 weeks, for there was 50 years’ knowledge of discrimination behind it and corresponding anger,” James wrote.

George Headley, the Jamaican maestro who bore the aspirations of black, English-speaking West Indies cricket fans on his shoulders during the 1930s when he systematically subdued the best bowlers from England and Australia, led the West Indies in a home Test after World War II.

However, neither he nor any other black man was given the honor of leading a West Indies side overseas until Worrell was chosen as captain for the Australia series.

Alexander, a fine wicketkeeper-batsman who excelled under Worrell, remains the last white man to captain the West Indies.

After a succession of stumbling performances in the state matches, Worrell’s men went on to play a full part in the first tied Test match and were unlucky to lose the series to the unofficial world champions.

More importantly, their exuberance, skills and total commitment to attacking cricket revived a moribund game, and a crowd equivalent in size to the one which listened to King poured on to the streets of Melbourne to bid them farewell.

“Clearing their way with bat and ball, West Indians at that moment had made a public entry into the comity of nations,” James wrote.

A glance at the index to Beyond a Boundary, indicates the breadth and scope of the interests and life of a Marxist intellectual who was born in Trinidad in 1901 and died in the London suburb of Brixton in 1989.

Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, who James knew, precedes England fast bowler Fred Trueman. US boxer Joe Louis, victor over German Max Schmeling in a world title fight that gripped the world’s imagination as it hurtled towards a global war, is followed by Toussaint L’Ouverture.

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