For this conversation we welcome Winston James to the podcast. Winston James is the author of A Fierce Hatred of Injustice: Claude McKay’s Jamaica and His Poetry of Rebellion, The Struggles of John Brown Russwurm: The Life and Writings of a Pan-Africanist Pioneer 1799-1851, and Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia: Caribbean Radicalism in Early Twenty Century America. James has held a number of teaching positions, most recently as a professor of history at UC Irvine.
James joins us to talk about his latest work, Claude McKay: The Making of a Black Bolshevik. The book examines McKay’s life from his early years in Jamaica to his years at Tuskegee and Kansas State University and his time in Harlem, to his life in London. Drawing on a wide variety of sources, James offers a rich and detailed chronicle of McKay’s life, political evolution, and the historical, political, and intellectual contexts that shaped him. The work also locates McKay’s closest interlocutors, and those he debated with, as well as McKay’s experiences as a worker and within communist and anarcho-syndicalist organizations like the Worker’s Socialist Federation and the IWW.
In part 1 of the conversation, we focus on McKay’s early years in Jamaica up through the Red Summer of 1919. James begins with a discussion of McKay’s family, his life in Jamaica, his brief stint as a constable in Kingston, his early poetry and his influence on the Negritude movement. James also discusses the appeal of the Russian Revolution and of the Third International to Black people in this era, and contextualizes the terror of white vigilante violence in the post war period in the US and how Black people fought back against it. As a content notice some of this discussion is a brief but explicit examination of the abhorrent character of anti-black violence of the period. We close part 1 of the conversation with a discussion of McKay’s “If We Must Die,” the context of armed self-defense, the context of fighting back, from which it emerged and its global resonance with the emerging Black radicalism of the period and with radical movements decades after its release.
In part two - which will come out in the next couple of days - we will focus on McKay’s debates, positions, and activism within the spaces of revolutionary Black Nationalism and the Communist left of the period.
We will include a link to the book in the show notes. We both highly recommend it.
If you would like to purchase Claude McKay: The Making of a Black Bolshevik by Winston James consider picking it up from the good folks at Massive Bookshop.
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