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Response to Review no. 841

I appreciate this detailed review by a researcher who has dedicated so much effort to studying this area. Having received an invitation to respond, I would just like to make a few clarifications.

As a publishing historian, I have focused my research on the relationships among writers, editors, publishers, and reviewers as, together, they weave the fabric of public discourse. I was drawn to the story of this particular publishing community by the great obstacles that stood in the way of making its voices heard. In focusing on the achievements of this community (including the British women who typed, edited, researched, and wrote alongside the men), I did not mean to slight the many others who joined in the cause of ending British rule in Africa. The heart of my narrative was this particular community of writers whose lives came together in a common cause, and I wanted to tell their story in a way that would allow readers to enter imaginatively into it. The question of how much context to provide for their story was with me always. There have already been several good scholarly works on pan-Africanism and on Blacks’ lives and political activity in Britain during these years. I imagined many of my readers would be familiar with at least some of that work and, bringing their knowledge to my book, would engage in the kind of active reading Marika Sherwood has given it.

On a couple of narrower points: I did not mean to leave the impression that C. L. R. James returned to England in order to write about cricket – in fact, drawing on a long letter he wrote to Padmore before his return, I say, ‘he saw before him “a new field of work”’: to tell European workers about America. George Padmore and Dorothy Pizer, however, viewed him on his return as a man adrift in abstractions. The mention of his cricket reporting came in a letter in which Padmore told Richard Wright, ‘That will take him out of his ivory tower…’.

On Padmore’s disdain for the chiefs: I did refer to his view of them as anachronisms and tools of the British, and I also quoted his letter to Wright in which he speaks of exposing the Ashanti chiefs and says, ‘By the time I am through with them they will all cut their throats to water the stools of their ancestors’. Sherwood raises the hypothetical question of whether if Padmore had lived longer he might have reined in Nkrumah’s dictatorial tendencies. I fear not. I believe he would have had neither the political power nor the inclination. Comments he made in letters to Wright as independence approached suggest he believed in exercising a firm hand. Once in Ghana, he played his part in the crackdown on opposition, as I say in the last chapter: ‘Attempting to control the jostling for power, the CPP stripped chiefs of their authority, banned tribally based parties, and outlawed false and critical statements about the government. The Stalinist scenario Padmore had favoured before independence was put into play. Given Padmore’s longtime assault on such laws in the colonies, the irony was deep: as a member of the Cabinet’s National Defence Council he reviewed Special Branch reports on the opposition – the kind of reports that British officials had once filed on himself and his circle in London.’