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   C. L. R. James Papers, 1933-2001 [Bulk Dates: 1948-1989].

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Preferred Citation

C. L. R. (Cyril Lionel Robert) James Papers; Date (if known); Box and Folder (if known); Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

COinS Metadata available (e.g., for Zotero).

Summary Information


These papers contain correspondence; drafts, manuscripts and notes; transcripts of lectures and interviews; printed material; photographs; and audio and video tapes related to life and work of West Indian native C. L. R. (Cyril Lionel Robert) James-- an athlete, scholar, teacher, writer and political activist.

At a Glance

Call No.:MS#1529
Bib ID:6910705 View CLIO record
Creator(s):James, C. L. R. (Cyril Lionel Robert), 1901-1989.
Title:C. L. R. James Papers, 1933-2001 [Bulk Dates: 1948-1989].
Physical description:25.51 linear feet 44 boxes (19 document boxes, 23 record storage cartons, 4 oversized flat box)
Language(s): Material is in English
Access: The following boxes are located off-site: 47 & 48. You will need to request this material from the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at least two business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. If you would like to use audiovisual materials in this collection, please contact the library to discuss access options as most of these materials have not been reformatted and are not readily available for use.  More information »



This collection is arranged in eight series

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Scope and Content

These papers contain correspondence; drafts, manuscripts and notes; transcripts of lectures and interviews; printed material; photographs; and audio and video tapes related to life and work of West Indian native C. L. R. (Cyril Lionel Robert) James-- an athlete, scholar, teacher, writer and political activist.

Series I: Correspondence, 1952-1990, Undated

James corresponded with a wide swath of individuals—heads-of-state and political radicals; established scholars and intellectuals, and students; as well as family and friends. The correspondence in this series reflects that wide-range of correspondents; the number of letters exchanged with any one individual represented here, however, tends to be small. The largest cache of correspondence in this series is between Robert Hill and James.

The topics within the correspondence are wide-ranging as well: the letters of the 1950s are full of references to American politics, popular culture, and the writings of Melville; by the 1960s more of James' correspondence concerns political movements in the West Indies and in Africa; and most of the 1970s correspondence is related to teaching, invitations to conferences and requests to give talks or lectures.

Series II: Writings, 1948-1990s, Undated

Included in this series are drafts and manuscripts, transcripts of lectures and interviews, and printed material by or about C.L.R. James.

Subseries II.1: Full-length works, 1948-1980s, Undated

This series contains both typescript manuscripts (1950) and printed versions (1956) of American Civilization ; drafts and fragments-- a few of which have been heavily annotated by James--of the autobiography that was incomplete at his death; his play Black Jacobins, with hand-written notes by director Dexter Lyndersay; and many of the original letters from James that were the basis of Notes on a Dialectic, along with drafts and materials that have been annotated and edited by James, and a typescript of the monograph. Also here is a typescript version of Notes on the Life of George Padmore and a piece on Shakespeare.

Subseries II.2: Drafts, Proposals, Reviews, 1966-1980, Undated

Included here are several shorter pieces on a range of topics: Pan-Africanism, popular culture, reviews as well as brief portraits of several individuals including George Lamming, Kwame Nkrumah and Paul Robeson. Also in this subseries are extracts from James' writings and the writings of others.

Subseries II.3: Lectures and Talks, 1958-1991, 2000, Undated

This series contains informal talks, conference presentations, lectures, and radio or television broadcasts covering a range of subjects including, but not limited to, literature and literary figures, history, and the Caribbean. The lectures and talks are arranged by title or topic; if untitled, the pieces are arranged by the organization or group to whom the talk was given. The bulk of the material here consists of transcripts of the lectures, or of the recordings of the lectures, and includes printed versions, carbon copies, and photocopies. Two lectures by others, Frank Campbell and Rodney Walter, are here as well.

Subseries II.4: Interviews, circa 1970s-1996, Undated

The material here consists for the most part of transcripts of interviews given by James on a variety of topics and to a variety of individuals from professional journalists to budding scholars. Some of the interviews have been published.

Subseries II.5: Writings by Others--Drafts and Manuscripts, 1969-1990s, Undated

Many, although not all, of the drafts and manuscripts here were received by James in the 1970s during his teaching period in the United States. A student paper on Walt Whitman by Nettie Kravitz, one of James associates from Detroit, is here as is a piece on revolutionary leadership by the Boggs. Also here is a film script of James' novel, Minty Alley.

Series III: Publishing--Johnson-Forest through Facing Reality, 1943-1972, Undated

Correspondence, reports, drafts and articles, pamphlets, and publications created by members of the Correspondence Publishing Committee and the Facing Reality Group are included in this series. Writings, especially for Correspondence and Speak Out cover popular culture as well as political and social issues of the day.

Subseries III.1: General, 1946-1972

Although the correspondence here pertains largely to the writing and editing of publications for the Correspondence Publishing Committee and the Facing Reality Group, it also reveals some of the fault lines that led to the ruptures within the groups. Also in this subseries are editors' reports, and drafts and notes for articles; among the articles and drafts are typescripts of bulletins written in the mid-1950s by James.

Subseries III. 2: Printed Material, 1943-1969, Undated

Although there is not a full run of either Correspondence or Speak Out here, many issues of each publication are included in this subseries. Also here are bulletins and pamphlets created by or associated with the members of Correspondence and Facing Reality. Most of the materials are mimeographed publications; the bulk of the material in this subseries was created by the Correspondence Publishing Committee.

Series IV: Printed Material, 1933-1992, Undated

Contained here are many pamphlets, clippings, and a few assorted materials by C.L.R. James and others. Material from the Johnson-Forest Tendency period as well as material that pre-dates or follows that period is included.

Subseries IV.1: Pamphlets, 1933-1992, Undated

The pamphlets in this subseries include James' first publication in Britain, "The Case for West Indian Government" (Hogarth Press, 1933) through his last, "Walter Rodney and the Question of Power" (Race Today Publications, 1983), and many of his writings, covering his varied interests, in between. Also here is "Down with Starvation Wages," which James helped striking share-croppers of South-East Missouri create during the Second World War.

The pamphlets produced by others include much literature of the radical left; these are arranged by writer or by topic.

Subseries IV.2: General, 1940-1980s

This small subseries holds announcements of lectures and events, many of which featured James; printed articles by James; and a few articles and writings annotated by James; and clippings of articles by or about James.

Series V: Teaching, circa 1970-1981

Student papers, graded by James, comprise the bulk of this series, but also here are course outlines for courses taught by James and others, and a Federal City College yearbook dedicated to James.

Series VI: Subject Files, 1952-1992

This series contains writings and printed material about James and various subjects as well as a few personal materials. Some of the printed material contained here has been annotated by James.

Subseries VI.1: About C.L.R. James, 1966-1992

Tributes to, and writings about, James comprise this subseries.

Subseries VI.2: Personal, 1952-1989

Some material in this series dates from James' time at Federal City College in the 1970s and is related to his employment and finances. Drafts of his will, obituaries and information regarding his funeral are also here. Legal briefs from James' struggles with the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service, and redacted photocopies of the FBI files on James and the Johnson-Forest Tendency are also here.

Subseries VI.3: General, 1957-1986

Conference materials, and printed material regarding Caribbean and Africa countries primarily, comprise the bulk of this subseries.

Series VII: Photographs and Audio / Visual Material, 1940s-2001

This series contains photographs, and audio and video tapes.

Subseries VII.1: Photographs, circa 1940s-2001

Most of these photographs are of James, although a few of the photographs are of others. The photographs of James include snapshots from late in his life, more formal portraits and a few photographs from his days in the United States.

Subseries VII.2: Audio / Video Cassette Tapes, circa 1970s-circa 2001

Audio tapes of interviews and radio broadcasts; and videos of conferences and television programs are held here. The tapes, which are in British and American formats, are of James, and of conferences and programs related to James.

Addition to the Papers: 2017

Gift of Anna Grimshaw, 4/3/2017. Accession number: 2016.2017.M132

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Using the Collection

Partially Offsite

Access Restrictions

 The following boxes are located off-site: 47 & 48. You will need to request this material from the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at least two business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

If you would like to use audiovisual materials in this collection, please contact the library to discuss access options as most of these materials have not been reformatted and are not readily available for use.

Restrictions on Use

Graded papers are restricted until 2060.

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from the Curator of Manuscripts/University Archivist, Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML). The RBML approves permission to publish that which it physically owns; the responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

C. L. R. (Cyril Lionel Robert) James Papers; Date (if known); Box and Folder (if known); Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Selected Related Material at Columbia

Margaret Busby Papers, 1978-1989 Columbia University Rare Book & Manuscript Library

C.L.R. James Institute Records, 1938-2002, 1939-2004 Columbia University Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Anna Grimshaw Papers, 1939-2004 Columbia University Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Darcus Howe Papers, 1965-2008 Columbia University Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Constance Webb Papers, 1918-2005 Columbia University Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Selected Related Material at Other Repositories

Leon Trotsky Exile Papers Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

C.L.R. James Letters, 1939-1981 New York Public Library, Schomburg Center, New York, NY

Oral History of the American Left: Radical Histories New York University, Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York, NY

James and Grace Lee Boggs Papers, 1930s-1993 Wayne State University, Walter P. Reuther Library, Detroit, MI

Raya Dunayevskaya Papers Wayne State University, Walter P. Reuther Library, Detroit, MI

Martin and Jessie Glaberman Papers Wayne State University, Walter P. Reuther Library, Detroit, MI

Frances D. and G. Lyman Paine Papers Wayne State University, Walter P. Reuther Library, Detroit, MI

C. L. R. James Collection University of the West Indies, West Indiana and Special Collections, St. Augustine, Trinidad

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About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries. Rare Book and Manuscript Library; machine readable finding aid created by Columbia University Libraries Digital Library Program Division

Processing Information

Papers processed 2011 Alix Ross

Finding aid written 06/--/2011 Alix Ross

Machine readable finding aid generated from MARC-AMC source via XSLT conversion October 20, 2011 Finding aid written in English.
    2011-10-20 xml document instance created by Carrie Hintz

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Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
C. L. R. James Institute.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Correspondence Publishing Committee/Company.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Facing Reality Publishing Committee.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Grimshaw, Anna.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Howe, Darcus.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
James, C. L. R. (Cyril Lionel Robert), 1901-1989.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Johnson, J. R., 1901-1989.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Johnson-Forest Tendency.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Race Relations--London (England).PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Race Today Collective.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Webb, Constance.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
West Indies.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

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History / Biographical Note

Biographical Note

West Indian native C. L. R. (Cyril Lionel Robert) James was an athlete, scholar, teacher, writer and political activist. James, known affectionately since childhood as Nello, was born in 1901 in Tunapuna, Trinidad. His father, Robert Alexander James, was a schoolmaster; his mother Ida Elizabeth (Bessie) Rudder James, a native of Barbados, was a home-maker. James, the eldest of three siblings, had one sister, Olive, and a brother, Eric. In 1910, at the age of nine, James won an "exhibition" or scholarship to Queen's Royal College (QRC)--located in Port-of-Spain--which he entered in 1911. James' formal education ended in 1918 upon receipt of his "school certificate" from QRC.

Through the 1920s James taught school, played cricket and wrote. His teaching stints included work at QRC where Eric Williams, future Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, was among his pupils. James played cricket with the Maples, a Port-of-Spain club team, and was a member of the Maverick, a local literary society. In 1929 James married Juanita Samuel Young, a native of Venezuela who worked as a stenographer. In 1932 he left for Britain alone.

James lived with Cricket star, Learie Constantine, and his wife Norma in Nelson, Lancashire, upon arriving in Britain. He picked up work as a sports writer, covering cricket matches, for the Manchester Guardian. In 1934 James moved to London where he joined the Independent Labor Party (ILP), wrote for its journal, New Leader, and honed his skills as a speaker at ILP rallies. In London James met George Padmore and renewed his ties to his former student, Eric Williams. James also attended the founding conference of the Fourth International in Paris in 1938.

Although James had published a few pieces in small literary journals Trinidad and The Beacon, and one short story, "La Divina Pastora," in The Saturday Evening Post in 1927, his career as a writer did not take off until he reached England. His literary accomplishments during these years included: a novel, Minty Alley, published in 1936; his play, Toussaint L'Oueverture opened in London, also in 1936, starring Paul Robeson; and The Black Jacobins, a history of the slave rebellion in Santo Domingo, which was led by Toussaint L'Oueverture, was published in 1938.

In 1938, with Leon Trotsky advocating for the Socialist Workers Party's (SWP) to address the "Negro Question" and at the invitation of James Cannon from the American wing of the SWP, James left London for a speaking tour of the United States. James traveled to Mexico in 1939 for a meeting with Trotsky. The six-month-long cross-country tour turned into a fifteen-year sojourn and although James remained long in the United States, his time with the SWP was short.

A rift among members of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) led to the creation of the Workers Party (WP) in 1940, and within the WP, the Johnson-Forest Tendency. Johnson and Forest of the Tendency were James, who wrote as J.R. Johnson, and Dunayevskaya, who assumed the moniker of Freddie Forest. James and Dunayevskaya were soon joined in their political, philosophical and writing endeavors by Grace Lee, whose pseudonym was Ria Stone. In 1947 the Johnson-Forest Tendency rejoined the SWP briefly, but by 1951 the Johnson-Forest Tendency was independent of both the SWP and the WP. James and Dunayevskaya wrote the Balance Sheet Completed, to explain their decision to finally leave the SWP and they established the Correspondence Publishing Committee, which published a mimeographed newsletter, Correspondence. Among the members of the Correspondence Publishing Committee were James Boggs, who was by then the husband of Grace Lee; Freddy and Lyman Paine; Filomena Daddario (Finch); and Morris Goelman (William Gorman). In 1955 Raya Dunayevskaya left Correspondence to form the News & Letters Committee. Yet another division occurred in 1962 when James, along with Martin Glaberman, broke with Correspondence to create the Facing Reality Group; James Boggs and Grace Lee Boggs, and Freddy and Lyman Paine remained with Correspondence. Facing Reality, whose official organ was Speak Out, disbanded in 1970. Some of the materials James wrote and collaborated on with these various groups included: The Balance Sheet (1947); The Invading Socialist Society (1947); The Revolutionary Answer to the Negro Problem in the USA (1948); Notes on Dialectics (1948); and State Capitalism and World Revolution (1950).

During his extended stay in the United States James was based in New York City where he developed friendships with Richard Wright and his wife, Ellen; Chester Himes; and Ralph Ellison among others.

In 1946 James married Constance Webb, whom he had first met during his speaking tour in 1939 and with whom he had corresponded ever since. Due to complications around James' divorce from Juanita James, the marriage proved to be invalid. They re-married in 1948, after James spent six weeks in Nevada formalizing the divorce from his first marriage. (From Nevada, James wrote extensively to Dunayevskaya and Lee; these letters became the basis of Notes on Dialectic.) In 1949 C. L. R. James, Jr., "Nobbie", the only child of Webb and James, was born. James was charged with passport violations and interned, by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service, on Ellis Island in 1952. While there he wrote Mariners, Renegades and Castaways (1953), a study of Herman Melville's Moby Dick. In 1953, facing deportation, James left the United States for England; Webb remained in New York with their son.

Brooklyn-born Selma Weinstein (sister of Correspondence member Cecelia Lang), and her young son Sam Weinstein, joined James in London in 1955; James and Selma Weinstein married in 1956.

Returning to London in the mid-1950s allowed James to renew his contacts with Kwame Nkrumah, whom he had met in the United States in 1943, and George Padmore along with others involved in the Pan-African Movement. In 1957 James traveled to Ghana for the country's first independence celebrations, his first trip to Africa. In the 1958 James and Selma left London for Trinidad, where they remained until 1962. During this time James edited The Nation, the paper of the Peoples National Movement (PNM). In 1962, shortly before returning to London, James was severely injured and concussed in a car accident in Trinidad. Modern Politics (1960) and Party Politics in the West Indies (1962) were published during James' time in Trinidad. Back in Britain, James completed Beyond a Boundary (1963), a study of cricket. In 1965 James once again traveled to Trinidad, this time as to report on cricket matches for several British papers. He was promptly, albeit briefly, put under house arrest by the PNM-led government. Once released James helped organize the Workers and Farmers Party of Trinidad and Tobago.

Late in the 1960s James made lecture tours of the United States, Canada and Africa. In 1970 C.L.R. James began teaching at Federal City College in Washington, D.C. where he stayed most of the decade.

In the last two decades of James' life several people served as his assistants, with the primary goal of completing the autobiography that he had begun in the 1970s. Teresa (Teri) Turner was his assistant for a few years in the 1970s; Jim Murray, who had been introduced to James by Paul Buhle, worked for James in 1983; and anthropologist Anna Grimshaw was James' last assistant, from late 1983 until his death in 1989. The autobiography was never completed. In 1984 James withdrew from public speaking, although he still granted some interviews. James died in 1989.

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