At the end of 2020, I talked to Mr. Michael La Rose, writer, activist, and Co-director of New Beacon Books in London for the second episode of "Inclusory“.
For many reasons, this would prove to be a remarkable conversation. When I first came across New Beacon Books online while researching London bookstores for a different article I spontaneously thought that it would be very interesting to talk to the people who run the shop about the role of black literature in the fight for social justice for the black diaspora across the globe in the wake of the Black Lives Matter Movement. I would soon learn, that I had guilelessly stumbled across a London flagship for African, Asian, Caribbean, and Black British literature and culture, a research center and a place of legendary activism.
New Beacon Books was founded by Michael’s father, John La Rose with his partner Sarah White, in 1966 (1) as a bookstore and a publishing house. John La Rose had realized the necessity of describing the colonial past and the postcolonial experience from the point of view of the colonized – New Beacon Books would become the headquarters of this operation. Starting with nothing more than a few boxes over the years the London institution found a home in Finsbury Park and an expansion with the adjunct George Padmore Institute, also founded by John La Rose, a research center for black Caribbean, African and Asian art and history. With its foundation already having been an act of political and cultural activism New Beacon Books was always more than a publishing company or a bookshop. It became a center for political activism with groups and movements forming there between the books. Michael became an activist in his own right and amongst many other things co-founded the Black Youth Movement that fought against police brutality and fit-ups and was active from 1970 up until 1990.
The discovery of a legacy in the fight for social justice evokes mixed feelings. On the one hand, there is respect and gratefulness for the sacrifices of the ones who came before for the change they have already achieved for the benefit of future generations. Then, there is disbelief and shock at the realization that what they fought for then, activists fight for today and that these same issues prevail and are still not overcome. Finding out about the Black Youth movement naturally drew the comparison with the Black Lives Matter movement. The United States are a different country with a different history, of course, however, the histories of slavery and of colonialism are clearly linked. Furthermore, Great Britain is self-critically facing the racist part of its colonial past and the systemic racism of its postcolonial present also only very recently (as do many other countries in the wake of the Black Lives Matter Movement).
On “Inclusory” Michael told me that he went to the Black Lives Matter marches with his grandchildren. Against the backdrop of his lifelong activism, this particular intergenerational activity seemed quite touching. Throughout our conversation, it also became very apparent that he, much like his father, wants to teach younger generations about black British history and that he sees New Beacon Book's role as first and foremost an educational one. What it boils down to is knowing the history and taking action in the face of civil injustice. And reading, of course. Listening to him talk about the continuity of history seemed similarly comforting and admonishing. In it, who he calls the “social media activists” become part of a timeline. They may have changed the game but they are still part of a tradition. In a time where child activists have to hold adults accountable who fail to raise to their unwritten intergenerational task of protecting them and their futures, the fact that he as a representative of a much older generation of activists acknowledges that they follow in a tradition is remarkable in itself. As is the similarity in mindsets when comparing his reasoning with many of the younger generation's activists.
There are many quotable thoughts Michael La Rose verbalized on “Inclusory”.
Here are some of them, paraphrased and put in a nutshell for the sake of adhering to the rules of a catchy bullet list:
Listen to our full conversation here
(1) “The Story of New Beacon Books” on https://www.newbeaconbooks.com/
CONTACT New Beacon Books
CONTACT George Padmore Institute (founded by John La Rose, research center, library)
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