Chris Braithwaite: Mariner, Renegade and Castaway by Christian Høgsbjerg
Chris Braithwaite (aka ‘Chris Jones’) was a black Barbadian seaman who became a leading organiser of colonial seamen in inter-war Britain. He played a critical role in the Pan-Africanist and wider anti-colonial movement alongside figures such as C.L.R. James and George Padmore. Christian Høgsbjerg recovers Braithwaite’s long over-looked life as a black radical and political trade-unionist, and suggests his determined struggle for working class unity in the face of racism and austerity retains relevance for us today.
Endorsements / reviews
‘Through his scrupulous research of the compelling life and times of Chris Braithwaite, Christian Høgsbjerg has uncovered the vital contribution of a pioneering black activist and anti-colonial stalwart. Braithwaite’s brave achievement should be on the curriculum of all our schools.’
Chris Searle, Race & Class
‘Høgsbjerg shines light on a generation of radical fighters against racism and exploitation, caught between the spark of light generated by the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and the crushing darkness of Stalinism.’
Hassan Mahamdallie, author of Black British Rebels
‘Christian Høgsbjerg’s “biography from below” of West Indian seaman Chris Braithwaite opens a portal onto an dynamic Black and Red Atlantic world of work and politics. Here is an excellent contribution to a “people’s history of the sea.”‘
‘this short new biography of Chris Braithwaite (known as Chris Jones) rescues a forgotten hero of the working class movement from relative obscurity’
‘In opening up the story of ‘Chris Jones’ or Chris Braithwaite, author Christian Høgsbjerg has also opened up a largely otherwise forgotten chapter, still with interesting questions, in the history of the British Left.’
‘a creditable introduction to this important but hitherto neglected figure in seafaring history’
Mike Gerber, ‘Uncovering an unknown hero’, Nautilus Telegraph, 47, no. 6 (June 2014), p. 28.
‘Chris Braithwaite was born in 1885 in Barbados. He became a leading organiser of colonial seamen in inter-war Britain. As a black trade unionist and political activist his life has been marginalised in accounts of this period. Like Mancunian black activist Len Johnson he played an important role in his own community, representing black seamen and other minorities who faced racism,not just from shipowners and fellow seamen but also from their trade union. How he continued to stay active in politics given the forces against him makes this such a wonderful book… well worth buying and only £4!!’
‘Chris Braithwaite, who often operated under the name Chris Jones, was a Barbadian trade union activist who chaired the Colonial Seamen’s Association and regularly spoke at rallies and at the Speakers Corner section of London’s Hyde Park. Like CLR James, he contributed political pieces to International African Opinion and other anti-colonial periodicals, and, like James, he was a leftist critic of Stalinism who believed in the power of the organized working class to change society. In contrast to James, of course, the story of Braithwaite’s trans-Atlantic activism has been largely overlooked; Høgsbjerg’s characteristically sturdy study goes a considerable distance toward rectifying this oversight.’
Kent Worcester, ‘Renegades and Castaways’, New Politics 57 (Summer 2014).
Scrupulously referenced and with appendices of selected writings by Braithwaite, and some rare photos of him, this short publication will be of interest to students and researchers of twentieth century imperial and labour history, particularly maritime history. It provides pointers to future research and should stimulate critique and discussion … Høgsbjerg’s study keeps anti-imperialist activism, often marginalized in the historiography, firmly in the historical eye. It also reminds us that anti-racist and anti-capitalist struggles embraced by pioneering activists such as Chris Braithwaite are ongoing and unfinished.
Barbara Bush, Labour History Review, 80, 1 (2015).
Christian Høgsbjerg has written a short but vivid account of Braithwaite’s life and activity. Braithwaite was both a committed trade-union activist and a powerful orator, who toured the country speaking about black workers’ rights. He may have been involved with direct action to prevent delivery of coal to fascist Italy, and with smuggling arms to Ethiopia … Høgsbjerg has done an excellent job in rescuing this forgotten militant and putting him back in the history of the British working class.
Ian Birchall, Revolutionary History, 1 (new series) (2015).
I have also written short biographical portraits of Christopher Messiah Braithwaite for the Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Plus there is now a North American edition of the work courtesy of OOOA Books
Exhibitions – There have been two exhibitions in the UK
in Liverpool at the Merseyside Maritime Museum and in London in Tower Hamlets relating to the life and work of Chris Braithwaite see here for more info