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Ansell Richard Hart


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Subtitled: The vanilla side of my family tree.

Ansell Richard Hart was a Jamaican Sephardic Jew of Spanish and Italian origin. He was also my father’s first cousin as his mother was my grandmother’s sister. Yes, my father was, technically, a Jew since the right is bestowed by matriarchal lineage. Grandma, married a flamboyant, mulatto (high yellow) attorney early in the 20th Century, when such matters were frowned upon even in Jamaica whose racist past pales in comparison to the USA’s.  

Why have I decided to write about Mr. Hart, a man I never met, but who obviously holds a very private, personal place in my life? It is something I have wished to address for a long time in a public forum, perhaps for cathartic reasons. The recent events surrounding the murder of George Floyd finally inspired me to do it.

Born in 1917, at a time when the world was in similar turmoil, and in the year of the Bolshevik revolution, Mr. Hart was a life long Marxist at great personal cost. But before, I comment further, some context. I was vaguely aware of the existence of my father’s crazy cousin from my early years. However, I gave it little thought, as aside from grandma, that side of my family tree remained largely a mystery to me and was never a part of either my life experiences or consciousness. Well, in 1979, as part of the research for a term paper I was writing during my junior year in University, I ventured into the Citibank, Jamaica building to interview its local CEO. I rode the elevator up with an older, very dark skinned gentleman, who I noticed, was gazing at me intently. When the last other occupant got out, my curiosity got the better of me and I inquired whether I could help him in some way.  He said no, but that although I was several shades darker, I reminded him of his Trade Union leader whom he had participated in a strike with back in the turbulent early 1940s, which shut down the Kingston waterfront and as a consequence of which both were jailed. I said really? He said yes, my eyes, cheek bones and gait reminded him of that gentleman. I asked who he was referring to, to which he replied, “Richard Hart. I would have given my life for that man,” he said, “because I believe he would have given his life for me. Before I met him, I had never met a white man that treated me as a brother.” I neglected to explain my relationship to Richard, to the gentleman largely because I was emotionally overwhelmed by the encounter. 

The son of an affluent attorney, Richard left Jamaica for the United Kingdom in the late 1930s to study the law shortly before that country entered WW2. He returned to Jamaica in 1940 a Marxist much to the chagrin of his parents and other family members. Richard over the course of his long life was: a trade union leader, politician, attorney and a historian. A link to greater details of his life’s work follows  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Hart_(Jamaican_politician)

Expelled from the Democratic Socialist, People’s National Party by its leader, Norman Manley, in 1954 (the purge of the 4 H’s), he along with the Hill brothers and Arthur Henry, had their formal political careers in Jamaica terminated. Undaunted, Richard and others founded a people’s, socialist workers party, which was eventually banned and disbanded in the early 1960s. Out of options in Jamaica, Mr. Hart went to Guyana and affiliated with the Marxist PPP party led by Dr. Cheddi Jagan. However, when the corrupt Forbes Burnam government came to power, he had to leave as he fared for his life. He was able to take up residence in the United Kingdom where he was instrumental in building a trade union infrastructure to represent the Caribbean diaspora there. He worked at that and as an attorney for a local government in the UK until 1981 when he was invited by the New Jewel Movement in Grenada to join their government. Shortly after going there he became the country’s Attorney General. When the United States illegally, in my opinion, invaded Grenada under the pretext of protecting its citizens who were studying at a medical school there, many members of the New Jewel Movement were arrested. However, as a British citizen, Mr. Hart was allowed to return to the UK when the British government intervened on his behalf saving him from an American prison. In the latter years of his life, in addition to remaining active in the British Trade Union movement, and demonstrating against the Thatcher Government, Richard devoted much of his time to writing historical and political works. Among his works are: Slaves Who Abolished Slavery: Blacks in Rebellion, and The Grenada Revolution: Setting the Record Straight. Mr. Hart, in addition to obtaining a law degree, had many honorary degrees bestowed on him, both in the UK and in the Caribbean. His membership in the People’s National Party was restored in the early 2000s. Richard died in December 2013 at the ripe old age of 96. I had discussed many times with my children the desire to meet him. It is with deep regret that I never did so.

So, what does Mr. Hart have to do with the current situation in America? Although I never met him, it seems like my distant relative was a man who abhorred injustice. He could have led an affluent privileged life at the pinnacle of Jamaican society. But the injustices meted out by the British there, as well as the abhorrent conditions under which Jamaican laborers toiled, were perhaps, too much for his sensibilities. Thus, he became a lifelong militant. A man of the people if you will. Today, the USA stands at a crossroads. It is deeply polarized by both race and class which are intertwined. It is not too late. Remedies can be put in place which could lead to a more perfect nation. But I fear they will not. Let me be clear. While I personally abhor our current occupant of the White House, he is, to my way of thinking, a symptom and not the cause of where we are and where we seem to be headed. Unless we do not change our direction, the USA will have its share of Richard Harts. It will have other Malcolm Xs, and other Paul Robesons, it will have other Joe Hills, it will have another Mother Jones, it will have other Eugene Debbes. None of this has to happen. But I fear it will, for the power brokers have no sense of history, no conscience and no sense of commonality with working people, black or white or Hispanic. Our rulers seek to send us back to work but seek indemnity from the consequences thereof. Our Federal Reserve bails out the financial markets with unprecedented intervention, effectively backstopping the losses of the investor class. This is not supposed to be what capitalism is about. No, this is moral hazard on unprecedented levels. But the beat goes on … till it ends … this may happen sooner than later.

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