Papers for The People: The Radical Press of the late Colonial Caribbean

Caribbean Studies Seminar Series

Papers for The People: The Radical Press of the late Colonial Caribbean'


Speaker: Kesewa John (UCL Institute of the Americas)

Chair: Zakiya McKenzie (Exeter)

The Caribbean region witnessed an explosion of new, popular and increasingly politically radical newspapers in the 1920s and 1930s, from the communist rag Justice published in Martinique from 1920, whose editor, Andre Aliker was murdered for his unrelenting publishing of evidence of corruption at the colony’s highest levels, to the Garvey-supporting The People in Trinidad and Tobago founded in 1933, to which Harlem Renaissance star Eric Walrond contributed. Unapologetic, often aggressive advocates for the Caribbean’s labouring classes, these new media players challenged – often openly - the mainstream, long-established ‘planter papers,’ their monopoly of the public sphere, and the ruling class, the plantocracy, which they represented.

Much has been written about the Caribbean labour rebellions of the 1930s, the near constant series of uprisings which affected the whole region, which are widely considered to mark the birth of the contemporary Caribbean. Far less has been said about the popular newspapers which collectively, consciously and stridently critiqued the colonial status quo and were read by the masses who manifested those uprisings. Debating the new ideas of trade unionism, socialism, and Garveyism within their pages when publicly imagining more equitable futures for the Caribbean, ‘people papers’ formed a network of new entrants to the colonial public sphere, and a bold new voice for a majority-Black working class constituency long-ignored by the mainstream colonial press.

This paper introduces the concept and characteristics of people papers – locally-owned newspapers which self-defined as by the people for the people and positioned themselves in narrative opposition to the better-established, ‘planter papers’ in the 1930s and in so doing nurtured a crucial wave of Caribbean nationalism and a generation of nationalists.

Date: 7 December 2021