James Arthur Harley: A Scholar and a Statesman


A story of Empire, Education and Elitism

Residing in one of Washington's most exclusive neighbourhoods, holding pink tea parties, advocating for civil rights in 1900's - is not the usual narrative of Black people at the turn of the twentieth century. Yet, this describes the fascinating life of James Arthur Harley, a name who most will not recognise, but thanks to the work of OBV alumni, Dr Pamela Roberts, James Arthur Harley will now be a name which is celebrated and a source of inspiration for all.

James Arthur Harley was an Antiguan who left his island home in 1890's and became a prize winning scholar of Yale, Harvard and Oxford Universities and a pioneer in his study of anthropology, one of the first three students to study it at Oxford. Harley not only attained academic success, but achieved his childhood dream of becoming a Church of England minister and was ordained at Canterbury Cathedral in 1911. He had his first curacy in Shepshed, Leicestershire and entered local politics in 1937,initially as a Labour councillor and later as an independent.

His fascinating and enthralling life was known little of, until Roberts wrote a profile about Harley in her first book, Black Oxford: The Untold Stories of Oxford University's Black Scholars.

Roberts said:

'Harley's life intrigued and fascinated me. As a historian and producer specialising in creating and producing work that seeks to challenge the traditional narratives of Black heritage and history to illustrate a new or different perspective, Harley's story ascribed impeccably to this philosophy. "

Roberts has created A Scholar and a Statesman, a staged reading depicting the true life story of James Arthur Harley. It is the culmination of two and a half years' research spanning Antigua, America and England and illuminates an era often overlooked with regards to Black cultural heritage in Edwardian England.

Roberts continued:

I want audiences to see that not all Black people were downtrodden and subjugated in the early twentieth century, but were influential game changers and had a significant impact, not only in America, but also on the British landscape. "

A Scholar and Statesman, written and produced by Pamela Roberts and directed by Carol Leeming will take place at the Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester on Sunday 18th June from 6pm - 9pm. The production is suitable for children over the age of twelve. Tickets are £5.00 available from www.blackoxford.net or Eventbrite: A Scholar and A Statesman

(From left to right Francis Knowles, Henry Balfour (course tutor), Barbara Freire-Marreco and James Arthur Harley 1909. Photograph taken in Pitt Rivers Museum Upper gallery.)

Francine Fernandes