A Scholar and a Statesmen


Last month, I had the pleasure to attend the London Showcase staged production of 'A Scholar and a Statesmen’. The play, hosted by Her Excellency, Karen-Mae C. Hill, the Antigua and Barbudan High Commissioner, was written and produced by OBV alumni Pamela Roberts. Roberts, is the author of a fascinating book entitled, Black Oxford: The Untold Stories of Oxford University’s Black Scholars. The play is a bold adaption of the book and she focuses on the remarkable life of Antiguan born James Arthur Harley.

Born in Antigua on 15 May 1873, Harley studied law and classics at Howard University in Washington, DC. Then, after a year at Yale, he studied Semitic Languages at Harvard, where he was awarded a number of prizes. Following a further year’s study at the Episcopal Seminary in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he spent two years at Jesus College, Oxford, studying first theology and then anthropology. Harley was one of the first black scholars at Oxford University and was one of the first three students to take the University's Diploma in Anthropology.

Surprisingly, despite his impressive academic achievements, , Harley did not pursue a career in academia, but instead, became a curate serving a small village in Leicestershire. Harley was a loquacious man and entered local politics, initially as a Labour councillor and later as an independent. He was elected to Leicestershire County Council in 1937, serving in this role until his death on 12 May 1943, three days before his 70th birthday. His contribution to the people of Shepshed is fondly recognised with the naming of a street in his honour.

Speaking about the play, the Antiguan and Barbaduan High Commissioner, H. E. Karen-Mae C. Hill said, “This is a story that needs to be told and needs to be heard. It represents the important struggle of class and racism and is compelling in its nature.”

A Scholar and a Statesman is a historically important play for its role in illuminating an era often overlooked with regards to Black cultural heritage and contributions in Edwardian England.

Roberts, decided to bring Harley’s story to stage, to enable more people to learn about his remarkable life and achievements. She has done a fantastic service in researching his life and now transforming it into a theatrical production.

Francine Fernandes