THE ADVENTURES OF A BLACK EDWARDIAN INTELLECTUAL
The Story of James Arthur Harley
Scholar, reverend, politician, and perhaps aristocrat… James Arthur Stanley Harley was certainly a polymath. Born in a poor village on the Caribbean Island of Antigua, he went on to attend Harvard, Yale and Oxford universities, was ordained a priest in Canterbury Cathedral and was elected to Leicestershire County Council. He was a choirmaster, a pioneer Oxford anthropologist, a country curate and a firebrand councillor. This remarkable career was all the more extraordinary because he was black in an age - the early twentieth century - that was institutionally racist.
Pamela Roberts' meticulously researched book tells Harley's hitherto unknown story from humble Antiguan childhood, through elite education in Jim Crow America to the turbulent England of World War I and the General Strike. Navigating the complex intertwining of education, religion, politics and race, his life converged with pivotal periods and events in history: the birth of the American New Negro in the 1900s, black scholars at Ivy League institutions, the heyday of Washington's black elite and the early civil rights movement, Edwardian English society, and the Great War. Based on Harley's letters, sermons and writings as well as contemporary accounts and later oral testimony, this is an account of an individual's trajectory through seven decades of dramatic social change.
Roberts' biography reveals a man of religious conviction, who won admirers for his
work as a vicar and local councillor. But Harley was also a complex and abrasive
individual, who made enemies and courted controversy and scandal. Most intriguingly, he hinted at illicit aristocratic ancestry dating back to Antigua's slave-owning past. His life, uncovered here for the first time, is full of contradictions and surprises, but above illustrates the power and resilience of the human spirit.