E. R. Braith­waite, Guyanese Diplo­mat and Au­thor, Dies at 104

The Star (St. Lucia) - - REGIONAL -

E. R. Braith­waite, a Guyanese au­thor, diplo­mat and former Royal Air Force pi­lot whose book “To Sir, With Love,” a mem­oir of teach­ing in Lon­don’s de­prived East End, was adapted into a hit 1967 film star­ring Sid­ney Poitier, died on Mon­day in Rockville, Md. He was 104.

Mr. Braith­waite’s com­pan­ion, Genevieve Ast, con­firmed his death to The As­so­ci­ated Press. He had taught English at Howard Univer­sity, in Wash­ing­ton, and lived in the area for many years. Mr. Braith­waite, who be­came a diplo­mat and rep­re­sented Guyana at the United Na­tions and in Venezuela, wrote sev­eral books, many about racism in coun­tries like South Africa and the United States, where he lived much of his life. But he is best known for “To Sir, With Love” (1959).

The book chron­i­cled his ef­forts — as a courtly, Cam­bridge-ed­u­cated mil­i­tary veteran who had been de­nied em­ploy­ment as an en­gi­neer be­cause he was black — to mo­ti­vate a group of un­ruly ado­les­cents raised in a slum in early-1950s Bri­tain, which was still slowly re­cov­er­ing from the aus­ter­ity of the war years.

The stu­dents’ an­ti­so­cial be­hav­ior, ca­sual racism, pen­chant for vi­o­lence and, worst of all, self-ha­tred hor­rify the new teacher, whose col­leagues ex­pect lit­tle of the pupils.

He takes them to mu­se­ums and tells them about his child­hood. Slowly, he gains their trust by show­ing re­spect and af­fec­tion, which, for most of the stu­dents, have been in short sup­ply. (The ti­tle of the book comes from an in­scrip­tion his ap­pre­cia­tive stu­dents wrote on a pack of cig­a­rettes they gave him.) He also de­vel­ops ro­man­tic feel­ings for another teacher, who, like the stu­dents, is white.

The mem­oir was praised for of­fer­ing a sym­pa­thetic ac­count of race and class with­out naïveté or ex­ces­sive sen­ti­men­tal­ity.

Early in the book, Mr. Braith­waite re­counts his dis­il­lu­sion­ment and strug­gles with job­less­ness af­ter be­ing passed over for work be­cause of racial dis­crim­i­na­tion, con­trast­ing his ex­pe­ri­ences in Bri­tain with the years he had spent in the United States.

He wrote of Amer­ica: “There, when prej­u­dice is felt, it is open, ob­vi­ous, bla­tant; the white man makes his po­si­tion very clear, and the black man fights those prej­u­dices with equal open­ness and fer­vor, us­ing ev­ery con­sti­tu­tional de­vice avail­able to him.”

He added: “The rest of the world in gen­eral and Bri­tain in par­tic­u­lar are prone to point an an­grily crit­i­cal fin­ger at Amer­i­can in­tol­er­ance, for­get­ting that in its short his­tory as a na­tion it has granted to its Ne­gro cit­i­zens more op­por­tu­ni­ties for ad­vance­ment and bet­ter­ment, per capita, than any other na­tion in the world with an in­di­gent Ne­gro pop­u­la­tion.”

The book was timely, ar­riv­ing as a wave of mi­gra­tion from the West Indies and South Asia be­gan to trans­form Bri­tish so­ci­ety, and as Amer­i­cans were grap­pling with per­sis­tent seg­re­ga­tion. That Mr. Braith­waite, a well-ed­u­cated mid­dle-class man from the colonies, was try­ing in the cap­i­tal of the Bri­tish Em­pire to look past the squalor and de­spair of the school, was not lost on crit­ics.

“His job as an emis­sary of civ­i­liza­tion was made al­most im­pos­si­bly hard by the fact that the English peo­ple he dealt with still be­lieved in their own civ­i­liza­tion and dis­be­lieved in his,” the Bri­tish poet and nov­el­ist John Wain wrote in a re­view of the mem­oir in The New York Times. “In fact, the ur­ban in­dus­tri­al­ized world they lived in had long since robbed them of a nat­u­ral way of life, plunged them into vi­o­lence and ha­tred and robbed them of any­thing fit to be called a civ­i­liza­tion.”

The movie, di­rected by the nov­el­ist and film­maker James Clavell, was a box-of­fice suc­cess, largely be­cause of its star, Mr. Poitier, whose char­ac­ter is named Thack­eray in the movie. (The theme song, sung by Lulu, also helped; it be­came a No. 1 hit.) But, per­haps to ap­peal to an Amer­i­can au­di­ence, it fo­cused less on race.

“It is as dis­creetly played down as are many other prob­a­ble ten­sions in this school,” the critic Bosley Crowther wrote in his re­view for The Times.

“When I saw the film, I was not im­pressed,” Mr. Braith­waite said in a 2013 in­ter­view with Cof­fee-Ta­ble Notes, a blog. “Some­thing had been lost in the tran­si­tion from book to film.”

Eus­tace Ed­ward Ri­cardo Braith­waite was born on June 27, 1912, in Ge­orge­town, the cap­i­tal of what was then

ABri­tish Guiana.

He stud­ied at Queen’s Col­lege, Guyana, a pres­ti­gious high school, and at the City Col­lege of New York. He moved to Bri­tain af­ter work­ing at an oil re­fin­ery in Aruba, off the coast of Venezuela. In 1940 he vol­un­teered for ser­vice in the Royal Air Force.

He re­ceived a mas­ter’s de­gree in physics from Cam­bridge Univer­sity in 1949. Af­ter leav­ing his teach­ing job, he worked with Caribbean im­mi­grant fam­i­lies in Lon­don, the ba­sis for his sec­ond book, “Paid Ser­vant: A Re­port About Wel­fare Work in Lon­don,” pub­lished in Bri­tain in 1962.

From 1967 to 1969, he served as the first per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Guyana to the United Na­tions. He was later the coun­try’s am­bas­sador to Venezuela. -New York Times photo of St Lu­cian Michael Nel­son re­pair­ing Do­mini­can teenager Kasiann Rava­lier’s pros­thetic aid re­cently won Aus­tralia’s an­nual Dis­abil­ity In­clu­sive Best Photo Award. The photo was taken in Vieux Fort, St Lu­cia by Aus­tralian High Com­mis­sioner John Pil­beam while vis­it­ing the Na­tional Coun­cil of and for Per­sons with Dis­abil­i­ties (NCPD). The NCPD re­ceived a grant from Aus­tralia’s Di­rect Aid Pro­gram (DAP) to out­fit the Vieux Fort work­shop.

Kasiann lost her leg as a child, and has been able to live a nor­mal life with the aid of the pros­thetic aid. Mr Nel­son, him­self an am­putee, is an em­ployee of the NCPD. Aus­tralia’s DAP pro­gram pro­vides small grants to NGO’s, civil so­ci­ety groups, and other non-profit mak­ing as­so­ci­a­tions to im­ple­ment sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment pro­grams in the re­gion. In the last year in St Lu­cia, DAP has funded dis­abil­ity in­clu­sive projects at NCPD and the Child De­vel­op­ment and Guid­ance Cen­tre, agri­cul­tural projects for youth at the Grand Riviere Sec­ondary School and the St Lu­cia Agri­cul­tural Fo­rum for Youth, women’s em­pow­er­ment projects with the Aux Lyons Sewing pro­ject and the Peo­ple Em­pow­er­ing Peo­ple rain­wa­ter har­vest­ing pro­ject.

The an­nual photo com­pe­ti­tion was part of ac­tiv­i­ties in Aus­tralia to cel­e­brate In­ter­na­tional Day of Per­sons with Dis­abil­i­ties, on 3 De­cem­ber. The day aims to raise aware­ness and pro­mote an un­der­stand­ing of per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties and dis­abil­ity is­sues to en­cour­age bet­ter sup­port for their hu­man rights, dig­nity and well-be­ing.

The Guyanese writer E.R. Braith­waite, circa 1960. He wrote “To Sir, With Love,” draw­ing on his ex­pe­ri­ences as a teacher in the East End of Lon­don.

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