The Black West Indian Cricketers’ Journey
By Dale Brown
In 1926, the West Indies joined the Imperial Cricket Conference, renamed in 1965 as the International Cricket Council (ICC). They contested their first Test series against England in 1929-1930.
From this initial series to the 1959-60 series also against England, the West Indies were captained exclusively by white players. It was impossible for a man of any other hue to create an impression with his leadership qualities and justify an appointment as captain. The ruling class considered that a Black man was not ready or worthy for leadership, whether political, social or otherwise.
During the 1934-35 tour by England, it was Learie Constantine, a Black man from Trinidad, who led the team on the final day of the 4th Test being played at Sabina Park, while the captain, Jackie Grant also from Trinidad, was off the field injured.
It is ironic that Constantine led the team to victory on the final day of the last Test while completing the first ever series win by the West Indies.
Jackie Grant retired from cricket and was replaced as captain for the 1939 tour of England by his brother, Ralph. This appointment was made despite the presence of the great Jamaican batsman George Headley and Learie Constantine himself. Ralph Grant was also a member of the 1934-35 team when Constantine was asked by Jackie Grant to lead the team on the final day of the 4th Test. Ralph Grant possessed no obvious qualifications for the captaincy except that he was a white man.
George Headley, regarded by many observers as equal to the great Australian batsman, Donald Bradman, was a master strategist and tactician on the cricket field. Due to popular pressure, Headley was appointed captain at age 39 for one Test against England during the 1947-48 series in the Caribbean.
Another succession of white men continued to be selected as captains following Headley’s appointment. Gerry Gomez (Trinidad) John Goddard (Barbados) Jeffrey Stollmeyer (Trinidad) Denis Atkinson (Barbados) and Franz Alexander (Jamaica) were all appointed captains between 1947-48 and 1959-60.
Cyril Lionel Robert James
CLR James, revolutionary thinker, writer and socialist, was known at the time for his literary masterpiece, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution.
James had returned to Trinidad in 1956 after being deported from the United States. He became the editor of The Nation, a local newspaper.
He fervently sought to see a non-white man serve as West Indies captain and concentrated all his energy on advocating for Frank Worrell, a Black Barbadian resident of Jamaica to be appointed West Indies cricket captain.
When England toured the West Indies during the 1959-60 cricket season, Franz Alexander was appointed captain for the series.
Frank Worrell who was widely recognized during the decade of the 50’s for his commanding knowledge of the game, was again conspicuously overlooked.
CLR James was motivated to increase the pressure on the West Indies Cricket Board of Control of Control (WICBC) now known as Cricket West Indies, by writing an article titled “Alexander Must Go” in reference to Alexander’s captaincy the day after the 2nd Test defeat at the hands of the English team. He encouraged the readers and the West Indian people in general to take up the fight against the blatant show of racism and prejudice by the ‘WICBC.’