An African in Imperial London

The Indomitable Life of A. B. C. Merriman-Labor

Danell Jones

A vivid biography of an African Edwardian chronicler of London, in a time of social upheaval.

Winner of the High Plains Book Award for Nonfiction

Bibliographic Details
An African in Imperial London Hardback
June 2018£25.00

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In a world dominated by the British Empire, and at a time when many Europeans considered black people inferior, Sierra Leonean writer A. B. C. Merriman-Labor claimed his right to describe the world as he found it. He looked at the Empire’s great capital and laughed. 

In this first biography of Merriman-Labor, Danell Jones describes the tragic spiral that pulled him down the social ladder from writer and barrister to munitions worker, from witty observer of the social order to patient in a state-run hospital for the poor. In restoring this extraordinary man to the pantheon of African observers of colonialism, she opens a window onto racial attitudes in Edwardian London.

An African in Imperial London is a rich portrait of a great metropolis, writhing its way into a new century of appalling social inequity, world-transforming inventions, and unprecedented demands for civil rights. 


Danell Jones is a writer and scholar whose works have appeared in a wide variety of publications, from British academic journals to small presses. She has a PhD in literature from Columbia University and is the author of The Virginia Woolf Writers’ Workshop and Desert Elegy.


‘A brilliant biography . . . [Jones] has given a vivid picture of London one hundred years ago.’ — Counterfire

‘An engaging, worthwhile biography. …  Jones uncovers the life of a historical ghost, nearly lost to the world’ — Choice

‘A must read.’ — The Sierra Leone Telegraph

‘Written with great verve, An African in Imperial London reconstructs the life of A.B.C. Merriman-Labor… Both he and his biographer provide a rich picture of London, particularly in his most important work… an enlightening account of what it meant to be black in the most powerful country in the world’. — Peter Stansky, Frances and Charles Field Professor of History, Emeritus, Stanford University

‘Elegantly written and meticulously researched for over seven years, An African in Imperial London presents the life and times of Augustus Merriman-Labor: Sierra Leonean writer, barrister, munitions worker during the First World War, and much more besides. This is an important addition to the history of Africans in Britain.’ — Hakim Adi, Professor of the History of Africa and the African Diaspora, University of Chichester

‘Historical rigour, literary skill and a deep sense of humanity pervades this splendid biography which recovers from the condescension of the past the world of Augustus Merriman-Labor.’ — David Killingray, Emeritus Professor of Modern History, Goldsmiths, University of London

‘The moving and surprising story of A.B.C. Merriman-Labor, both insider and outsider in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Africa and England, is also a compelling contemporary parable about the interaction between individuals and society.’— Edward Mendelson, Lionel Trilling Professor in the Humanities, Columbia University