An African in Imperial London

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

June 2018 9781849049603 320pp
December 2021 9781787386068 320pp
Available as an eBook
EU Customers


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. 


‘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

‘The richness and wider implications of Merriman-Labor’s life and sojourn in England come out vividly in [this] book because of Jones’ careful research, analytical rigor, and lively writing.’ — Journal of African History

‘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


Danell Jones is a writer and scholar with a PhD in literature from Columbia University. She is the author of The Virginia Woolf Writers Workshop; the poetry collection Desert Elegy; and An African in Imperial London (also available from Hurst Publishers), which won the High Plains Book Award for Nonfiction.

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