Eustace Edward Ricardo Braithwaite (June 27, 1912 – December 12, 2016), publishing as E. R. Braithwaite, was a Guyanese-born British-American novelist, writer, teacher and diplomat best known for his stories of social conditions and racial discrimination against black people. He was the author of the 1959 autobiographical novel To Sir, With Love, which was made into a 1967 British drama film of the same title, starring Sidney Poitier and Lulu.
Braithwaite was born in Georgetown, Guyana, on June 28, 1912. He had a privileged beginning in life; both of his parents went to Oxford University and he described growing up with education, achievement, and parental pride surrounding him. His father was a gold and diamond miner and his mother was a homemaker. He attended Queen’s College, Guyana, a high school, and then City College of New York (1940). During World War II, he joined the Royal Air Force as a pilot – he would later describe this experience in To Sir, With Love as one where he had felt no discrimination based on his skin colour or ethnicity. He went on to attend Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge (1949), from which he earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in physics.
After the war, despite his extensive training, Braithwaite could not find work in his field and, disillusioned, reluctantly took up a job as a school teacher in the East End of London. The book To Sir, With Love (1959) was based on his experiences there. It won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. To Sir with Love was adapted into a film of the same name, starring Sidney Poitier. Although the film was a box-office success, critical opinion and Braithwaite himself considered it too sentimental and he also objected to his mixed-race romance being given lower prominence in the film version. He is quoted as saying in a 2007 BBC Radio 4 programme entitled To Sir With Love Revisited, written and presented by Burt Caesar, exploring the story behind the book: “I detest the movie from the bottom of my heart.”
While writing his book about the school, Braithwaite turned to social work and it became his job to find foster homes for non-white children for the London County Council. His experiences resulted in Paid Servant: A Report About Welfare Work in London, published in the UK in 1962.
In 1973, the South African ban on Braithwaite’s books was lifted and he subsequently visited the country. While there he was granted the status of “honorary white” which gave him significantly more privileges than the indigenous black population, but less than the whites, an honorific he found detestable. He recorded the experiences and horror he witnessed during the six weeks he spent in South Africa in his book Honorary White (London: The Bodley Head, 1975, ISBN 978-0370103570).
Braithwaite continued to write novels and short stories throughout his long international career as an educational consultant and lecturer for UNESCO, the first permanent Guyana representative to the United Nations (1967–69), and later Guyana’s ambassador to Venezuela. He taught English studies at New York University and in 2002, was a writer-in-residence at Howard University, Washington, D.C. He associated himself with Manchester Community College (Connecticut), during the 2005–06 academic year as a visiting professor. Therein he also served as the aforementioned educational institution’s commencement speaker for that year and received an honorary degree.
He turned 100 in 2012, and on a visit to Guyana in his capacity as the patron of the Inter-Guiana Cultural festival he was conferred on August 23 that year with a national award, the Cacique Crown of Honour, by then-President Donald Ramotar.