By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 18, 2018
On July 14, 2003, my mother took her bath, got dressed, went to the polling station located at St. Mary’s Children Home, Tacarigua, and voted for PNM. Two weeks later she was dead. She never voted for any other party in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T).
When Eric Williams arrived on the political scene in 1954 my mother worked in a white woman’s kitchen. When he defied the colonial powers and proclaimed the dignity of black and brown people (“Massa Day Done,” he proclaimed), my mother saw him as a political messiah and PNM as the vehicle to take her out of a house of bondage and into a land of liberty.
In September 1954 Williams directed a show called “Dat Great Gittin’ Up Mornin'” at the Roxy Theatre, Port of Spain. He remarked: “By placing the spirituals against their proper social background, brings out the supreme significance of the songs—the ability of humanity, even in its most abject state—the state of slavery—to rise above suffering, adversity and degradation.”
“The slaves turned from the reality of earthly bondage to the dream of celestial happiness. The rags and bare feet of slavery, become the robe and shoes of heaven, and the earthly cutlass, the heavenly sword. Their material state is not too lowly for the sweet chariot, for their harsh fate on earth they substitute the gospel feast in the promised land” (Guardian, September 21, 1954).
In 1959 Williams delivered an address, “The Political Leader Considered as a Man of Culture,” at the Second Congress of Negro Writers and Artists in Rome. He elaborated upon an earlier observation that Alioune Diop, editor of Presence Africaine, had made: “There is no people without culture. But we lose sight of the natural bond between politics and culture. It is the state [meaning the government] that guarantees a culture, the memories of its tradition and a sense of its personality.”
Williams argued that Diop was “seeking to translate to the African struggle what has already been established on the Indian field of battle. For it is modern India which clearly demonstrates the natural tie between politics and culture as symbolized by Gandhi and Nehru.”
Then he introduced Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana, into the discussion: “We must work a greater glory and majesty, greater than the civilization of our grandfathers, the civilization of Ghana, the civilization of the Mali Empire and the civilization of Songhay Empire. Long before the slave trade, long before imperialist rivalries in Africa began, civilizations of the Great Empire were in existence. And here, you even discover that at one time, the great university of Timbuctoo, Africans versed in science and learning were studying the works translated (from Latin) in Greek and Hebrew, and at the same time exciting professors with the University of Cordoba in Spain. These were the brains, and today they come and tell us that we cannot do it.” (See Cudjoe, “Dr. Williams as a Man of Culture.” )
In September 1954 Williams delivered a lecture at Port of Spain Public Library. It was chaired by Albert Gomes, who eventually became the leader of the POPPG, and attended by Lennox Pierre (West Indian Independence Party), Winston Mahabir (Independent Labor Party and “a close associate of Badase Sagan Maraj”), and Wellington Farrell (Workers’ Freedom Movement). The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation recorded this lecture.
During question time Mahabir asked Williams: In light of “the labor conditions on large plantations, can you tell us if this is one of the causes of the chronic antagonism among the Indians and Africans today?” Williams disagreed with Mahabir but suggested there was “a potential antagonism among Africans and Indians which might lead to a chronic antagonism, but not just yet….(“Office of Naval Intelligence,” November 2, 1954.)
Williams’ response was tentative. The FBI undercover agent noted: “Williams indicated that he was watching his job with the Caribbean Commission very closely, and that he would not say anything which would further jeopardize his tenure. It may be that he permitted another to expound his own views of communism.”
Although this question was raised sixty four years ago, none of the political parties has treated it with the urgency it deserves. Could this inability to attack “the labor conditions on this large plantation” called T&T be still at the heart of the civil unrest in our society today? Is this strategic blindness a contributor to the civil unrest among a certain segment of the Afro-Trinbagonian community?
Dr. Keith Rowley described the shooting at Chaguaramas Boardwalk as “an act of terrorism” (Express, July 10). Does he have to wait until this alienated and vulnerable element of Afro-Trinbagonians aim its guns at members of the police force (which will happen eventually) before he realizes their increasing spiritual and material impoverishment will destroy the nation as we now know it.
When will our prime minister mobilize the resources of the entire nation to permit this element of Afro-Trinbagonians to rise above what Williams called “the suffering, adversity and deprivation” that it sees as its present lot in life.
Or, is it that PNM does not realize it is failing the people it set out to save in the first place?