By Raffique Shah
September 05, 2022
I was scanning the local television channels last Tuesday for any Independence-related special programming they might feature on the eve of the 60th anniversary, when I realised CCN TV6 was about to run live coverage of the formal opening of the Dr Eric Williams Memorial Library and museum in Port of Spain.
As the cameras panned the guests arriving for what was likely to be one of the feature events of the anniversary, I experienced a wave of nostalgia, memories of what seemed to have been many years ago when Erica Williams, daughter of the late prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, first communicated with me about her project.
Now, persons my age or thereabouts, who are familiar with the history of the country, more so the Black Power revolution, and know of my involvement in the mutiny, may express shock upon reading that Erica and I actually spoke or otherwise communicated with or wrote each other. We should be enemies for life, they might think. Let me explain my position on such issues.
I cannot think of one person who I hate or hated in my life. There were a few I disliked intensely and might have done them bodily harm if ever the opportunity to so do arose. But hate Dr Williams and his daughter? Never. I am aware that Erica and likely her father, were convinced that some of the rebel soldiers of 1970 wanted them dead.
I never held such sentiments towards Dr Williams or his daughter or any other member of his family.
I stood against many of his political policies, and spoke and wrote openly on such matters. I should add that I am aware that Erica, and presumably other members of the family, were marked for death in 1970 (I heard her say as much in a documentary). That is reason for her to dislike, maybe even hate me. But I know of what she spoke. I commanded the mutineers, and I knew that while in the heat of battle soldiers might say stupid things, the command groups will never have allowed any such atrocity.
Hell, in the end, it turned out that while we could die for the revolution we so believed in, we could not kill for it. Nuff said on that.
I was happy that Erica finally got the Government to do its part to make the Dr Eric Williams Memorial Library a reality. I have not seen it and would hardly do so, given my infirmity.
Given that she worked for more than 20 years—at least that is as far back as when she first contacted me—it is only just that the facility remain sound, well-maintained, well-stocked and is available to the people to whom it was dedicated, located on his main stomping ground, Woodford Square, where many of his books, before they got into print, were revealed to both author and readers gathered in the People’s Parliament.
I can only hope that it will attract many younger nationals who seem to know so little of their history. Sadly, the education system Dr Williams instituted from back in the 1960s seems to have failed in so far as history as a subject is concerned.
I have read most of Williams’ books because I consider myself a student of history and he was one of the few who did careful research and spent much scholarly time publishing them, even as he held political office.
I do not, by any means, take everything he wrote as the biblical truth. But as a body of work they provide us with more than enough facts, dates and analyses for us to continue and to thirst for more knowledge.
Historians such as Michael Anthony, Brinsley Samaroo, Bridget Brereton, and works of fiction from writers such as Earl Lovelace and VS Naipaul have added to what is available for both academic and historical usage.
If the new library is structured and marketed in attracting teenage and adult readers, it may yet inform our people of their own histories. Ask the average Trini, age 20 to 40, who was Eric Williams? A blank stare. Maybe 50 per cent would know. Ask about Dr Rudranath Capildeo, even worse—chances are nobody under 25 knows. Lovelace, CLR, Jit Samaroo, Minshall—you guess. But ask, who is the latest dancehall artiste? Everyone under 40 answers correctly.
The new library’s management may consider hosting lectures and panel discussions on all aspects of information on our country and the wider Caribbean and Latin America. That is where our future lies.
Erica and her small team of dedicated workers deserve plaudits for what they put into this project over so many years. The new library will shine when many more books by many more authors elevate it to an academic oasis in a wasteland of guns, knives and lives.