Our Readers' Opinions
October 14, 2005

Sprouting students

by Oscar Allen

For a couple days in 1966, students of the Girls’ High School and the Grammar School marched in protest down Back Street in Kingstown.

They went to the quarters of the British Administrator at Government House and occupied the grounds. They held him responsible for the Teachers’ strike at their schools, and by their actions, they were telling “His Honour” the Administrator, ‘You are dealing with a new generation of Vincentians now, get cracking and settle this matter at the GHS. Don’t waste our minds’. {{more}}

This eruption of a firm student voice woke up the people of the colonial city of Kingstown. I put it in these words at the time:

How these children get big In the twink of an eye

So a small minded generation confronts its sprouting muscles.

In 1968, two years later, students in many countries also spoke up for change, for new justice arrangements and for education to have new meanings and produce human beings for a truly human society, as the late Alfie Roberts put it in his 1966 discussion. There were student struggles virtually almost everywhere in this western world. Students were taming the jungle, taking on the big beast.

And in Jamaica on 16.10.68 students of the university and theological college took to the streets of Kingston with fire in their souls. The government had banned a lecturer from returning to teach at the university.

In October 1968 from 11th – 14th, Alfie Roberts then a Vincentian in Canada, in a group of concerned Caribbean people, organized a Congress of Black Writers at McGill University in Montreal. Leading men in the black liberation movement from the Caribbean, North America and Britain spoke at the congress. Dr. Walter Rodney was one of them. Dr. Rodney had been teaching in the History Department at the University of Jamaica from January of 1968. He had had an electrifying impact on the University students and in the Kingston area where he lectured and grounded.

In 1968, Rodney told the UWI community many things that it had known but never spoken so plainly. He said:

“West Indians of every colour still aspire to European standards of dress and beauty. The language which is used by black people in describing ourselves shows how we despise our African appearance. ‘Good hair’ means European hair, ‘good nose’ means a straight nose, ‘good complexion’ means a light complexion…the assumption…that black is the incarnation of ugliness.”

Rodney again in 1968

“Black Power must proclaim that Jamaica is a black man’s country. We should fly Garvey’s Black Star Banner and we will treat all other groups in the society on that understanding – they can have the basic right of all individuals but no privileges to exploit Africans as has been the pattern.”

When this fearless plain- talking, vision- sharing, change-calling, kingdom-shaking teacher was told, “You are a threat to Jamaica, do not put foot here again”, the students’ conscience boiled over. Rodney’s flight had already landed in Jamaica on October 15 when he was told, “Keep out”.

Ralph Gonsalves, a Vincentian student of Portuguese descent and leader of the university student executive summoned a students’ meeting, and Rodney’s work spoke for him. The students would go to the Prime Minister Hugh Shearer’s office next morning to call for Dr. Rodney to resume his work in Jamaica.

On that day 16th October, 1968, Kingston did not sit and watch the students. It took sides. The oppressor side of the city, through the government of Prime Minister Shearer broke the march of the students with police blockages, baton charges, beatings, tear gas, and disinformation while

the sympathetic and oppressed city offered support, rescue, and congregation-like listening to their cause.

The oppressor machine smothered not only the sprouting muscles and vision of a new human creature, it also bulldozed the first real Caribbean settlement, the nursery of a grand Caribbean community. Imagine a single Caribbean university of 150,000 persons in Jamaica – students, workers, researchers, teachers, managers, artists, all learning, teaching, interacting, making history, taming the jungle.

What a Jamaica it would have created, what a Caribbean region! The oppressor state class acted oppressively and drove “foreigners” away. One year later in 1969, the Jamaican government banned Olive Thomas from the University, she was also a Guyanese, and the most creative scholar to deal with regional integration, possibly in the world today.

Studenthood today must face the jungle around us and inside us from a critical and thoughtful stance. A jungle must be a human habitat too. Help to tame it so that the lion and the lamb will lie down together. Time for new sproutings.