Last week, a number of activities were held in Trinidad and Tobago, including an International Conference at the St. Augustine campus of the UWI to commemorate and reflect on what has become known as “the Black Power Revolution” in
that country in 1970. It refers to an unprecedented mobilization of the non-white population in T&T and a strident demand for radical social and economic change.
The mobilization, stirred by racial and class consciousness, had so frightened the governing regime of Dr. Eric Williams that it imposed a State of Emergency and locked up the leaders of the Black Power movement in a bid to reimpose the old order. This led in turn to an army revolt which was only put down with the assistance of foreign troops.
The repercussions were felt throughout the entire Caribbean.
Then, except for Jamaica, T&T, Guyana and Barbados, most of the Caribbean was under colonial control and the ideas of white superiority were still prevalent. During the demonstrations and Emergency, a campaign of vilification and lies was launched to denigrate the Black Power movement, not just in T&T but throughout the region.
The lies were spread in an attempt to vilify the image of “Black Power”. Even the very idea of racial pride as portrayed in the Mighty Duke’s classic “Black is Beautiful,” found a lame counter in Vincentian calypsonian Leader’s “We have a Black Premier”, hence no need for Black Power. The media and the establishment ruthlessly savaged the image of the Black Power movement. We were told that advocates were lazy, took drugs, didn’t bathe, were thieves and violent, and all kinds of ridiculous propaganda. Worse was the lie that “Black Power” didn’t believe in God, and progressive university graduates were smeared with the lie that they “burned the Bible”, a dastardly fallacy which still remains today.
The reality was vastly different. Black Power reawakened racial pride. No more were the youth ashamed of their skin colour and “kinky hair” – “Wear your hair like me”, sang Duke, “you got to wear your colour with dignity”. The youth began to read as never before and the ideas of Marcus Garvey, Walter Rodney and Malcolm X started spreading like wildfire. Connections with Africa and African history debunked the shameful lie of black inferiority. There was a great cultural revolution with artistes like Bob Marley in reggae, Black Stalin and Valentino in calypso, and rhapso leading the way.
In the arts there was a flowering of drama, drumming and poetry. Right here in SVG, ‘Blazer” Williams and the New Artists Movement, drummers like Nzimbu Browne, Jim Maloney, Stratford ‘Pico” Harry, Naked Roots and Drags, flowered. Progressive poetry from the likes of Jeff James, ‘Chivambo’ Rose and ‘Atiba’ Bobb, complemented the kaisos of De Man Age, Black Messenger, Reality and ‘Scakes’ Alleyne. There was also the development of arts and craft, including sculpture and painting and even the development of local tanning.
That was not all. Black Power contributed to the development of the Steelband movement, and the local organization BLAC even attempted to stage an out of Carnival season Pan- o-Rama. Black Power advocates Creswell Burke (President), and ‘Chivambo’ Rose (Secretary) were elected to the leadership of the Football Association while Jim Maloney played a leading role in reviving table tennis.
There were many other benefits, an upsurge in reading and interest in black history sparking the historic institution of African Liberation Day, Emancipation Day and later National Heroes Day activities. There was a remarkable search for African names for children, resisted at first by many in the clergy, but today the legacy is there for all to see. Black Power published booklets of African names to guide parents and also printed an annual calendar with dates of events relevant to our history. And it is to Black Power that we must give the credit for the popularity of African dress.
But above all, the new consciousness brought about serious changes in racial discrimination especially in employment in our society. Ironically, it was the middle class, reluctant and afraid to embrace Black Power at first, which benefited most. For the first time we began seeing more than just tokenism of black faces in banks and senior positions in firms.
Black Power though vilified, lifted the whole society. Above all, it was the determined advocacy of Black Power advocates, strong nationalists, which forced the reluctant Milton Cato administration into independence, and isolated the anti-independence positions of E.T. Joshua and James Mitchell.
Yes, make no bones about it, it is the same “Black Power” which has stimulated and led our renaissance. We have much for which we must be grateful.
- Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.