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EDITORIAL – Williams’ story needs to be told

luigimarshall, [email protected]

EDITORIAL – Williams’ story needs to be told

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SEPTEMBER, a time to remember – so the saying goes. But is it really so?
This past month at least one significant milestone slipped by unnoticed by most people in Barbados. We are referring to what would have been the 100th birthday of one of the Caribbean’s most influential and scholarly people of the 20th century – Eric Eustace Williams, who would have marked the milestone on September 25.
As the first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and a brilliant historian, Williams was a man whose actions, writings and political leadership style ought to reviewed and critiqued by academics, politicians and indeed the average citizen with an interest in the region’s development.
His political and historical writings of the region did not go unnoticed in his homeland, but were also commemorated at St Catherine’s, Oxford, where he graduated top of his class in 1935. Scholars, writers and political commentators from Trinidad, United States, United Kingdom, Brazil, Cuba and Puerto Rico have all participated in recent reviews of his work, including his seminal work Capitalism And Slavery.
Nothing has happened in Barbados. Someone or indeed an organization here ought to have taken the lead in paying homage to this most remarkable man. There would have been no institution better suited to have undertaken such a task than the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies.
While some may say that Williams was not a Barbadian and therefore warranted no special focus, he was a Caribbean man and his politics, actions and writings impacted on us here, as it did on the wider region. Indeed, he was one of those Caribbean leaders of the 1960s and 1970s who commanded attention – along with Forbes Burnham of Guyana, Alexander Bustamante and Michael Manley of Jamaica, Vere Bird of Antigua and Barbuda and our own Errol Barrow. While they all stood tall, Williams with his academic brilliance eclipsed them.
Yet, he was a man of stark contradictions.
It was his famous “One from ten leaves nought” that ensured that the West Indian Federation did not survive after Jamaica’s withdrawal. It was he who educated the people in Woodford Square, yet saw himself as intellectually superior. It was he who fought colonialism, but could not accept the radical shift demanded of him in the early 1970s.
He spoke of racial unity, yet he used a race divide to ensure political power. It was under his administration that many Caribbean countries benefitted from the oil dollars, yet it was his administration which squandered massive amounts of money.
Williams was seen as a man with a good work ethic, one who ensured diplomatic relations with Cuba and the major countries of the English-speaking Caribbean, yet he kept many at bay and used his hearing disability to full advantage.
Given all these diverse characteristics, his contribution cannot be left to academics in far flung places, but must be exposed and explored by students of history and politics as well as those interested in regional integration.
It is not too late for us here to redeem ourselves. The Cave Hill Campus needs to pick up the ball. It needs to lead local debate exploring Eric Williams’ legacy. We need to hear his story.