Remembering men of influence
TODAY WE REFLECT on the life and times of the Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow, one of this island’s most important and influential leaders of the last century. Now a National Hero, Barrow will be remembered for many things – as Premier and Prime Minister and the man who led much of the social engineering that transformed this island-state. It is fortuitous that today, in the United States, the life and times of another great man of the 20th century, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, is also being celebrated.
These two men stood for justice and equality. They may have used different methods to achieve their objectives, but they shared a common vision. It was their view that all men are equal, whether they are from the sugar or cotton plantations, whether black or white, and they ought to be given the opportunity to develop their talents.
King’s journey was against an entrenched, divisive social and political order over which he had little control. His was a courageous example of tolerance. He was a man whose stirring words and non-violent action pricked the conscience of not only the individual but the entire United States.
In Barbados, Barrow gained political power and he used it effectively to institute meaningful social change without creating upheaval in the society. It may have been his efforts and emphasis on ensuring access to education for all people to all levels that ensured the success of this island’s transformation, and for which he is still revered by many Barbadians.
His vision was one of a Barbados no longer driven purely by manual labour. Education was the means by which the people were able to move from the sugar fields and lowly jobs and aspire to be not just lawyers, doctors and priests but bankers, accountants, economists, engineers, university professors, manufacturers and hoteliers among a wide range of skills needed to take this country forward.
That is why he supported the establishment of the Barbados Community College, the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic and the expansion of the University of the West Indies, with its campus at Cave Hill to serve the needs of Barbados and, indeed, the Eastern Caribbean. Education was central to Barrow’s dream of transforming Barbados from a plantation society to a more egalitarian nation.
Barrow asked in one of his most famous speeches: what mirror image do we have of ourselves? He also answered the question by pointing to the importance of self-respect, self-reliance and general pride in ourselves. These are qualities which remain relevant.
As the man who led us into Independence and instituted major change in society, his emphasis on education is no less important today. It is still a pathway to rewarding experiences and one that benefits the community as a whole. Barrow remains a powerful beacon for Barbadians.