But it was events in two Canadian universities that are most famously connected with watershed moments in the history of Caribbean Black Power: the October 1968 Congress of Black Writers, organized by black students from the Sir George Williams University and McGill University, and the occupation and destruction of the computer center at the Sir George Williams University in February 1969.
As is well known, while Walter Rodney was attending the Congress of Black Writers in Montreal, the Jamaican government banned him from returning to Jamaica, where he was lecturer in the History Department of the University of the West Indies. The decision to ban Rodney ignited the so-called Rodney Riots in Kingston, marking a defining moment in the politics of post-independence Jamaica, while in Trinidad, the NJAC-led demonstrations initially linked to the Sir George Williams University affair ultimately escalated into the three-month Black Power “revolution” that came close to toppling Prime Minister Eric Williams.
In both cases, West Indian students were central to the events on the Canadian campuses, notably those involved with the Caribbean Conference Committee (CCC), which included such figures as Rosie Douglas (Dominica), Robert Hill (Jamaica), Franklyn Harvey (Grenada), Alfie Roberts (St. Vincent), Anne Cools (Barbados), and Tim Hector (Antigua). As David Austin has shown, members of the CCC were instrumental in bringing into contact key figures of the U.S. Black Power movement with established and emerging names of the Caribbean left, including Stokely Carmichael, James Forman, C. L. R. James, and Walter Rodney, all of whom spoke at the Congress of Black Writers. This Congress, and the subsequent Hemispheric Conference to End the War in Vietnam, which took place in Montreal in November 1968 and was chaired by Barbados PPM leader Glenroy Straughn, “(increased) racial and political consciousness … to unprecedented heights,” setting the scene for the 1969 confrontation at the Sir George Williams University.
Here, West Indian students, pressing the administration to deal with charges of racist treatment by a member of the faculty, catalyzed the two-week occupation of the computer center by some two hundred students that ended with the arrest of ninety-seven people. Among the arrested were members of the CCC (Anne Cools and Rosie Douglas were seen as the instigators of the protest), members of the West Indian Society (among whom were Trinidadians Teddy and Valerie Belgrave), and students from across the Caribbean, including eleven Trinidadians, several Jamaicans and Grenadians, and Cheddi Jagan, Jr., the son of the Guyanese opposition party leader.
( – from pgs. 40, 41, BLACK POWER IN THE CARIBBEAN, Edited by Kate Quinn, University Press of Florida, 2014)
The last three weeks have been emotionally wrenching for Belizeans, mostly because of Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Many of us have relatives and friends in Houston, Texas, and in Miami, Florida, for sure, and many of us are not only admirers of the Cuban people, Belize has been benefiting for several decades from educational opportunities offered to us by the Cubans. The matter of vital pre-1981 Cuban support for our political independence and territorial integrity is historically documented. Then, there were the Eastern Caribbean islands like Antigua and Barbuda, which were devastated by Category 5 Irma, and the US and British Virgin Islands, and the Turks and Caicos. Finally, there came Puerto Rico.
In the midst of all this, two major earthquakes struck in southern Mexico which claimed hundreds of lives and caused billions of dollars in structural and infrastructural damage.
With all the human suffering that was going on in our region of the world, our sympathetic Belizean emotions were actually ambivalent at times, I suggest, because we who have experienced terrible hurricane tragedy before could not help but feel somewhat grateful that we Belizeans had been spared. The fact that October (the Hattie month) and November remained on the hurricane calendar served to torture us even more, because we are, as they say, not yet out of the woods, and indeed far from it.
Faithful readers of mine know that I haven’t been writing this column for weeks. I am putting pen to paper this Tuesday afternoon because I simply must express my concern about the national destruction Category 5 Maria visited upon the small Windward Island of Dominica, where roughly 75,000 people live, mostly African people.
It so happens that my younger sister, Francine, is married to Franklyn Magloire, a native of Dominica. I suppose they must have met while they were in school at the University of the West Indies – late ‘70s, early ‘80s. Franklyn has been an executive at the Development Finance Corporation (DFC) for decades, and he and Francine live in Camalote while they develop a farm across the river in the Valley of Peace area.
My younger sister could not possibly have known anything about Roosevelt P. “Rosie” Douglas, who was a cousin of Franklyn’s. Rosie Douglas became Prime Minister of Dominica about fifteen years ago, but died while in office. He was a relatively young man at the time, perhaps fifty six or so.
When he was a young student in Canada, Rosie Douglas was one of the leaders of some West Indian students studying in Canada who staged a demonstration at a Canadian university which became violent and smashed the university’s computer laboratory. Rosie served time in jail for that demonstration. This was around 1969, a period of great racial and ideological ferment in this region. In Belize, although we had formed the United Black Association for Development (UBAD) in February of 1969, we knew little about the Sir George Williams University incident which resulted in Rosie’s prison time.
Because a plane phobia has prevented me from travelling most of my adult life, I never met any of the Caribbean activists of my time except for Rosie Douglas. On two or three occasions when he was travelling from Dominica to Eastern Europe (late ‘70s, early ‘80s), he visited me at my home on First Street in King’s Park. Rosie was a huge, no-nonsense black man whom I admired for his bravery, sincerity, and determination.
The problem Rosie faced, to my mind, was that he was an avowed, unapologetic socialist. In 1979, an attorney by the name of Maurice Bishop had seized power in Grenada and implemented socialist policies on that small Eastern Caribbean island. When U.S. President Ronald Reagan wanted to invade Grenada in 1983, he used Dominica’s right-wing Prime Minister, Eugenia Charles, as one of the regional fronts and supporters for the American invasion.
The United States follows the prescriptions of the Monroe Doctrine, which it proclaimed in 1823. In our lifetime, what the Monroe Doctrine means is that the United States government is violently hostile to any form of government in this region (the Western Hemisphere, in the larger sense) which does not practice free market economic policies, which does not involve and welcome American investment, and which seeks to have the state protect the masses of its poor from the elitist rich. If you practice such policies as I described in the previous sentence, you will be branded a communist by American foreign policy experts and spokesmen, and the United States will seek to overthrow you and your administration by any means necessary, such as they did to Guatemala’s Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 and Chile’s Salvador Allende in 1973.
Once you are branded a communist, the Christian churches which control the populations in our region, will turn their congregations against you, thus making it very, very difficult for you to win a democratic election.
I knew that Dominica had been a British colony, so I assumed Christian churches controlled their education system, as is the case in Belize, and so I thought it impossible for Rosie Douglas to win power through the electoral process. But, he did so. In Jamaica, Michael Manley won general elections in 1972 and 1976, and he was considered a socialist. But Manley ended up becoming a neoliberal capitalist in the 1980s. Rosie Douglas was cut from a different bolt of cloth: to the best of my knowledge, he never, ever changed his socialist thinking.
The present Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerritt, ran as the leadership candidate of the late Rosie Douglas’ Dominica Labor Party, so I held him in high esteem. But even as I began to write this Tuesday, I was informed that there have been corruption allegations against Skerritt. I am very concerned about these allegations, because these would constitute an absolute betrayal of Rosie Douglas’ legacy if they are true.
Remember, corrupt is the direction in which the Americans want the leaders of small Western Hemispheric nations to go. The Cuban exiles had the most despicable things to say about Fidel Castro, but there was never any occasion on which they could establish that he had tried to enrich himself or his family. Fidel was clean. The white supremacist Americans can control leaders better when they are corrupt. They actually want you to steal from your country and deposit your money in their banks
In a conversation with Franklyn Magloire on Tuesday morning, he told me that Dominica had been battered by a Category 4 hurricane in 1979, but it had affected mostly the south of the island, thus allowing those in the north to come to the aid of those in the south. In the case of Maria last week, it was the whole island that was ruined. Dominica is not like Belize, where we can run inland to Belmopan or San Ignacio/Santa Elena for shelter. Dominica took a total shelling from Maria, beloved.
Because of Rosie Douglas and Franklyn Magloire, I felt personally close to the people of Dominica, and I know they are presently in bad shape. Franklyn told me that the one good thing about the Maria disaster is that the people of Dominica, who have grown distant from each other in many cases, partly because of modern communications devices, have to reach out to each other and cling to one another if their beautiful island is to recover.
When it comes to Roosevelt Skerritt, we will now see what kind of leader he really is. I wish him the best, and hope that he finds some comfort in the magnificent legacy of the one Rosie Douglas.