The Road That Led To Independence
August 30, 1998, Page 6
Based on original research by
Published in First in Trinidad,
Paria Publishing Co. Ltd., 1985.
It all began, ironically, during the Golden Jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria's rule as British Monarch. It was 1887 and one Rev. Robert Andrews had attended the festivities in San Fernando. He returned to his home in Fifth company Village on Moruga Road, deeply disturbed.
Here was a colonized peopled who loved the Crown; yet, from the treatment meted out by the British, the feeling was not requited. Andrews, in charge of the fifth Company Baptist Church to which the whole village belonged, had only to look around for evidence of that.
The villagers, descendants of Black American Baptist ex-soldiers who came in 1816 as settlers on promises of development made by Governor Ralph Woodford, had to cope with the absence of the most basic amenities.
What they were most bitter about, however, were the village roads - if the narrow tracks they themselves created could be called that. When the rain fell, the tracks became too muddy for their children to walk to school, and their crops could not be transported from the estates.
After pleading unsuccessfully for years to the Road Board, Andrews decided to write a petition - not to the Governor, Sir William Robinson, but to the Queen herself.
Victoria might have dismissed the missive from one of her smaller colonies had it not contained the worrying request that she allow the people to choose their own representatives. She promptly instructed Robinson to appoint a Royal Commission on Franchise to investigate the Fifth Company Village's problems.
After making inquiries in Port of Spain, members of the Commission went to Fifth Company Village. They spoke to villagers and Rev. Andrews. At the end of it all, they asked him, "And is that all? If you get good roads, is that all you want?"
To which Andrews replied: "By getting good roads, I don't know what may take place hereafter."
Little did Andrews know how true those words would turn out to be.
Nothing did happen thereafter, as far as the Fifth Company Village and fighting for the Franchise was concerned. The Commission reported to the Governor that there was no real desire for it, and this was communicated to the Queen.
But the idea, very novel in 1888, remained in people's minds. Thirty-seven years later after much agitation for reform from the likes of Captain AA Cipriani, Mzumbo Lazare, Edgar Maresse-Smith, Cyrus Prudhomme David and Alfred Richards, the first general election took place under a partial franchise.
Four years before, in 1921, in response to the reformists' clamour, the British sent Major ELF Woods to lead a commission. Woods recommended that 7 of the 26 seats in the Legislative Council be elected by 'the people'. The people, however, only included the property-owning class.
Twenty-one years would pass before the first Adult Franchise Elections. Only two more representatives were to be elected by the people of Trinidad and Tobago, but since the number of seats in the House had been reduced to 18, the nine men would now make up half the Legislative Council.
On July 1, 1946, rain poured from the skies over Trinidad. This, however, was not the only reason less than half the electorate cast their votes. There were thousands of spoilt ballots - as a result of illiteracy and/ or ignorance of the voting procedure.
Ten years later, Eric Williams formed the first party government and became the chief minister. In 1959, Trinidad and Tobago got its first Cabinet Government. Full internal self-government was declared two years later.
At midnight on Friday August 31st, in the forecourt of the Red House, the Royal Marines band began to play. Thousands of people had gathered on Knox Street and in Woodford Square. All eyes were on two white flagpoles in front the Red House.
Thoughts of our history probably flashed through a few minds as the Union jack was lowered, to the sound of "The Last Post". The name "Trinidad" sang in the hearts of many; as it did in Chritobal Colon's in 1498. As he set off on his third voyage, Colon, better known as Christopher Columbus, made a vow that the first land he discovered would be named after the Blessed Trinity.
As it was, Columbus would note, two months after leaving Spain, "on Tuesday 31st July, at noon, land presented itself to our gaze And as the Lord High has always shown mercy to me, one of the sailors, happening to climb to the maintop, saw a range of three mountains to the westward"
Columbus, remembering his vow, cried out the word Trinity in Spanish: "La Trinidad!"
The Union jack had come to the end of its downward journey. Just as dramatically, a red, white and black flag was hoisted up the second flagpole. The song being played was "Forged from the Love of Liberty". The applause was deafening.
Among those whose hands clapped until sore was Uriah Butler who started the oilfield riots in Fyzabad in 1937, and Solomon Hochoy, who worked his way up through the civil service to be knighted and named Governor-General.
Princess Margaret read the message sent by Queen Elizabeth II, relinquishing her rule. The next day, she opened the first sovereign parliament of the independent state of Trinidad and Tobago, by reading the Speech of the Throne which pledged our government to among other things, uphold democracy, guarantee freedom of worship, equality before the law, equality of opportunity in public employment, and to eliminate discrimination in private employment.
The new Prime Minister had chosen the day before independence to deliver one of his most historical speeches; where he spoke, not to politicians or businessmen, but to schoolchildren, and uttered perhaps one of his most famous phrases, "You carry the future of the country in your schoolbags."
At the rally in the Queen's Park Oval, he intoned, "Tomorrow, Independence Day, you will be the children of the independent state of Trinidad and Tobago. And in a few years you will be called upon by the law of the land to share in the privileges and responsibilities, the rights and duties of citizens"
"The nation," he ended, "is on the march. There is no turning back. The road from now on leads forward and only forward."
PROFILE OF THE FATHER OF THE NATION
He was called the "Father of the nation" by those that held him in high esteem. He was Dr. Eric Eustace Williams. Born on September 25, 1911, he was the eldest of 11 children of T.H. and Eliza Williams.
His scholastic ability was tremendous. He won the Island Scholarship in 1931 to study at Oxford University, where he took a First Class Degree and later a Doctor of Philosophy (D PhD.) degree.
He went on to be an assistant professor of political science at Howard University in the US. He was also awarded honorary degrees of Doctor of Civil law from Oxford, honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from New Brunswick and an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of the West Indies of which he was at one time the pro-chancellor.
This was only the beginning for Dr. Williams. It seemed as though every aspect of his public life was linked in some way to colonial and West Indian history.
Even his many publications carried that same motif: The Negro in the Caribbean, Capitalism and Slavery, Education in the British West Indies and Inward Hunger (his autobiography).
He began his political career (1955) with a series of lectures on social and political history.
Woodford Square - which he renamed University of Woodford Square - was his choice for political discussions. The square remains a podium for discussion up to this day.
His rise to political supremacy was fast. In 1962 he led this country to nationhood and independence.
Sparrow summed it up when he sang:
Praise little Eric,
Rejoice and be glad
a champion leader
William, the Conqueror.