Letters & Opinion

Black History and Caribbean Independence

Image of Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

Grenada observed its 49th Independence Anniversary on February 7; Saint Lucia will observe its 44th Independence Anniversary on February 22nd; on February 23rd, Guyana will observe its 53rd Anniversary of the Cooperative Republic; and Surinam, on February 25, will remember the 1980 Revolution that shook the foundations of Dutch colonialism in Holland’s colony in The Guianas of South America.

And it’s all happening during Black History Month (BHM), observed mainly in Europe and North America, but also across the African and Caribbean Diaspora regions dominated by People of African Descent.

So, what’s the connection?

BHM is becoming increasingly popular in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), but it’s founding purpose (in the USA) was to highlight the importance of African history to Black Americans and European People of African Descent on both sides of The Atlantic, where they are still a significantly-marginalized minority.

African History is the same, but that of People of African Descent everywhere else has assumed its own separate and similar characteristics over the centuries since Slavery, which history BHM seeks to connect with that of their original continental motherland.

The Caribbean, largely populated by People of African Descent, also needs to better know, and understand our history during BHM, going way beyond mere celebration of the greatness of the North American and European Civil Rights leaders and People of Caribbean Descent who led their struggles.

They  include: Jamaica’s indomitable Marcus ‘Mosiah’ Garvey, Trinidad & Tobago’s Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture, who coined the term ‘Black Power’ and established the All African People’s Revolutionary Party in Guinea), Trinidad & Tobago’s Claudia Jones (who pioneered London’s Notting Hill Carnival after being deported to the UK from the USA for her membership of the Communist Party, and whose grave is next to Karl Marx’s in London’s Central Park), W. Arthur Lewis and Eric Williams who blazed early learned trails in Britain’s university circuit; Malcolm X (whose mother was Grenadian), Louis Farrakhan (whose mother was Kittitian), actor Sidney Poitier from The Bahamas, Cicely Tyson from Nevis — and the very many others proud to claim and proclaim, reclaim or acknowledge their Caribbean roots.

Same with the French Caribbean colony of Martinique that produced both Frantz Fanon (author of ‘Black Skin, White Masks’) and poet Aime Cesaire (both influential in shaping the thoughts of the leadership of the earlier pre-independent African anti-colonial movement); and Guadeloupe, from whence cometh Saint-John Perse (born in 1887) and who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1960.

BHM celebrations in the Caribbean should be an occasion for CARICOM citizens to better understand the history of a Black (and non-White) Majority that’s still too-very-much wrapped in colonial clothing designed to drain the brains of the descendants of Africans in European settlements.

BHM should also be an occasion to examine and re-examine the Caribbean’s colonial journey into independence, that’s very-much the same in most cases, but also different in national specifics.

But Black History will take more than a month to learn, which is why it should be learned throughout each year, by observing as many dates of related historical significance as possible, starting with (but not-at-all limited to) those observed by the United Nations (UN) — like with Haiti’s August 23, 1791 when the Revolution started that would eventually triumph on January 1, 1804, end Slavery and establish the world’s first Black Republic, five years after the French Revolution of 1789.

Saint Lucia’s Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre pushed the envelope and widened the scope for better understanding the island’s history as a colonial territory fought over by the British and French 14 times due to its strategic central naval location in Europe’s West Indies during and after Slavery, Emancipation, Abolition, Apprenticeship and Indentureship.

After taking office in July 2021, his first Address to the Nation as Prime Minister was on August 1 (Emancipation Day), when he announced his government will sponsor ‘Emancipation Month’ activities throughout August for three consecutive years (2022, 2023 and 2024), during which citizens will be treated with activities to better understand what Emancipation was meant to be and what it actually was for the millions of enslaved People of African Descent in Europe and North America, Africa, Asia, Pacific, South America and Caribbean (West Indian) colonies at the time.

Last year, tribute was paid to Petronille, a woman Freedom Fighter from Fond d’Or (Valley of Gold) in Dennery on Saint Lucia’s East Coast who died in 1833 after being ‘pilloried’ (locked naked, blindfolded and handcuffed in a cage by the estate’s overseer, in full view of other enslaved persons) as an example of the deadly cost of resistance.

The plan is for a monument to Petronille to be unveiled at an appropriate location, but a huge billboard of an artiste’s impression of the valiant freedom fighter was also unveiled last year, to put a face to the name and encourage inquiry into that aspect of Saint Lucia’s history.

Grenada is also this year observing yet another milestone in its history, where, later this month, members of Britain’s wealthy Trevelyan family had agreed to make a formal Apology for owning hundreds of enslaved Africans in estates on the island and launch (with US $100,000 as a start) a Family Reparations Fund that can be added-to over time – and hopefully encourage other British families that grew rich off slavery earnings to do likewise.

Yes, BHM worth observing in The Caribbean, but Caribbean history, in and of itself, is Black History – an ongoing process of discovery and acknowledgement, which must also always be elevated to the phase of matching thoughts and actions, which, must always go together.

As Kwame Ture said way-back-when: “Africans lack organization of thought and action. Thought without action is blind and action without thought is empty. We must have unity of thought and action. The only way to obtain the unity of thought and action is through organization.”

That, in itself, is also the history of Black History!

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