As it should, T&T's 50th Independence anniversary whets the appetite for history, or for reflections based on history. That struck me last week when I surfed a Facebook posting by Renee Cummings, approvingly citing columnist Clarence Rambharat's ruminations about the mental attitude behind the hiring of a Canadian Police Commissioner: "What is so appealing about Gibbs and other non-nationals that we feel comfortable spending millions on them, while habitually quibbling over peanuts for nationals? Do we punish qualified nationals because we disbelieve ourselves and our capabilities?"
Ms Cummings urged that we "stop and think long and hard about" Mr Rambharat's words, and she remarked: "How's that for happy Independence!"
Indeed, it's not all that happy an outcome if after 50 years we fall short of cherishing our own and doing for ourselves. That this country still outsources the functions of top police officer (and also of topmost court) are, in the Cummings-Rambharat reckoning, matters for shame.
The classic statement of the Cummings-Rambharat case was made in Woodford Square 57 years ago next Thursday by Eric Eustace Williams, bespoke founding father of Independence. On the night of the day he had been fired from the position of deputy chairman of the Caribbean Commission's Research Council, Dr Williams claimed to represent a principle, a cause, and a defeat. In a 53-page address, Dr Williams said: "The defeat is the policy of appointing local men to high office."
The local man had been operating inside a Caribbean Commission founded during World War II, where the top positions were reserved for personnel representing the European and American allies, who knew little and cared less about the Caribbean. His own claim to fame lay in his identification as an all-knowing "Mr Caribbean".
A colonial setting thus defined is hardly recognisable, and little remembered, today. He needed written permission from Commission higher-ups to give the lectures that marked his stature as a public intellectual.
One decisive historical what-if turned on the fact that Dr Williams in 1942, a published author and Howard University lecturer, came close to being drafted into the British Army. American lobbying of the British blocked that, eventuality, which might have seen Dr Williams in wartime service as an intelligence officer, or an author of propaganda brochures. Instead, as a Howard academic, he worked as a researcher on an ever-expanding part-time basis for the Caribbean Commission.
Yet other what-ifs might have changed the course of the history we know. If Dr Williams had taken up the prestigious Howard offer of a full professorship, he might not have been available for the mid-1950s dramatic entry into T&T public life.
Again, had the British colonial authorities approved him for a top post in the university college in Jamaica that became the UWI, academic work might have concentrated his focus and channelled his energies. In 1948, however, Dr Williams moved to Trinidad where the Caribbean Commission was transferred, and in 1949 signed a five-year contract which implied a presence in his homeland, and enabled the raising of his profile as an island scholar so accomplished as to merit higher recognition.
It's all there in that extended 1955 Woodford Square testimony which described his record at the Commission as "fundamentally, legally, morally, intellectually right", and which ended with the famous flourish: "I am going to let down my bucket right here with you." The Williams career took off into politics, self-government and Independence. But history confirms, as in the Cummings-Rambharat observation, that Dr Williams' successors have been less than scrupulous in upholding the policy of preferring "local men" for high office.
By 2012, a financial complex in his name towers over the Caricom jetty. It is where, at the Central Bank, an exhibition, "Our Journey to Independence", represents that passage as the singular adventure of one Eric Eustace Williams.
Since the Central Bank is no under-resourced NGO, the exhibition, so curated as both to under-inform and misinform, must be held to reflect historian Williams' incongruous legacy of casual irreverence and disrespect for history, and a wretched indifference toward getting things right.
One storyboard dates the national awards from 1962, when they actually began in 1969. Another misrepresentation refers to Dr Williams' "return in 1948 from the Caribbean Commission" when his own Woodford Square testimony dates that "return" as 1955.
The stage of the Independence "journey" that passed through Federation is represented by a 1957 photo of federal leaders, not one of whom is named. Headshot photos pop up of AA Cipriani, TUB Butler, Adrian Cola Rienzi, Rudranath Capildeo, Lionel Seukeran, Balgobin Ramdeen and Tajmool Hosein, but with no captioned information of where they fit into the story.
They must be assumed to enjoy some "founding father" status. (Just about the only women seen at all are relatives of Dr Williams).
In the visitors' book, most comments praise the exhibition as "informative". Governor Ewart Williams' opening address, describing the Bank as "excited and proud", had anticipated the disappointment of those who expect from the Bank a higher standard than that implied in better-than-nothing. He pleaded shortage of time, and space, and of material. But the exhibition shows the Bank as prepared to trade on, rather than substantially to lift, on the occasion of a big anniversary, the prevailing cloud of historical unknowing.