Monday, February 19, 2018

4 black heroes of T&T


DIED OF CANCER IN 1998: Stokely Carmichael

Marc Vignes

With the conference on the Travel Professionals of Colour (TPOC) carded for July, the Express continues to highlight the vibrant African heritage of Trinidad and Tobago and the early pioneers of the post-Emancipation era.

The conference by the TPOC will coincide with the celebrations of this year’s Emancipation. It will be the first of its kind to be held in Trinidad, and TPOC’s second outside the United States of America.

TPOC is a travel organisation based in the US. It has as its mandate the promotion of training and providing networking opportunities for minority professionals engaged in the travel industry.

In partnering with the organisers of this conference, the Express, in its weekly column, Remembering the Past, has provided information of many African sites in Trinidad and Tobago and highlights the parts played by a selected number of black men and women who have distinguished themselves in the fields of politics, labour, social service and politics.

Recently the Emancipation Support Committee (ESC) hosted a lecture by human rights activist Cynthia McKinney, a former six-term US Congresswoman and 2008 presidential candidate. She spoke at the auditorium of the Central Bank as part of the Kwame Ture Memorial Lecture Series.

Known in Trinidad as Stokely Carmichael (1941-1998) and also Kwame Ture, he was a black American activist in the 1960s and member of the civil rights and Black Power movement, first as a leader of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and later honourary Prime Minister of the Black Panther group in the US.

It was in May 1966, Carmichael was elected chairman of the SNCC of Howard University, Washington, and in June of that year he became a national figure, participating in the “James Meredith March” in Mississippi. Addressing a large crowd, he defined the Black Power movement as a means to help blacks develop racial pride and the need for education and economic development among blacks.

The phrase, together with “Black is Beautiful”, has been popularised among blacks everywhere in the world. Apart from the positive force Carmichael represented as a person, he will be remembered best for the Black Power concept which he infused into the culture of the black man’s life.

Born in Port of Spain, he was 11 years when he and his parents moved to Harlem, New York.

He did not have much fatherly attention and became rebellious. Of his father, he said, “My father worked real hard, there were times when I did not see him for one week, he was a carpenter, and did odd jobs on the side to maintain the family, including driving a taxi. I think he died from hard work.”

While living in Harlem, Carmichael had joined a street gang, then the family moved to an all-white section of the Bronx, and after his father died his mother went to work as a maid.

For a while he was a member of an auto-stealing gang, and then he entered Howard University in 1960 and majored in philosophy.

In 1967, he went on a world tour to internationalise the struggles of disadvantaged people.

He married Miriam Makeba in 1968 and moved to Guinea. On returning to the US in 1970, he declared that his return was to wage a relentless struggle against the poison of drugs in the black community. He died of cancer in 1998.

Jonas Mohammed Bath, Sultan of Yalliallhad, Muslim priest and member of the Koramantyn tribe of Africa. He arrived in Trinidad as a “colonial negro” and was put to work on the construction of Fort George, Port of Spain.

As a Muslim priest, he had a certain amount of influence over his fellow Muslims working on the construction of the fort. Jonas, being the headman on the project, had the authority to employ people, and in that position he employed a number of Mandingos, who had developed a great love for him as a leader.

From the monies he received while working on the fort, he acquired enough to pay for the release of some 200 slaves belonging to his tribe.

After the completion of the fort, he purchased several acres of lands at Santa Cruz Valley, which he named Mizra Estate, after the Arabic word for a country estate. He died in September 1838, one month after the Emancipation of slaves.

Woodbrook-born Audrey Layne Jeffers emerged as one of the leading social workers in Trinidad and Tobago during World War I. Her entry in the field as a social worker was at a time when there was almost a total absence of organised voluntary work.

Born at Baden-Powell Street, Woodbrook, in 1896. Jeffers was brought up in a comfortable home and given the best education available at the time for girls, but although she excelled in many areas her eyes were focused on a career in social sciences.

After graduating from primary school, Jeffers went abroad to further her education. She was caught up in World War I in England. Unable to return to Trinidad, she decided while in England to work among the soldiers engaged in the war.

When the war ended, she returned to Trinidad and dedicated her life to providing social services to the less fortunate in the society.

With her natural flair for organising social groups, she founded the Coterie of Social Workers in. This organisation was later to become one of the country’s most effective organisations for attending to the needs of underprivileged children, with emphasis on supplying free meals to them.

Her parents’ home in Woodbrook was for many years the venue for the coterie’s operations. For nearly 50 years, Jeffers ran the institution with the help of dedicated women who assisted her in forming branches of the coterie in many parts of Trinidad.

Jeffers made history as this country’s first woman on the Legislative Council, which at the time was dominated by men.

Elma Constance Francois distinguished herself as Trinidad’s first female labour leader and one who was brought before the courts on a charge of sedition. Her entry into the world of labour leadership began in her native St Vincent, where she worked as a sweetener at a sugar factory at Mt Bentick, until she was dismissed for engaging workers in forming a trade union.

Unable to find a job in St Vincent, she came to Trinidad in 1919 and after a few years formed the National Unemployed Movement (NUM), which catered for the unemployed in Port of Spain.

An avid reader and one who was very conscious of her African heritage, her platform for speaking was the streets of East Port of Spain and Woodford Square. Over time, she became the most vociferous Afrocentric female activist in the history of Trinidad and Tobago Her passion as a trade unionist was to redefine the role of women in a post-Emancipation society, and to empower them to become leaders in various fields.

On September 25, 1987, Francois was declared a national heroine of Trinidad and Tobago. African liberation and her role in paving the way for women to take an active part in trade unionism and politics form her legacy.

Francois was the first woman to be charged with sedition in the courts of Trinidad and Tobago. After she was freed from the charge, she continued lecturing to working-class people until her death in 1944.

Next week we will highlight musician Winifred Atwell, Pastor Robert Andrews’s politics, renowned obeahman Pa Neeza and Muzambe Lazare.