This was the summer of ’66 in which Stokeley Carmichael proclaimed Black Power as the new slogan of the movement...Black Power was the new call.” Kathleen Cleaver, African American activist & former Black Panther member
THE influence of TT nationals in the Pan African movement is global. From the flamboyant and charismatic Kwame Ture to Claudia Jones, George Padmore and Henry Sylvester Williams and CLR James – the names of these people committed to African empowerment still resonate today. Except perhaps in this country, where their names are not well known, if at all.
For instance, the home of Henry Sylvester Williams who conceptualised and put together the first Pan-African conference in London, was demolished because of its state of disrepair. Similarly, the Trinidad home of George Padmore who was an advisor to President of Ghana Kwame Nkrumah, was destroyed during a ‘national clean-up campaign.’
On the other hand, in Ghana, Padmore’s contribution is recognised by the existence of a George Padmore Memorial Library in Accra, the capital city. Claudia Jones who was integral to the development of TT inspired Nottinghill Carnival, a noted civil rights activist in the USA and UK and advocate for women’s rights – her name is not to be found (as far as I am aware) on any plaque or monument in our capital city, the place of her birth.
The tale of non-recognition is the same for all of our great nationals of African Heritage who were committed to Pan African ideology. “Pan-Africanism was the attempt to create a sense of brotherhood and collaboration among all people of African descent whether they lived inside or outside of Africa.” As one author put it, Pan Africanism was “the idea that peoples of African descent have common interests and should be unified.”
At different phases throughout history, the movement for African unity and empowerment was motivated by different socio-cultural and political forces. For instance, in 1900 when Henry Sylvester Williams was organising, the distasteful smell and taste of enslavement were still very fresh. Racism and inequality against people of African heritage in the USA, Europe and elsewhere persisted.
In our part of the world, African enslavement in Brazil did not come to an end until 1888, more than 50 years or almost two generations after the brutal system was stopped in the British Caribbean. Later, independence movements provided fertile ground for heightened awareness over issues of colonialism, race, identity and black consciousness.
But at the core, does Pan Africanism still matter? How relevant is it today? Two of the identified goals of the 1900 conference were the need to “secure for Africans throughout the world true civil and political rights” and to “ameliorate the condition of our brothers on the continent of Africa, America and other parts of the world.” Although much has been achieved since Henry Sylvester Williams debated these issues with leading intellectuals like W.E. Dubois, in the 21st century many people of African heritage at home and abroad still struggle with repairing family dynamics, understanding gender relations and safeguarding sense of self.
Certainly, in modern times Pan Africanists would need to turn their attention to the mammoth challenges of managing migrant populations and the impact of climate change on livelihoods. Further, the issue of civil rights remains a challenging one, as African communities are often under siege.
Unfortunately, despite their numeric strength, people of African heritage around the world continue to grapple with the fall-out from their shared history of enslavement and displacement. As Professor, Sir Hilary Beckles has pointed out, the “European mass enslavement of Africans, and its globalisation as an economic and social system should have been a crime ... Opposing voices critical of slavery were brushed aside and the wealth-generating slave machine sped through the New World like a juggernaut.”
Thus, 185 years after Emancipation in the British Caribbean, the voices dealing with reparations for enslavement from European governments grow stronger, but have not yet attained the required momentum. For small island developing nations like ours, a collective approach is not simply desirable, but necessary.
For me, the relevance of Pan Africanism may be found in the simple, guiding principle of unity. As Emancipation approaches, we will explore the contributions of TT’s leading Pan-Africanists to the international movement for unity. At many levels, their activism helped foster the rights of people of African heritage. It is hoped that their bravery and sacrifice will inspire us, not to destroy the homes of our pioneering thinkers, but instead build monuments in their honour.
Dara E. Healy is a performance artist, communications specialist and founder of the NGO, the Indigenous Creative Arts Network – ICAN.