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Wednesday 18 September 2019
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Letters to the Editor

Emancipation – a mirage

THE EDITOR: Tomorrow many in TT will be wearing their African outfits boasting of their ancestry and emancipation from slavery.

Emancipation, according to Wikipedia, is “any effort to procure economic and social rights, political rights or equality, often for a specifically disenfranchised group, or more generally, in discussion of such matters.”

The question is: are the people of TT emancipated? Recently in the aftermath of the reported “Sandman” murder a house nearby was on fire. The house could not be saved as the nearest fire truck was stationed miles away from the community.

That is the situation with many communities throughout TT. The population’s most expensive investment cannot be accessed by fire service equipment in most of our communities.

How can TT boast of being emancipated when the majority of our citizens cannot access a reliable water supply, when our communities are subject to flooding after moderately heavy rain due to a failed drainage system, when in an island surrounded by water and boasting five major rivers the police do not own one boat, where the communities are dependent on central government for menial tasks like road repair and infrastructure maintenance?

As the nation celebrates emancipation one may ask where is our recognition of those who sought real emancipation? Henry Sylvester Williams (March 24, 1867 or February 15, 1869-March 26, 1911), according to Wikipedia, was a Trinidadian lawyer, councillor and writer, most noted for his involvement in the Pan-African Movement.

As a young man he went to North America to further his education, and subsequently to Britain, where in 1897 he formed the African Association. Williams challenged paternalism, racism and imperialism. His association aimed to “promote and protect the interests of all subjects claiming African descent in British colonies and other places, especially Africa.”

When Williams returned to London from South Africa, he ran for public office as he felt there should be an African spokesman in Parliament. He was quoted as saying, “We should not be deprived of equal justice because of the colour of our skins.”

Although he did not make it to Parliament he became involved in municipal politics and won a seat on the Marylebone Borough Council in November 1906. He was reportedly the first person of African descent to be elected to public office in Britain.

In 1908 he returned to Trinidad, where he rejoined the bar and practised until his death four years later. Williams died on March 26, 1911, at the age of 42. He was buried at Lapeyrouse Cemetery, Port of Spain. To date his tomb remains a little overgrown plot in the cemetery maintained by his family, who asked me to write about him this emancipation period.

There is no national recognition of this true local emancipator. That is our legacy, a people that continues to ignore its very own, a people who, rather than seek self-emancipation, continues to look towards others for handouts, recognition and sustenance.

Until we put aside our racial biases, invest in feeding ourselves, maximise our economic opportunities and restructure our governance to build modern self-reliant communities, we remain in economic, mental and social slavery.

Happy emancipation. God bless our nation.

STEVE ALVAREZ

political leader, DPTT

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