What was it like to experience the moment when T&T became independent on that auspicious Friday, August 31, 1962? The speeches are recorded as part of history, the video captured as a reminder, but to be actually there, standing on Abercromby Street in Port-of-Spain, outside the Red House, as the Union Jack representing British rule was lowered, and the red, white and black that symbolises T&T as a nation rose, billowing in the wind; that would have been a sight to behold. T&T made a graceful bow to the Queen of England and stood up as an independent nation. Many are too young to remember, many more weren’t even alive at that point, but what a great day it must have been to be a Trini. Luckily we still have many citizens who recall their experiences of that Friday, waking up to a new nation that would chart its own destiny, and would record its own mistakes and triumphs.
I was 21 years old when T&T became an independent nation and I was excited, without even understanding the true meaning of Independence. There was a lot of excitement in the air and everywhere there were celebrations. I remember being with my mother in St James and the atmosphere was different, unlike any other time. There was marching down Frederick Street and fireworks throughout the night. I remember, of course, the calypsoes, but what excited me most was the anthem. We no longer were made to sing God save the Queen. We had our own anthem, and I was proud.
I wasn’t in Trinidad at the time. Independence Day met me in London. We were all, my family and all the Trinidadians, excited about it. None of us knew Eric WIlliams. We knew there was an Eric Williams and we knew what he was doing, but I had never seen him. We went to the West Indies student centre in South London that afternoon and we all had a drink, and there were some Jamaicans there celebrating with us. We talked and felt very happy. We played calypso and in the end we went to our separate homes. I was so excited about it. We tried to get news from Trinidad but in those days it was difficult. We had dinner as a family and felt so proud and talked about Independence. I remember wishing I was on the scene and we wondered what the flag looked like.
Louis Lee Sing
—mayor of Port-of-Spain:
When the Union Jack lowered and the T&T national flag went up, I was near Woodford Square, sitting on my father’s shoulders. I came from a family where my parents discussed politics daily, and were part of that Independence movement. Not only did we go to Woodford Square for lectures, but we were right there when the Union Jack came down.
It was an electrifying period. Thousands of people crowded the square and they were exuberant and excited. People were so tuned in to the idea of Independence. But they were also tuned in to Dr Eric Williams as the principal player. To this day I have not heard somebody, politically, communicate as effectively in T&T as Williams did. I remember we stood next to a fountain that had been constructed by the Government that year. You had to strain your neck and tiptoe just to get a glimpse, and that was how I found myself on my father’s shoulders. He gave me the opportunity to see everything that was happening.
Brian Kuei Tung
—panman, businessman and former government minister:
I was 16 years old and I remember being extremely happy, for many reasons. We had just heard about black-and-white televisions and there was a lot of pan and calypsoes. In 1962, around T&T’s Independence, was when the steelpan made its mark in my life, and the effects were lasting. There was an Independence calypso competition that I attended and Brynner had won, but Sparrow had a real good song too. I was at St Mary’s College at the time and I remember they had just started letting non-whites into the school.
I was approaching 18 and I was out of Trinidad on that day. I had left Trinidad at the age of five and was living in St Kitts.
I remember going out on the 30th of August and buying a red tie and making my very first national tie with some white and black ribbon that I bought. I made the tie based on information and descriptions I had gotten from the Trinidad Guardian. That night, we didn’t sleep. My family and friends gathered at my house and we stayed up to welcome the Independence. It was a good feeling and it heightened my anticipation of returning to T&T. I returned seven months later and joined the T&T regiment. The feeling of patriotism and nationalism was great. We loved our flag. We loved our coat of arms. I was anxious to return home to paradise.
It was exciting for me. It was an exciting time for everybody. It meant we could govern ourselves. We felt we would have our destiny in our hands. There was our very first parade in the Queen’s Park Savannah. I took my child, who was very young at the time and we walked to the Savannah and saw it. I believe that was also the time TTT (Trinidad and Tobago Television) began and our Independence was the first thing to be broadcast. It was amazing and special. I saw my flag and I loved my flag, I felt very proud of it. The whole country was happy. We were united at that time in a way that we have not been united since. Dr Williams had invited the whole country to come to Port-of-Spain and when I looked around there were Chinese, Creole, Indian, Africans and Syrians and we were all smiling because we were all Trini. I hope to see the day the racial things would recede and we could go back to the people we were.
I was nine years old and everybody was celebrating. I was at home. We didn’t have a television back then so we listened to the entire speech by Dr Eric Williams on the radio. I remember the speech was about the launching of a new nation and I woke up the next morning feeling different. There was a calypso at the time and I can remember it went: “This is Independence time and everybody feeling fine.” It was a good feeling.
I was in London, playing pan with Dixieland. After we won the pan festival in 1960, we were sent to London to play, and also to South Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. We would lime with all the older Trinis that were there: Learie Constantine, Pat Castani (the composer of T&T’s national anthem), Horace James, Desmond Allum, George Hislop, Vernon De Lima, Joseph “Reds” Pereira and Michael de Freitas. We played pan for the BBC in Birmingham and all the Trini fetes on weekends. On August 31 I was in London and that night Eric Williams had us play at an Independence ball at Porchester Hall in London. We rocked the place that night.
I was working at TTT. I was working 12-16 hours for the day with television coverage and I didn’t have much personal time. There were people who wanted to bring TV to Trinidad and Dr Williams agreed, once the Government had a minority share and once the station opened its doors in time to cover the Independence celebration. It opened about four weeks before Independence. In order to have the station on air, the investors agreed to supply technical staff. A lot of foreign staff were recruited to cover the event, as we in T&T had no experience in television. I was the first announcer on air. I was there for the flag-raising ceremony and the subsequent opening of Parliament. I was very excited. As someone who had followed politics, I thought it was long overdue. I was anti-colonial. I was confident that Trinis had the talent to rule ourselves. After Independence concluded, the station shut down, and was opened on November 1 of that same year.