Tuesday is the 45th anniversary of the State of Emergency declared by Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams as he tried to quell the Black Power "revolution." I remember well the start of the movement when university students staged a protest march in Port-of-Spain in solidarity with students of Canada's Sir George Williams University. Employed then at Geo F Huggins Co, I had a bird's eye view of the marchers as they descended on the building on South Quay which housed the Canadian High Commission.
The sentiments, fervour and excitement quickly intensified nationwide and across the land groups of activists mushroomed, spawning entities like the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) and the National Union of Freedom Fighters (Nuff). As black consciousness and Africanism took deeper root, other groups were formed in districts like Cocoyea, Point Fortin, Belmont and Laventille. Most groups adopted African-root names like Ujamaa Compound, Ambataana and Kilamanjaro.
Conscious youth adopted African names as they identified with Black Power movement in America and human and civil rights struggles there. Leaders of the local movement changed their Christian names from Geddes Granger to Makandal Daaga and Dave D'Abreu to Khafra Kambon.It became quite common to meet frontliners and conscious youth identified as Aiyegoro Ome, Embau Mohani, Mansa Musa, Anum Bankole, Kwasi Senghor, Dela Obika, Ade Barca, Shaka Nkhosi, Heshimu Olatunji, Tzaddik Melchisedek and Omata Gamba.
The Black Power Revolution actually began in 1970–though upheavals took place before in 1968–when a Carnival band produced by Pinetoppers hit the streets of Port-of-Spain with a presentation named The Truth about Africa. Masqueraders portrayed "revolutionary heroes," including Fidel Castro, Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) and Tubal Uriah Butler.
The social and cultural upheaval also had a significant effect on the political landscape. Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams and his ruling PNM were at its wit's end trying to harness the surging movement. The government introduced the Sedition Bill, piloted by serving AG Karl Hudson Phillip, which carried serious fines and jail time for the incarcerated.
Certain books and literature were outlawed, like Mao's Little Green Book; anything written by Bolivian revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara; the writing of Franz Fanon; and, Cuban newspaper Gramma. Williams also introduced the Public Order Act which reduced civil liberties in an effort to control protest marches.
On April 6, 1970 protestor Basil Davis was killed by the police. The rest of April that year was tumultuous and events included the resignation of Tobago East parliamentarian ANR Robinson; the arrest of 15 Black Power leaders on the day the State of Emergency was declared; threats of a nationwide strike fuelled by a sugar workers strike on April 18; and, a subsequent attempted military coup at the Regiment's Teteron Barracks in Chaguaramas.
In spite of the implementation of draconian laws aimed at stiffling protest action, protests continued and thousands of disenfranchised youth found innovative ways to keep the fires of consciousness and protect burning.
Rallies and concerts were held nationwide, showcasing artistes of the conscious movement like calypsonians Brother Valentino, Black Stalin, Chalkdust, Explainer and Brother Mudada, poets Kwasi Senghor, Brother Book, Roi Kwabena, and Cetswayo Murai, Andre Tanker, Ella Andall, Astor Johnson, Bro Book and Network Riddim Movement.
In the North, inspirational Sunday evening concerts were held at venues like the home of Boboy and Rosie Adams on Belle Smythe Street, Woodbrook, and the Belmont and Diego Martin Community Centres. Cocoyea Village was also a regular meeting place for edification in the southland.
Simultaneously, the political side of the movement was energised by industrial protest from a vibrant trade movement led by stalwarts like George Weekes, Clive Nunez, Winston Leonard, Joe Young and aspiring, young attorney Basdeo Panday.
There was also a militant side to the movement, led by Nuff. Members of this group, branded as "criminals," were placed on the country's Most Wanted list and hunted by the state's protective agencies. Many of its young members, including Guy Harewood, Beverly Jones and Clem Haynes, were killed by the police in fierce gun battles.
Black consciousness spread like wild fire after 1970 and the residual effects of it are evident til today. One just has to look at the names of people now aged 40 and younger and the influence of Africa is obvious. The acceptance, ascendancy, proliferation and achievements of the Spiritual Baptist movement, as well as the African Orisa ancestral belief system, is testimony of this.
Indigenous music was also enhanced by the Black Power experience, its flagbearers being artistes like calypsonians Duke, Merchant, Maestro, Singing Sandra and the United Sisters, and organisations like the Network Rapso Riddim Band, led by current Tuco president Lutalo Masimba (Brother Resistance).
In a number of tangible ways the Black Power era improved relations between the country's two major races, driven by the NJAC mantra of "Indians and Africans Unite." The African community learned more about the religious, social and cultural practices of their Indian brothers and sisters and vice versa, and there was acceptance of each other of both sides of the divide
The historic March to Caroni in 1970 saw thousands of North Trinidad residents walking to Caroni to unite with East Indian sugar cane workers.
The march was highlighted in 2010, when the Hindu Prachaar Kendra, led by Ravi Ji, in association with the National Council for Indian Culture, Citizens for Social Justice, Chinmaya Mission, Amar Jyoth Sabha, the Association of Traditional Religions and the National Commission for UNESCO, held a tribute to Makadal Daaga.
The consciousness of Black Power also changed the industrial landscape opening the doors of employment in state, corporate and private enterprises to people of African descent. National airline BWIA was one of the first state companies to actually hire a man with dreadlocks. Today, it is commonplace, even within the protective services, to see personnel sporting rasta and natural hairstyles.
As a nation and as a people we have evolved in these past 45 years, the embryo and catalyst for levelling the playing field being the Black Power movement and giving legitimacy to the words of our anthem, "here every creed and race find an equal place."