1970: Sites of Power and Contestation

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The Black Power Movement in Trinidad and Tobago finds its origin within the various racially charged events and issues which permeated the Caribbean atmosphere in the 1960’s. There are various sites around Trinidad and Tobago which will remain permanently tied to the Movement, as the events which occurred at these places were each significant to those involved and to the history of the country.  As time passes, and tangible heritage degrades or changes, what must be retained is the dynamic history which lived, for a time, within these sites. 
 
The University of the West Indies (St. Augustine Campus)
Source: web – sta.uwi.edu
 
The University of the West Indies (UWI), known to be a globally recognized educational institution, was once a ground for revolution. Students of the University in the mid to late 1960’s, absorbed radical literature by J.A. Rogers and Che Guevarra, the teachings and speeches of Martin Luther King, Marcus Garvey and Haile Selassie and observed the world around themselves. UWI became a medium for dialogue and demonstrations.  The deplorable socio-economic state of black people in Trinidad left much to be desired and with high unemployment being a main concern, students sought answers from and challenged the government.
 
A significant incident of racism against Caribbean students at the Sir George Williams University in Montreal, Canada sparked uproar among UWI students.  Following that incident, the Governor General of Canada was set to visit the UWI St. Augustine Campus, regarding the opening of ‘Canada Hall’. Prime Minister Eric Williams, accompanying Governor Michener arrived at the campus. However, they were met by a blockade of students and locked gates. The students prevented the motorcade from entering the campus, causing Prime Minister Eric Williams to escort Governor Michener back to Port of Spain. The UWI students later marched into Port of Spain and protested at the Canadian High Commission and Royal Bank of Canada in solidarity with the Caribbean students who had been arrested. They protested the racism against the Caribbean students at the Sir George Williams University thus becoming the infamous Black Power Movement March from UWI campus to Port of Spain on February 26th 1970.
 
 
Woodford Square
Demonstrations and protests were a popular method used by groups of the Black Power Movement to inform society of their opinions and to challenge the institutions of control. Woodford Square, was called the People’s Parliament during the period of the Black Power Movement as many individuals such as Makandal Daaga, George Weekes and others of the movement addressed audiences with lectures and discussions on Communism, African Enslavement, Political History, Legal History and Philosophy.  The Square is also a place of bleak memories for those involved in the movement as it became the place where Basil Davis was shot and killed. On Monday 6th April 1970, Basil Davis encountered a police officer attempting to arrest an individual who was deemed either mentally challenged or socially displaced. Davis interrupted the arrest and the officer attempted to arrest him as well. Davis ran from the officer, heading to the carpark before the Holy Trinity Cathedral and was shot right outside the gates of Woodford Square.  This unfortunate moment became memorialized in the history of Woodford Square.
 
Nelson Island
Nelson Island, known as one of the Five Islands, was used as a detention centre for famous Labour Union Leader Tubal Uriah ‘Buzz’ Butler, where he was incarcerated on the charge of  inciting to riot from 1936 to 1937 and then again from 1937 to 1945. Some twenty-five years later, 50 demonstrators and leaders of the Black Power Movement were brought to and incarcerated on Nelson Island. Winston Suite, George Weekes, National Joint Action Committee leader Geddes Granger (Makandal Daaga), Apoesho Mutope, and Clive Nunez were some of those held. Whilst on the island, some were detained in cells while majority were kept in the Mess Hall on the island. Some of the detained were removed from the Island after 25 days. However, those who remained, stayed on the island for six and a half months.
 
Royal Jail
The Royal Jail (Gaol) built in 1812, was one of two detention centres for leaders and demonstrators of the Black Power Movement. Located on Frederick Street, the Royal Jail is at the heart of Port of Spain, initially built as the foremost prison in Trinidad by the British. Following the declaration of a State of Emergency on April 21st, the demonstrators in the movement were arrested and detained on Nelson Island primarily for 25 days, and then transferred to the Royal Jail where they spent six and a half months. Almost a year later,  they were detained again for nine and a half months. Whilst at the Royal Jail, the black power movement detainees were kept below in what were called, “condemn cells”. Prison officers removed the previous condemned prisoners to cells on the floor above and placed the Black power demonstrators in these “condemn cells”. The Black power demonstrators, while detained were  able to access censored books, and receive goods from family and visitors. The young men were also able to study and take examinations in order to further their education and make use of their time.
 
This year, 2020, is the 50th Anniversary of the Black Power Movement in Trinidad and Tobago. By highlighting these heritage sites, we at the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago wish to commemorate this major event. Keep up with the us as we discuss varying features of the Black Power Movement.
 
Check out our other Black Power Blogs 
 
 
Author: Maya Doyle
Maya Doyle

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