‘Some might argue that the racial unity of 1970 was transient and temporary’
WHO first used the term Black Power? In 1966, during the Civil Rights era in the US, Willie Ricks, an activist of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), used the slogan “black power for black people” in rallies and later shortened it to “black power”.
On June 17, 1966, Stokely Carmichael, a member of SNCC, used the slogan Black Power at a rally in Mississippi. Carmichael was born in Trinidad in 1941 and migrated to the United States in 1952. In an address to a crowd of 500 Afro-West Indians and African Americans at the Brooklyn Community Centre, in 1970, Stokely Carmichael argued that Pan-Africanism was the ideal political philosophy for Blacks throughout the world in their imperialistic struggles.
A letter to the editor of The Vanguard in 1970, by Denny Moore of Trinmar, appeared misguided in his reason for Indians to support Black Power: “What in my opinion is left for the East Indian group to do is to jump body and soul into the Black Power struggle to lift the Blacks out of the sinking quagmire into which they were put since the slave trade. Let them emphatically decide that their East Indian culture in its present form is unacceptable to them, and so begin an active search for roles they could play in changing the entire society.”
Even though the ideas of Stokely Carmichael influenced the NJAC, his concept of Black Power was limited to Blacks and excluded Indians and Chinese. Walter Rodney illustrated that achieving Black Power was not “racially intolerant” in the multi-cultural and multi-racial Caribbean societies, “because the movement that power is equitably distributed among several ethnic groups then the very relevance of making the distinction between groups will be lost.”
Emphasis on the exploitation of the Indo-Trinidadian working class sought to bridge the racial barrier. For instance, Darcus Owusu in The Long March to Caroni in The Vanguard, argued: “The Indians continue to be slaves to the Sugar Barons the division of the races remain a threat to any serious attempt to construct a nation and the hope of meaningful unity is lost amidst the guile and deceit of politicians.”
A similar view was expressed by Look Lai in The Present Stage of the Trinidad Revolution argued that the Indian-African conflict in the Caribbean “is a futile and wasteful struggle between two dispossessed groups unable to identify the real enemy: the Western imperialist.”
Brinsley Samaroo, writing in March 1970 in The Vanguard, expressed a similar view, “…whilst the Trinidad Indian and the Negro were quarrelling about the scraps of the economy, the white community and their black hangers-on were enriching themselves on the profits therefrom.”
In 1972, Samaroo presented a paper entitled The East Indian response to constitutional changes in Trinidad and Tobago, in a seminar held at UWI, St Augustine. Samaroo identified the Black Power movement affecting some in the Indo-Trinidadian community as they changed their names, revived rituals and returned to Indian forms of dress, “The impact has been significant because it posed squarely to the East Indian the problem of identity and the racial factor in Trinidad politics. And this is an additional reason why the East Indian community is going through its own ‘Black Power’ phase.”
Indeed, genuine efforts have been made by individuals and groups to calm the troubled racial/ethnic waters. Some have perished in the undercurrents but others have survived. This needs to be considered in judging this organisation which played a significant role in 1970.
Some might argue that the racial unity of 1970 was transient and temporary. Probably the participants of 1970 have exaggerated the extent of racial unity. It is obvious that the limited racial unity in the marches did not materialise in the post-1970 era.
The long-term impact of the Black Power Movement can be seen in the nationalisation of companies in Trinidad and Tobago. For instance, before 1970, there were only seven national companies in Trinidad and Tobago—Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago, Tesoro, Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA), Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC), Trinidad and Tobago Telephone Company Limited (TELCO), British West Indies Airways (BWIA), and Trinidad & Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC).
Dr Jereome Teelucksingh is
attached to the Department of History at the University of the West Ind ies at St Augustine. He has published books, chapters and journal articles on the Caribbean diaspora, masculinity, culture, politics, ethnicity and religion. Also, he has produced a documentary – Brown Lives Matter and presented papers at academic conferences.