Everybody wore red indicating
Their respect for the dead they were bearing
Oh lord ah never see so much crowd
Thousands and thousands singing aloud
And what they singing was
Power! in the hands of the people now!
~ The Mighty Duke, Memories of 1970
In the year 1970, a State of Emergency was declared on the islands of the young republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Early morning police raids rounded up the leaders of a movement that had shaken the newly appointed government of this former colony to its core. My father was among the youngsters shipped to a holding area on an island just off the northwest coast of the mainland.
Roughly three decades later, as my family sat around a heavy, hardwood dining table, we all had a clear view of this island from our vantage point on the mainland. Beyond the red-tiled balcony, over the waves of corrugated metal roofs and patches of trees and pitch, that stopped a few feet short of the island’s watery border, this uneven chunk of earth protruded from the ocean’s calm surface – a daily reminder of a history that was always close to home.
Looking in from the balcony, one would observe eight or so people, seated around a wooden table laden with food – two bearded, older men, several younger men, and women of different ages all gathered together. Uncle Winston and Baba, their chest-length beards, more grey than black by this time, heckle each other, with accusations of jailbird status and tales of the most memorable escapades of their prison days. Tears of laughter stream down the faces of their captive audience, adding salt to the matriarch’s cooking. The two veterans regale the diners with lighthearted accounts of a very serious period of their lives. A police beating had crippled one of Uncle Winston’s hands. Baba had been charged with sedition. Sister Beverly was shot and killed. This innocuous scene of a meal and laughter is the image of a family held together by a substance more essential and more binding than blood.
There are memories of instant graveyards
Though you tend to turn your sleeping eyes further away
From the protesting voice of the people
Leading a justified struggle to find a better way
~Lord Shorty, Le La
I grew up inhaling the substance of the long shadow cast by my parents’ involvement in the Black Power Rebellion of 1970, in Trinidad and Tobago. As unavoidable and pervasive as the mythical ether, the breadth of its influence has proven equally as difficult to gauge.
In examining the ‘70s, historians and social scientists have pieced together an account of the events. The impact of the movement within the society and throughout the region has been recorded and analysed.
I have decided to focus on the movement from the inside out – looking at those whose lives were most deeply affected by it, those who reaped the benefits of a new vision and carried the burdens of notoriety; those whose involvement transported them into a new phase of the movement, fleshing out the subculture that sprung out of that period, and populating it with their own offspring; those who distanced themselves and their children from their prior participation; those who fed the silence surrounding 1970; those who whose voices rose in a new direction. I want to know, what happened? After all was said and done, prisoners released, wounds healed, names changed, lives lost, migrations finalized, new careers and lives forged, families reunited or forever rent apart, where did the “Black Power People” go? How were the lives of their children affected by their actions? What do they know that other people might not?
I formally call it “a multigenerational exploration of the aftermath of the Black Power Movement of Trinidad and Tobago”. I am, in reality, seeking out other folks who may have stories of dinnertimes similar to my own, who might add another dimension to my understanding of this phenomenon that so shaped my life and thinking, I am searching for the rest of my family to ask, “How has it been for you?”