Trinidad & Tobago: Dr. Eric Williams: The Father of the Nation

Dr. Eric Williams: The Father of the Nation

BY NELSON A. KING – Caribbean Life News – NYC –  February 7, 2018 – Trinidad and Tobago

Dr. Eric Williams

Dr. Eric Eustace Williams (Sept. 25, 1911 – March 29 1981) served as the first Prime Minister of the twin-island republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

Renowned as the “Father of the Nation,” Dr. Williams served as prime minister from 1962 until his death in 1981. He was also a noted Caribbean historian.

His father, Thomas Henry Williams, was a minor civil servant, and his mother Eliza Frances Boissiere (April 13, 1888 – 1969) was a descendant of the French Creole elite.     

He saw his first school years at Tranquillity Boys’ Intermediate Government School and he was later educated at Queen’s Royal College in Port of Spain, where he excelled at academics and football (soccer), according to his biography.

It said a football injury at QRC led to a hearing problem which he wore a hearing aid to correct.

Williams won an island scholarship in 1932, allowing him to attend St Catherine’s Society, Oxford, England, which subsequently became St Catherine’s College, Oxford.

In 1935, Williams received first-class honors for his Bachelor of Arts in history, and was ranked in first place among University of Oxford students graduating in history in 1935. He also represented the university at football.

In 1938, Williams went on to obtain his doctorate.

In “Inward Hunger,” his autobiography, he described his experience of racism in Great Britain, and the impact on him of his travels in Germany after the Nazi seizure of power.

In “Inward Hunger,” Williams recounts that in the period following his graduation: “I was severely handicapped in my research by my lack of money…. I was turned down everywhere I tried … and could not ignore the racial factor involved.”

However, in 1936, thanks to a recommendation made by Sir Alfred Claud Hollis, Governor of Trinidad and Tobago, 1930–36, the Leathersel­lers’ Company awarded Williams a £50 grant to continue his advanced research in history at Oxford.

Williams completed the Ph. D in 1938 under the supervision of Vincent Harlow.

His doctoral thesis was titled “The Economic Aspects of the Abolition of the Slave Trade and West Indian Slavery,” and was published as “Capitalism and Slavery” in 1944.

It was both a direct attack on the idea that moral and humanitarian motives were the key facts in the victory of British abolitionism, and a covert critique of the idea common in the 1930s, emanating in particular from the pen of Oxford Professor Reginald Coupland, that British imperialism was essentially propelled by humanitarian and benevolent impulses, according to Wikipedia.

It said Williams’s argument owed much to the influence of C. L. R. James, whose “The Black Jacobins,” also completed in 1938, offered an economic and geostrategic explanation for the rise of British abolitionism.

In 1944, Dr. Williams was appointed to the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission. In 1948, he returned to Trinidad and Tobago as the Commission’s Deputy Chairman of the Caribbean Research Council.

In Trinidad and Tobago, he delivered a series of educational lectures, for which he became famous, according to his biography.

In 1955 after disagreements between Dr. Williams and the Commission, the Commission elected not to renew his contract.

In a famous speech at Woodford Square in Port of Spain, the Trinidad and Tobago capital, he declared that he had decided to “put down his bucket” in the land of his birth.

He rechristened that enclosed park, which stood in front of the Trinidad courts and legislature, “The University of Woodford Square”, and proceeded to give a series of public lectures on world history, Greek democracy and philosophy, the history of slavery, and the history of the Caribbean to large audiences drawn from every social class, the biography states.

It says that, from that public platform, Williams on Jan. 15, 1956 inaugurated his own political party, the People’s National Movement (PNM), which would take Trinidad and Tobago into independence in 1962, and dominate its post-colonial politics.

Until this time, his lectures had been carried out under the auspices of the Political Education Movement, a branch of the Teachers Education and Cultural Association, a group that had been founded in the 1940s as an alternative to the official teachers’ union. The PNM’s first document was its constitution.

Unlike the other political parties of the time, the PNM was a highly organized, hierarchical body, the biography says.

Its second document was “The People’s Charter,” in which the party strove to separate itself from the transitory political assemblages which had thus far been the norm in Trinidadian politics, according to the biography.

In elections held eight months later, on Sept. 24, the Peoples National Movement won 13 of the 24 elected seats in the Legislative Council, defeating six of the 16 incumbents running for re-election.

Although the PNM did not secure a majority in the 31-member Legislative Council, Williams was able to convince the Secretary of State for the Colonies to allow him to name the five appointed members of the council, despite the opposition of the governor, Sir Edward Betham Beetham.

This gave him a clear majority in the Legislative Council, the biography says, adding that Williams was thus elected chief minister and was also able to get all seven of his ministers elected.

After the Second World War, the British Colonial Office had preferred that colonies move towards political independence in the kind of federal systems, which had appeared to succeed since the Confederation of Canada, which created the Dominion of Canada, in the 19th century, according to Wikipedia.

The 1961 elections gave the PNM 57 percent of the votes and 20 of the 30 seats. This two-thirds majority allowed them to draft the Independence Constitution without input from the DLP, according to Wikipedia.

Although supported by the Colonial Office, it said independence was blocked by the DLP, until Williams was able to make a deal with DLP leader Rudranath Capildeo that strengthened the rights of the minority party and expanded the number of Opposition Senators.

With Capildeo’s assent, Trinidad and Tobago became independent on Aug.31, 1962, 25 days after Jamaica.

Posted 12:00 am, February 7, 2018

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  • hinduindianvoice  On 02/08/2018 at 2:59 am

    What father of the nation? Eric Williams was more like a stepfather rapist of the nation in the eyes of many like me. Neither my father nor I nor anybody in our district in Penal would ever vote for that man or his PNM party, which we affectionately called People’s Negro Party or the other N word party. The majority of the Indians in Trinidad, like me never saw him as our leader, our prime minister because he was clearly just the black people’s leader, the PNM leader heading the PNM nation. Just as an indication of his stupidity, Eric Williams always wore a PNM balisier tie at all official functions when he was serving as prime minister, and it seemed at all other times. All of us who were NOT PNM supporters had no choice but to see him as the PNM prime minister. Such a political dumkoff he was that he didn’t know the difference between the head of the national government and the head of a political party.
    What should a national leader and father of the nation do? Unite the country of course, bring all different groups together to work for the national good. Here Eric Williams was a complete failure, as he never even attempted to bring the two large ethnic groups Indians and Africans together. Instead, he governed openly for the Afros, called the Indians “a hostile and recalcitrant minority”, showed no respect for the political party of the Indians and blatantly marginalized those sectors of the economy where Indians were predominant.
    This Eric Williams is the fool who left the country more divided than when he met it, the direct cause of Trinidad having no significant national unity on any important matter, and under whose watch the racial antagonism that characterizes Trinidad today got its biggest boost.
    This man Nelson King can write all the b.s he wants about Eric Williams, and it will go right into the place it deserves, the latrine of history along with his hero Eric Williams.

    Ram Jagessar

  • Ron Saywack  On 02/08/2018 at 6:40 am

    Dan is the man in the van in good ole Triniland, according to the legend Slinger Francisco.

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 02/09/2018 at 1:14 pm

    Re Ram J. on Dr. Eric Williams’ reference to Indians as “a hostile and recalcitrant minority”.

    I had avoided getting involved in another nation’s debate, but since I published comments on this matter, I think it’s fitting to release them here.
    Here is an excerpt from my 2009 book:
    – Rebutting and Educating UWI’s Dr. Kean Gibson for Vilifying Hindus.”

    Back in 1958, Sir Eric Williams, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago (hereafter, T&T) characterized East Indians in his island state as a “recalcitrant and hostile minority”. Aside from the conjunctive “and”, any neutral observer could take issue with the other three pejorative epithets used to characterize East Indians and their community. Random House dictionary gives the meaning of “recalcitrant” as: “resisting authority or control; not obedient or compliant; hard to deal with”; and “hostile” as: “opposed in feeling, action, or character; antagonistic; bellicose; belligerent”.

    East Indians: “recalcitrant”, “resisting authority”, “hostile” and “belligerent? Could it be that that the African [-Trinidadian], Sir Eric, was reflecting about his ‘kith and kin’ (as the former African and Guyanese PNC President, Desmond Hoyte, referred to his party’s African supporters) and grudgingly transferred the censorious appellations to the historically peaceable and relatively tolerant and “compliant”, East Indians?

    East Indians in T&T a “minority”? Why the condescension, when the census trend reveals Indians neared 40% of the population while the largest racial group, Black/African, was just over 40%? (Today, these two populations are about even at 40% in T&T). The term “minority” in the loaded phrase connotes a ‘wannabe’, an ‘also ran’ status; thus a pejoration, evidencing an arrogant contempt by the utterer, Dr. Eric Williams for his country’s East Indian population.

    If Guyana’s neighbour has a ‘father of he nation’ who is Guyana’s?


  • dhanpaul narine  On 02/09/2018 at 3:11 pm

    Dr. Eric Williams was a brilliant scholar, one of the greatest in the Caribbean. We had to study ‘Capitalism and Slavery’ which was compulsory reading and remains a classic. His tenure as a politician had mixed reviews. He could not bridge the ethnic divide and a large segment of the Indian population felt excluded. Spare a thought for the long-serving Kamaluddin Mohamed, Williams’ deputy for many years. When Williams died the natural successor should have been Mohamed but the PNM changed the rules to shut him out.
    Who is Guyana’s father of the nation? Laurens Storm van’s Gravesande. The others who came after him are heroes.

  • Albert  On 02/09/2018 at 7:45 pm

    Than for the informed scholarly approach to the discussion Dr. Narine. I also read “Capitalism and Slavery” some 40-50 years ago. If memory holds his argument was to show that slavery came to an end for economic and not humanitarian reasons. That book was often a must where black studies is taught in the U.S. and is referred to globally on the subject. Williams has written other books about the Caribbean. It is heartbreaking to see the uninformed attempting to destroy the reputation of such a scholar.

    • Ali...  On 02/09/2018 at 10:18 pm

      Dr. Williams was not a racist. He loved all races. Anyone who puts him down is a fool and has a lot to learn. God bless his soul.

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 02/09/2018 at 11:48 pm

    Albert: Don’t shroud Sir Eric’s obvious racism (by his own words) with his academic brilliance.
    He was not alone, his contemporary, Burnham, was cut from the same cloth – brilliant but racist. (It was because the US and Britain could rely on Burnham’s racism and ego that he was made their pawn – to destroy the earlier racial harmony in Guyana in order to oust the Indian Marxist, Jagan. Guyana will NEVER again achieve the earlier racial harmony because of Burnham).
    In the case of T&T, as Dr. Narine reminded, the PNM ruled out the natural Indian successor to Williams. (In Guyana, the PNC has people with similar sentiments as Freddie Kissoon’s earlier writings – which I posted last week – exposed. Even in the AFC, Trotman didn’t want to share leadership with Indian, Ramjattan.).
    Anti-Indian sentiments are rife in T&T and Guyana’s ruling parties.


  • Albert  On 02/10/2018 at 12:48 pm

    Veda: “He (Dr Williams) was not alone, his contemporary, Burnham, was cut from the same cloth – brilliant but racist”

    You are mixing cheese and chalk..In what ways was Burnham brilliant? Give facts (not emotions or heresay) as to why Dr.Williams was a racists. Do you really know about these men.

    For your information Williams was a harsh critic of Burnham and help to sqeeze Guyana under Burnham.

    Here is a piece of personal logic base on knowledge of the rural Indian community and Afro Guyana. Jagan and Burnham were alike in one way. Jagan new little about, and could not relate/communicate with the Afrcan community. He was emotional and a weak leader who look up to Burnham. Burnham was for Burnham. Plenty of empty rhetoric and little knowledge of the rural Indian community.

    That is partly why Guyana started so screwed up.

    • Ali...  On 02/10/2018 at 6:00 pm

      Everyone has done and said things they wish they could take back. Eric did but that does not mean he was racist. He led his country out of colonial bondage and freed all his people from massa’s rule. But some people just want to fan the flame of racism and hate. It’s usually the know it alls who usually do that. Eric was a good man. Shame on those who cannot see that.

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 02/10/2018 at 10:43 pm

    re. “In what ways was Burnham brilliant? Give facts (not emotions or heresay) as to why Dr.Williams was a racists. Do you really know about these men.”

    Burnham was a Guyana scholar. He also won ‘best speaker cup’ at London U. Won’t you consider at least the ‘Guyana Scholar’ brilliant?

    Clearly, you haven’t read my first post about Sir Eric racism – referring to Indians as “a hostile and recalcitrant minority” -= and, which I referred to as “censorious appellations” and “a pejoration, evidencing an arrogant contempt by the utterer, Dr. Eric Williams for his country’s East Indian population”, inter alia. I wrote those words in 2009.

    I dare you to openly refer to any minority, say Black Americans (assuming you live in the USA) with those same negative appellations. See what will happen to you.

    The fact that Williams and Burnham saw things differently doesn’t negate the proposition/fact that they were ‘cut from the same cloth’. Both were ‘brilliant’, racist and arrogant.
    Haven’t you seen people with qualities which are similar to each other who can’t stand each other? Tip: People get along better when they complement each other; not when they view each other as competitors in the same space.

    “Here is a piece of personal logic base on knowledge of the rural Indian community and Afro Guyana. ..Jagan new little about, and could not relate/communicate with the Afrcan community. He was emotional and a weak leader who look up to Burnham.”
    Where do you think I came from? I spent my first 20 years in Guyana in a rural setting – Enmore Estate – yet, you are trying to give me tips about ‘rural people’.
    Of the two leaders, Jagan was also from a rural setting – Port Mourant – whereas Burnham was from Kitty. As such, Jagan would be more comfortable with rural people. As a kid, I first saw Jagan visit my logie, mud-floor home. See what I revealed here.

    “He [Jagan] was emotional and a weak leader who look up to Burnham.” Maybe, maybe not. This debate has nothing to do with who was a ‘weak leader’. It is about Williams and Burnham’s racism and arrogance).

  • Mikhail Byng  On 04/26/2020 at 10:21 pm

    When at last we stand before the Great God of heaven and earth we as Trinidadian will have a lot to answer for, FOR what we did with the great gift we got in the person of Eric Williams one of the greatest leaders of his time , a real talent of a man, give and take what you want there has been none like him and non after at lease in the 40 years after his death. O how we long for such a leader , lets forget race , the educated east Indians know better it is said that he made the statement that the Indians brothers and sisters in Trinidad are the best lived Indians in the world, AND the great leader of India said on Trinidad earth,………I can see that you are getting along well with your bigger brother such a great statement to be made by such a great woman not forgetting she ruled the largest democracy in the world at that time… .could we say she was speaking out of her mind or Dr. Williams give her the words to say ………When the great one took Trinidad in 1956 the average teachers pay per month was about ……….God alone in heaven knows …… every Trinidadian knows God is one of us money is still not a problem for he has done such a great job ….thanks big brother tanks for a good job and well done ……yours truly……..Dwight Byng

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