This was 9 years ago and I am re-posting as we celebrate BLACK HISTORY month
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF EBENEZER THEODORE JOSHUA
THE 100TH ANNIVERSARY OF HIS BIRTH
MAY 23RD 1908 – MAY 23RD 2008
By: Michael S. Joshua
As we face the challenging and continuing task of nation building it is meet and right that we reflect on the contributions of the many “pioneers”, some of whom gave their lives to secure physical space for our homeland, others to secure political space and still others who devoted (and are devoting as we speak) their professional lives to expanding and maintaining the institutions which are the perquisites of nation-building.
The status quo is clearly the result of the cumulative efforts of all those groups; each group standing on the shoulders of the previous group. Of course, there were those who stood at ground zero without shoulder support.
Ebenezer Theodore Joshua can be regarded as one of those whose focus was on expanding socio-economic-political space for the masses. May 23rd marked the one-hundredth anniversary of his birth in Kingstown, St. Vincent. He grew up there in a family of modest means, but high ideals and fundamental human values, especially those that related to respecting the rights and welfare of others. He migrated to Trinidad in the early 1940’s.
In 1951 at the age of 43 years, Joshua returned to St. Vincent, after an absence of roughly 10 years. He spent the next forty years in the service of his country: twenty-seven in active public service and thirteen in retirement and reflection
While his main preoccupation was basic social and economic reform in St.Vincent, he can be classified as a regionalist: he believed those reforms though necessary would not be sufficient for real self-determination which requires comprehensive regional integration; he lived and worked in different parts of the Caribbean: Grenada, Trinidad & Tobago, British Guiana and Aruba and he collaborated with other regionalists in competing for political power in the 1958 Federal Parliament. Joshua contributed significantly to leading his people out of the dark days of British Colonialism. The sojourn in that environment began in the late eighteen century and the long walk to freedom lasted up to the late twentieth century. As we reminisce on that long walk and the personalities in the leadership, it must be noted parenthetically, that British Colonialism like the proverbial coin had two sets of effects on the wellbeing of the majority: One positive and the other somewhat negative. On the positive side, the system established vital institutional requisites of civil society: the governance system, the education system, the legal system, the Civil Service and the cricket culture; on the negative side, and indeed with more deleterious and lasting effects, is the retardation of socio-economic development. The outward and visible signs of this retardation are the development of a virtual dual society in which there was a narrow modern sector geared to serve the interest of the colonialists and a larger sector – ill housed, ill educated, ill clothed, not ill fed only because its inhabitant lived “off the land”- served the plantation system; a political economy that relegated the country to a vision of a dependency philosophy of primary products (Arrowroot, Sugar, Bananas…) today, tomorrow and forever; but the most critical is a political posture that virtually undermined the Caribbean integration movement. My sense is that comprehensive regional integration is the last best hope for the wider Caribbean. It seems that the current operational calculus is trending to this last best hope. Although we await the whole, the parts are firmly in place: the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) is functioning as a viable entity, so is Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Barbados, and Guiana. OECS Central Bank governor Sir Dwight Venner, in a recent presentation on widening the OECS union, reminded us that we have lost 50 years of growth as a politically integrated region (1958 – 2008).
Joshua was simply a social activist whose goal was to engineer the upgrading of the social and economic conditions of the functionally disenfranchised masses. While the life of Joshua is in and of itself important, the times in which he lived must take precedence here. Joshua like many other activists around the British colonial system had bought into the hype accompanying and following the 2nd World War: a war to end all wars and to usher in the era of self-determination for all colonial peoples. At the time self-determination was seen as the necessary and sufficient instrument to generate the political space (legislative and executive) to provide the infrastructure to transform the socio-economic conditions of the masses. The early nineteen fifties marked the beginning of the end of camping outside the pale of the governmental machinery for the majority of our citizens. Every person twenty years or older, regardless of socio-economic station, was given the vote to elect representatives of their choosing. This was a great day because it appeared that the long march to freedom was about to end. But as usual, the last mile always seems to be the toughest. For example, the first four years of adult suffrage were hell and scissors. There was stiff resistance (or so it appeared) from the powers that be of the plantation economy. Nothing was conceded without a struggle. During these four years, the struggle for upgrading the economic conditions of the workers was very intense. Joshua raised the level of attack on a system that seemed insensitive to needed change. The official response was to indict him for sedition and public mischief. He was found guilty by a jury of his peers. The verdict was upheld by the Appeals Court; however, it was quashed by Her Majesty’s Privy Council.
. He returned committed to the cause of political independence for St. Vincent. But before independence could be achieved the thick underbrush of the colonial system had to be removed or at least neutralized. Thus he joined the labour movement under the leadership of George Hamilton Charles: The United Workers Peasants and Ratepayers Workers’ Union. Although the representation of the working class was urgent, the important priority was gaining control of the commanding heights of the governance system. This was enabled by the introduction of universal adult suffrage which would give the people the majority in the legislative branch of the government. But that was only half a loaf. For the time being the people were still shut out from executive power. The workers’ union doubling as political party fielded candidates in all eight constituencies:
1) Rudolph Elliot Baynes ( Kingstown)
2) Julian Augustus Baynes (St. George}
3) George Hamilton Charles ( Central Windward)
4) Evans Berkley Morgan (South Windward)
5) Ebenezer Theodore Joshua ( North Windward)
6) Samuel Eric Slater (North Leeward
7) Clive Leonard Tannis (The Grenadines)
8) Herman Frazer Young (South Leeward)
In many ways the 1952 general election was a watershed election: it was the first under universal adult suffrage; it would give the people a majority in the legislature; Joshua began a very effective political career and the so-called EIGHT ARMY OF LIBERATION campaigned throughout the country presenting a vision for a new day. Joshua was not in the original lineup of candidates to contest the 1952 general elections, however, when the candidate of record for the North Windward constituency, one Robert Milton Cato, withdrew the movement did not have to look too far to find a replacement. Joshua was ready. He had just returned from Trinidad, where he was a frontline speaker on the Butler Party platform. He was fresh from the 1950 general election campaign (in Trinidad) in which he had given the great Roy A. Joseph all he could handle in the San Fernando Constituency. But he lost that campaign, not the desire to continue the struggle for self-determination. The response of the newly enfranchized voters was overwhelming. There was a comprehensive victory for the Eighth Army. Joshua was elected with a comfortable majority in the North Windward constituency. He immediately set about to deliver on the promise he made to the “good people of North Windward”. The election manifesto promised “A BETTER DAY, A BRIGHTER DAY AND A MORE PROSPEROUS DAY.
Before any ground, on the new enterprise, could be broken a rift developed within the ranks of the Army of Liberation. The congratulation from the colonial Administrator included an invitation to visit Government House to mark the occasion of the first election under universal adult suffrage. This invitation for social interaction with the other side served to drive a wedge in the ranks of the newly elected group. Four members indicated that they would accept the invitation and four opted to decline the invitation and have a celebration of their own. It was unfortunate and somewhat disappointing to see an issue not germane to the core mission could drive what turned out to be a permanent wedge between the two groups. Where was the cricket culture when it was needed to develop consensus on procedural rules to govern such situations? This was a failure of strategic leadership. After campaigning and motivating the vast majority to rally behind a programme of hope no leadership could emerge to save the day. On the contrary, the groups drifted further and further apart. In 1953 Joshua resigned from the labour movement and founded the Federated Industrial and Agricultural Workers Union (FIAWU) and a political arm- The Peoples’ Political Party (PPP). Effectively there emerged two legislative groups: one radical led by Julian Baynes and Ebenezer Joshua and the other somewhat conservative-led by George Charles and Rudolph Baynes. From 1953 on the socio-economic-political transformation gained steady momentum. In particular, there was the expansion of the political space to include executive power. On the political front, the PPP kept in touch with anyone who would listen. It instituted the Wednesday night report in the Kingstown market square. It also published Vox Populi to present structured discussion of major issues of the day.
Executive power was granted to the people in 1956. The peoples’ representatives held ministerial portfolios in the executive council. The political discourse was translated into major public policies beginning in 1956 during the first PPP administration. Early emphasis was placed on basic public goods: education, health, roads (feeder roads) and pipe borne water. These low plums were given priority, not only because they could be reached with little difficulty, but because they were urgently needed to provide the capacity for the many to begin climbing the socio-economic ladder. In addition, major social infrastructure projects to strengthen the efficiency of the macro-economy: feeder roads to support the emerging banana industry; telecommunication and port development (deep water facilities) to improve the general efficiency of the business environment. The PPP was re-elected in 1961 indicating a mandate to continue the transformation. And so it did. As these developments were taking place the regional integration movement became real, the Federation of British West Indies was established in 1958, ushering in what seemed at the time a major opportunity for enhancing those assets common to all territories. However before one could say, Jack Robinson, the last best hope was gone and we were back to square one. The intervening 50 years have seen a regrouping: we have a “CARICOM” passport and continual interaction among governments. But more importantly, we have the going concern of the OECS.
Outside the halls of government, Joshua devoted a great deal of effort to upgrade the conditions of the working classes. This proved very challenging, but in the end, there was substantial transformation.
Joshua was indeed a change agent. For the most part, his grasp may have been much higher than his reach and as he confronted the system he was greatly misunderstood. At his state funeral, Dr. Kenneth John serving as the official scribe making a presentation on his life and times indicated that no one was neutral about Ebenezer Joshua. In fact, some saw the glass half full and some saw it half empty. I am inclined to side with the former group. He pursued his goal of a BETTER DAY… with great passion, “with malice toward none and charity toward all”.
What of the legacy of this man – Ebenezer Theodore Joshua- who spent about half of his life making a difference in the lives of others? At the macro level, the answer may be found by comparing pre and post 1952 social balance sheets. In the pre-1952 social balance sheets, the large majority of the disenfranchised appeared to be merely hewers of wood and drawers of water, without any stake in the equity of the country. If they paid any taxes, those taxes were with little or no representation. The post 1952 social balance sheets reflect qualitative and quantitative changes that are very significant: increasing socio-economic homogeneity ( substantially fuelled by a robust communication system – telephone, radio, newspapers, TV and blogs; increasing basic public goods (education, health, roads, pipe borne water, upgrading of electrical, telephone and air transport systems). The newly enfranchized came to realize that they had an abiding equitable interest in the development of the country. As election after election rolled around the view of government as tax collector and magistrate court was gradually replaced by the notion that government in a developing country is responsible for the leadership that would stimulate optimal economic and social progress. At the micro or individual or family level, there is much tangible evidence around. One only has to look at the housing stock from urban to rural areas; but there is also some anecdotal evidence available: for example, several months ago I met an elderly woman at a church service at New Grounds, after conversing with her for some time, I asked her what she remembered about Joshua and she indicated that he was responsible for her getting vacation with pay from her secretarial job at one the estates in the area.
As a social activist and policymaker Joshua was fully engaged in the formative years of the social transformation of his homeland, at every turn his modus operandi was to see things that never were and ask WHY NOT?