The Legacy of Eric Williams

The Legacy of Eric Williams: Into the Postcolonial Moment

Edited by Tanya L. Shields
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    The Legacy of Eric Williams
    Book Description:

    The Legacy of Eric Williamsprovides an indispensable and significant understanding of Eric Williams's contributions to the now independent nation of Trinidad and Tobago and his impact on the broader international understanding of the Caribbean. This book stands out because of its simultaneous investigation into Eric Williams as a scholar/intellectual, a political leader, and, most importantly, a key postcolonial figure. Most previous studies have treated these as separate arenas.

    The essays here confront the relevance of postcolonialism in understanding Williams's role both in post-independence Trinidad and Tobago and in newer understandings of Caribbean globalization. The volume divides into three broad sections--"Becoming Eric Williams," "Political Williams," and "Textual Williams." "Becoming Eric Williams" provides background on Williams and the Caribbean's ontological quest, addressing what it means to be West Indian and Caribbean. "Political Williams" engages with his policies and their consequences, describing the impact of Williams's political policies on several areas: integration, color stratification, and labor and public sector reform. Williams's far-reaching political influence in these aspects cements his legacy as one of the main public intellectuals responsible for creating the modern Caribbean. "Textual Williams" examines his scholarly contributions from a more traditional academic perspective. These sections allow for a comprehensive understanding of Williams as a man, a scholar, and a politician.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-698-5
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
    Erica Williams Connell

    When I was about fourteen years old, my father would talk to me periodically about his will, and I would always tell him, “I don’t want anything from you, Daddy. I just want your books and papers.” This from a person who failed high school history and, in her rebellious years, refused to go to university! In retrospect, I realize now that I instinctively knew their intrinsic value. Certainly that giddy teenager had no conception of what to do with the material; I only knew I had to have it.

    Now, irony of all ironies, I am the founder and...

    (pp. xiii-2)
    (pp. 3-22)

    The Caribbean is the site of numerous gestures toward the creation of postcolonial spaces of belonging. Caribbean nation-states, still newly liberated from dominant patriarchies,¹ are redefining their national and global identities apart from and in relation to the empires to which they belonged. To a large extent, the leaders of these nations build on inherited sociopolitical structures with no erasure of the colonial rule that previously existed, in effect negating a tabula rasa for the complete reconstruction of their countries. Caribbean-born scholars and artists have been helping their respective nations to formulate new identities that more closely reflect their countries’...


    • Chapter 1 ERIC WILLIAMS: The Legacy Continues
      (pp. 25-38)

      The above epigraph was written not about Eric Williams but about Lord John Reith of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).¹ Reith, while bemoaning his fate in having been set apart from other men, said, “What a curse it is to have outstanding comprehensive ability and intelligence, combined with a desire to pursue them to the maximum purpose.”²

      Williams did not quite say this about himself, but he would hardly have disagreed if asked whether this curse applied to him. His detractors would most certainly have agreed. Some, under the guise of objective scholarship, still find him a “flawed leader” who,...

    • Chapter 2 ERIC WILLIAMS: The making of a West indian intellectual
      (pp. 39-72)

      This essay deals with a neglected facet of the life of Dr. Eric Williams, Trinidad and Tobago’s first prime minister and leader in its struggle for political independence: his role as an intellectual. Much has been written about Williams as a historian and a politician, as well as about his personal life. But with the possible exception of C. L. R. James’sA Convention Appraisaland Ivar Oxaal’sBlack Intellectuals Come to Power, no real effort to deal with Williams as an intellectual has been attempted. This essay, which uses a conflated theoretical perspective that privileges biography, social movement theory,...


    • Chapter 3 “WE INTEGRATE OR WE PERISH”: Eric Williams, Forbes Burnham, and the Regional Integration Movement
      (pp. 75-96)

      It was relatively early in the existence of her New World colonial empire that Great Britain began attempting to forge a closer union among her geographically dispersed colonies to achieve administrative efficiency and economy. As early as the last quarter of the seventeenth century, Britain attempted to form a federation of the Leeward Islands, but jealousy among the members of the legislatures involved soon paralyzed that attempt. The economic decline during the latter half of the century prompted a rather more substantial attempt at federation of the Leeward Islands in 1871. Despite its unpopularity, the idea for federation managed to...

    • Chapter 4 ERIC WILLIAMS: Protagonist or Antagonist of Caribbean Integration?
      (pp. 97-108)

      As a child, I heard time and time again that Eric Williams had “mashed up the West Indies Federation,” his well-known mantra “one from ten leaves naught” often accompanying the statement.¹ I was always intrigued by the antecedent events that led to this proclamation about the West Indies Federation, the aftermath that the comments encouraged, and by Williams as a Caribbean icon. So, growing up, I developed a profound interest in federalist efforts and the position of the Caribbean in the era of globalization. In this piece, I endeavor to highlight Williams’s federalist record, the significant factors of the federation...

      (pp. 109-125)

      As one of his relatively less-discussed books, Eric Williams’sThe Negro in the Caribbean(1942) was the product of his visit to the West Indies in 1940 on a Rosenwald Fellowship, which gave him release time from his faculty position at Howard University to conduct research for the book. While his comments about color stratification in Trinidad and Barbados in the volume came largely from firsthand knowledge, his observations about Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico were based on his Rosenwald research.The Negro in the Caribbeanconstituted his most detailed exploration of the origins of ethno-phenotype stratification...

    • Chapter 6 The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Eric Williams and the Labor Movement in Trinidad and Tobago, 1955–1981
      (pp. 126-148)

      Eric Williams’s earliest exposure to the struggles of the working class came while he was at Oxford University conducting his doctoral research on slavery. The intellectual journey of the young Williams took him through the dark caverns of West Indian slavery as he analyzed labor exploitation in its cruelest forms. In his classic work on the economic aspects of slavery,Capitalism and Slavery(first published in 1944), he gave a new perspective to labor history in the colonial era. He focused particularly on metropolitan objectives fueled by excessive greed, which enriched Europe but mercilessly destroyed an enslaved people and ravished...

      (pp. 149-160)

      When Eric Williams’s People’s National Movement (PNM) came to power in Trinidad and Tobago in 1956, its stated objective for the Public Service was twofold:¹ (1) put an end to favoritism, discrimination, and political interference in appointments, transfers, and promotions; and (2) guarantee the appointment of qualified West Indians to the highest positions.²

      These objectives were derived logically from the PNM’s overall goal of bringing the injustices of colonialism to an end.³ Favoritism and discrimination were burning issues for Williams and his generation. In his autobiographyInward Hunger, Williams recounts the story of a young civil servant of 1911 who...


    • Chapter 8 INWARD HUNGER: How Eric Williams Fails Postcolonial History
      (pp. 163-171)

      In the history of the anti-and postcolonial Caribbean, the event of Chaguaramas marks the instance of triple failure. It is an example of federalist dreams destroyed; of a protonationalist sovereignty negotiated, mediated, bargained, and compromised; and of a postcolonial history unaccounted for and silenced, especially, in the case of Eric Williams, through the genre of autobiography. Chaguaramas may not quite be the rock on which Anglophone Caribbean unification floundered—though it is certainly tempting to read the naval base as a political shipwreck of federal ambitions—but it does offer itself as the metaphoric locale where Trinidadian independence confronted the...

    • Chapter 9 CAPITALISM AND SLAVERY REVISITED: Remaking the Slave Commodity Frontier
      (pp. 172-185)

      More than sixty years after its publication,Capitalism and Slaveryremains a fundamental contribution to Caribbean history and that of slavery in the Americas. In a frankly materialist attack on idealist interpretations of abolition and emancipation, Eric Williams sought to disclose the economic processes and interests undergirding slavery and abolition in the British West Indies. In its most elemental formulation, Williams’s thesis is that slavery and the slave trade provided the capital that financed the Industrial Revolution in England and that mature capitalism destroyed the slave system.¹ What is remarkable is that Williams’s interpretation retains its appeal despite the efforts...

  9. AFTERWORD: Reflections on Eric Williams and the Challenges of Postcolonial Caribbean Political Leadership
    (pp. 186-193)

    This afterword is not a treatise on Eric Williams as a person or public icon. Rather, it is a reflection on Williams as part of the “independence generation” of Caribbean leaders. Dr. Williams remains one of the most important public figures in the history of the Anglophone Caribbean. He was undoubtedly the first among equals of the independence leaders. While some were intellectually gifted and academically well qualified, and all of them possessed a vision of what Caribbean independence should mean, none of the others combined all the attributes with such consummate ease as Eric Williams. Only C. L. R....

    (pp. 194-208)
    (pp. 209-213)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 214-221)