PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – The Dr. Eric Williams Memorial Library was officially opened here in the heart of the capital on Tuesday, a stone throw away from the area that the country’s first prime minister had declared “the University of Woodford Square”.
“This building will be a legacy for the people of Trinidad and Tobago for all time. These walls would have heard the voices of Dr. Williams….but this being the place where a bucket was let down had to be a large bucket and a bucket with a strong bottom,” Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley said in reference to Williams’s statement as he started his intensive campaign of popular education in the 1950s.
“Here is where the concept of our nationhood was discussed, crystallized and I dare say grasped. So whatever we are, whoever we are, whatever we will become this was the beginning of that journey and therefore whatever resources we apply to making it physically pleasing and making it comfortably on the inside, let us think of the Bucco Point (in Tobago) with no school to the digital access we have now and the thousands of pieces of educational material and tell ourselves the world has not left us behind,” Rowley said.
His Jamaican counterpart, Andrew Holness, who is here as guest of the Trinidad and Tobago government as the country marks its 60th anniversary of political independence from Britain, said it was important to preserve the monuments, edifices and artefacts that represent our past, our heritage and our roots from which our people will grow.
He agreed with the statement made by Prime Minister Rowley that the new environment “would marry the library with William’s history and would have created an academic shrine which is what this will become in the center of Port of Spain for persons who want to walk into the life of Eric Williams.
“Today I salute the illustrious Eric Williams, one of Trinidad and Tobago’s finest statesmen who fully exemplified that greatness can be achieved regardless of one’s humble beginning. He was a prolific scholar and author, whose many academic works informed his ideology as a politician,” said Holness, recalling that his doctoral thesis on the relations between slavery, the slave trade and economics “has become a must read for Caribbean scholars and I dare say all Caribbean people’s”.
Holness, who said he was the first prime minister born one year after the regional leaders had agreed on the formation on the regional integration movement, said he too had at school had to read from William’s “Capitalism and Slavery”.
He said Williams was also a champion for education who spoke out against racial inequality, political imprudence and the plantation system “which still lingers in our Caribbean societies.
“His popular open air speeches near here in Woodford Square…were not only legendary but also united people from all classes towards independence. He firmly believed in unity and embraced diversity of Trinidad and Tobago,” Holness said.
“His was a life well lived, filled with scholarship, brilliance and accomplishments which belied his relatively short sojourn. We in the wider Caribbean benefitted from his thought and erudite vision. We thank Dr. Williams for his role in the creation of CARICOM,” Holness said recalling that the treaty of Chaguaramas was signed here by the leaders of Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.
“We all can recall his famous declaration “one from 10 leaves nought” occasioned when Jamaica left the West Indies Federation in 1961,” Holness said, adding that he considers his presence here today “at this particular event and on the occasion of Trinidad and Tobago’s diamond jubilee as a symbolic closing of the circles and the invitation extended to him by Prime Minister Rowley …to be a forward moving action of a leader committed to the development of the region through our shared values and shared prospects for prosperity”.
Earlier, Mrs Erica Williams-Connell said it took more than four decades following her father’s death for the library to become a reality and praised Prime Minister Rowley for his “unwavering” support.
“It has taken us 41 years to get here, back to the place where Eric Williams began his public education speeches some 67 years ago. In one year from June 21, 1955 to June 14, 1956, Eric Williams delivered a total of 137 public lectures in Trinidad and Tobago, most of them at the University of Woodford Square.”
She told the ceremony that the collection is the University of the West Indies (UWI) largest research collection and a first of its kind.
“It’s a jewel in the crown as one historian puts it, the first of its kind and a model for the English-speaking Caribbean. In fact it has served as a prototype for the establishment of other museums in Trinidad and Tobago, the British Virgin Islands and the Bahamas when they were in the throes of planning theirs.
“So why memorialize Eric Williams? The fact is when he died suddenly in office on March 29, 1981, when during the funeral procession from the Red House (Parliament) where he laid in state for three days, you could have heard a pin drop.
“Surely a first for our boisterous and unrestrained people. One quarter of the population of Trinidad and Tobago filed past his (coffin) to pay their final respects and it was you who designated him the father of the nation,” she said.
She told the ceremony as the country gears to celebrate its 60th anniversary of independence on Wednesday, it is fitting to recall the words of her father, who said “what use will you make of your independence, what will you transmit to your children 25 years from today. You first responsibility is the protection and promotion of your democracy, I give you your homework for the next 25 years, build a nation of Trinidad and Tobago, ringing in all the races, acknowledging all their contributions, elevating the lowly castes, dignifying the spice colors , raising up the poor and lowly and giving them a positive stake in our society”.