By Gerry Hopkin
Every generation in every nation, has a few exceptionally talented individuals who go on to exhibit the caring acts and intuitive vision of stalwarts. And as the hand of time would have it, in the generational cohort which gave Grenada, Carriacou & Petite Martinique and the Caribbean, Anthony C. George, there is certainly at least one such person.
A. C. George — Grenadian artist, poet and author extraordinaire, who designed the court of arms and flag of his dear homeland, is worthy of having any street in Grenada named after him, as was done to one on the eastern shores of the island on February 6, 2012.
However, it is a pity that we did not get to replace/delete the name of a slave-owner in the process of naming the hitherto non-named roadway from the gap to Cook Hill (by the Old Catholic Church) to the Battle Hill Junction, part of the island’s eastern main road.
May I add, it is fitting and apt that a main thoroughfare through the coastal village of Soubise, which is George’s place of residence in Grenada (he was born on Carriacou) is now named after him, while he is still very much with us in the flesh.
May this be a catalyst for more appropriate, assertive, positive acts of independence on the part of our enlightened policy-makers. It is about time we name streets and mountains after the slaves and natives who have laboured to develop the lands we call home.
This, I dare say, is far nobler than maintaining the names given to these streets and mountains by slave-owners who were inhumane plunderers, ‘sackers,’ land-grabbers and destroyers of our indigenous cultures/civilisations.
This is not to say that every white man and woman who came to Grenada was evil or inhumane; this is also not to say that there was no Caucasian alive during the 16th to the 19th century, who was humane and caring to slaves. Of course we all know about the abolitionists, who contributed to the ending of slavery in the English speaking Caribbean through the passing of the British Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 (effective 1834) and those who struggled for slavery’s end in the USA by instituting the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1865.
To put this in a balanced perspective, suffice it to say that the historical milieu, which included those who genuinely cared about others regardless of skin-color, and even had loving, consensual, interracial relationships, have left us with Whites, Mulattoes and Creoles who were eventually opposed to having slavery as an essential part of an economic system that took raw resources from the Caribbean and Africa in order to enrich the European continent.
Unfortunately, the movement to end slavery came after over 300 years of forced bondage and servitude of over 12 million Blacks, and after the lost of more than five million lives as a result of a dreadful trans-Atlantic journey, colonial diseases, brutal conditions on plantations and merciless penalties for attempts of rebellion. Many have called this the Black Holocaust.
In my view, in order to truly assert our independence and liberation, we must, free of all selfish political expediency, genuinely and inclusively reform our monarchial constitutions (which we did not ourselves draft or approve, and in which we pay homage to the Queen as head of state though Her Majesty’s Governor General); sustainably develop our productive sectors; and only preserve names on streets, hills and mountains of men and women who were not slave owners — those who did not perpetuate an organised system of forced labour under dreadful conditions for more than 300 years in Grenada and in our region.
Generally, streets are named after heroes/heroines, great men and women who lived exemplary lives (albeit mostly after males, thanks to a sexist history). So let’s do the right thing and fix the wrongs.
Now is it really our intention to celebrate the exploits of those who shackled, enslaved, raped and in many cases systematically, brutally slaughtered our great grandfathers and great grandmothers? I think not.
So why do we continue to each day walk along streets, roads and alleys that are named after the very men who were the slave masters, thus hauntingly disrespecting the spirits of their innocent slave-victims, who are our esteemed great grandparents?
The re-naming of streets in Grenada, Carriacou & Petite Martinique and throughout the rest of the Caribbean (which Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica have modestly already taken the lead on), should begin today, not tomorrow.
Unintentionally, my acknowledgment of the appropriate recognition of Anthony C. George, the poet, artist and author, drew me into a discourse which is not simplistically about digging-up a sleeping ants-nest, but complexly about setting the historical record straight.
In this vein, it is commendable that Grenada has already named an airport, a college, roadways, roundabouts, sections of a national stadium and a playing field after former PMs Maurice Bishop and Sir Eric Matthew Gairy, statesmen T.A. Marryshow and Roy St. John, and world-class athletes Kirani James, Alleyne Francique, Junior Murray and Rawl Lewis.
However, these gestures of tribute are hardly enough. And we must be careful to not limit ourselves to personalities in politics and sports; we must be prepared to move beyond what has become the norm.
I am not about protests; I am about organised corrective measures. We did not write our history, nor our constitution; and similarly we did not name our streets before independence. But we can now read, write, articulate, petition and vote; and thus we can make change happen.
The time to genuinely review, reform and reverse the inaccuracies and injustices of the past towards genuine reconciliation and recognition, is now, not later.
(Jerry Hopkin served as a Personal Aide to Prime Minister Tillman Thomas of the National Democratic Congress government)