January 10, 2009

Two lectures...


by Woodville Marshall

Please forgive me if I start with a bit of self-criticism. We are careless with our history. If I am to judge by the content of the media, by the activity of our historians, by the silence of Government and parliament, hardly anyone is aware that the late, largely unlamented Federation would have celebrated its 50th birthday on either 3 January or 22 April. But whatever our recollections and/or experience of that episode, it should be obvious, not only to sentimental federationists, that the project, however ineptly executed, was, according to eminent as well as not so eminent commentators, the result of ‘40 years of popular agitation’, and it certainly represented our one effort to build a West Indian nation. It is therefore appropriate that commemoration, however belated, should begin.
Permit me to tell a little story that probably explains why I volunteered to give this lecture. Way back in the summer of 1957, one organization in Jamaica, the Kingston and St. Andrew Ratepayers Association, belatedly realized that on the eve of the federal elections few Jamaicans knew anything about federation. They therefore turned to the department of history at Mona to help them in their Federation Enlightenment Campaign. Naturally, many of the lecturers volunteered their services, but one of those volunteers, Roy Augier, had to travel, and asked me, his student, to substitute for him. I did and, almost petrified, gave my first public lecture (in a panel discussion) on federal movements in the British Caribbean. The point of the story is this: (the good news) I am not repeating that lecture tonight, but (the bad news, perhaps) the conclusions are substantially the same, because nothing that I have read since then has seriously undermined those youthful conclusions...
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Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of The West Indies Federation



The Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination.
UWI -- Cave Hill Campus. 20 November 2008


This Lecture Series commemorates an anniversary; it is not inappropriate, therefore, that I begin with a reminiscence that is both personal and apposite. Fifty-eight years ago, in 1950 ( I was 22), I had to decide the subject of my LLM dissertation. I chose "Constitutional aspects of Federalism in the British West Indies". Why? It was two years after the Montego Bay Conference and Norman Manley was in London. He came and talked to the London University Students Union at the LSE about ‘Federation’. I was totally captivated by his passion and his eloquence and that began my federal journey - which has not ended. I knew that day what the subject of my dissertation had to be; and that decision has shaped my life.

Many years later in Jamaica when I was briefly at the bar and Norman Manley, now retired from politics, had his Chambers nearby in Duke Street I reminded him of that lunchtime address and told him how it had affected my life. He was pleased; he was still a West Indian regionalist and sad about the outturn of the referendum and the dreams it shattered - including mine. Years later still, I was moved by his grand-daughter’s tender reminiscence of her encounter with him at ‘Drumblair’ hours after the results of the referendum had come in. “ Did we win, Pade? “, the little girl asked. “No Pie; we didn't win; everybody lost “. And in this at least he was right; everybody did lose, including generations of West Indians not yet born, like many of you here tonight...
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Sir Shridath Ramphal and Professor Woodville Marshall speak to the Federation, fifty years on, at the EBCCI, Barbados, late in 2008. Thank you to Cherri-Ann Beckles, Assistant Archivist at the W.I. Federal Archives Centre, Cave Hill Campus Archives, UWI, Barbados; for making their lectures available to this blog.

The lectures were a part of the W.I. Federal Archives Centre Mini-Lecture Series in celebration of 50 years since the Inauguration of The West Indies Federation (November 2008).

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