By Dr. Rita Pemberton
On the Easter weekend of 1970 Geddes Granger (later Makandal Daaga) and members of the organization that he led, the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) arrived in Tobago to meet with the organization that existed on the island. Their first meeting was held at the Patience Hill residence of Mr. Bayliss Frederick, which served as the headquarters while his law office, which was located at the top floor of the now demolished building at “Long Steps” in Scarborough and which once housed the office of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, served as the group’s operational office. The main item on the meeting’s agenda was the organization of several public marches on the island to target the sites on which some of the major injustices on the island occurred. The first march took place in Scarborough on Saturday 28 March (Glorious Saturday) 1970.
The march, which began at the Main Street Car Park with a few hundred followers, was led by a group of speakers in a flat- bed truck which was equipped with a public address system and a group of drummers. The procession moved around the commercial area in Scarborough, identifying and praising exemplary black Tobago businessmen whose properties were adorned with black and green flags while the speakers provided historical information to the followers whose numbers continually increased. Those businesses and institutions, such as the commercial banks, which were considered to be exploiters of Black people, were planted with red flags. Having traversed the commercial area the procession moved across Bacolet Street up to the Hill at Bacolet Gardens, which was in the process of being developed as an exclusive area, before returning to the Main Street Car Park. By this time the several hundred marchers grew into thousands and the march ended in a major meeting at the Car Park, where the charismatic speakers, which included Geddes Granger, Carl Blackwood, Clive Nunez and Winston Lennard, were well received by the crowd. Blackwood’s oratory style dotted with religious references endeared him to the Tobago audience.
The second march which took place on Sunday 29th March (Easter Sunday) moved from Scarborough along Milford Road through Lambeau, Lowlands, Canaan and Bon Accord to Pigeon Point to protest the exclusion of locals from the beach. As the march progressed through the villages the numbers of followers swelled and villagers provided food and water along the way. There was a significant increase in numbers of older people in the Canaan/Bon Accord area who, having spent their entire lives debarred from the private beach were fed up with the injustice. The crowd ripped the steel gate and marched to the beach where they were blocked by a column of armed policemen from entering the sea. Despite appeals from Granger, the police insisted on preventing but the people prevailed. Locals bathed there for the first time.
After this march it was agreed that the NJAC leadership would organize major marches in Trinidad during the week and come to Tobago on weekends. Subsequent marches were organized to Charlotteville. Parlatuvier and Mt. Irvine.
The Scarborough to Charlotteville March
The march from Scarborough to Charlotteville aimed to highlight the extent of plantation domination in Tobago east. The thousands of people who participated in this march covered the entire twenty seven mile journey and were well supplied with fruit and food, especially Crix biscuits, along the route by the welcoming residents.
An obstruction was encountered at Roxborough when a police squad, brought from Trinidad, which had followed the march from Scarborough, activated sirens, drove through the crowd and blocked off the road at “Bad Rock,” a dangerous section of the Windward Road. With megaphone in hand Superintendent George shouted orders to halt the march. Tempers flared and the marchers had to be restrained. After discussions between Geddes Granger and the police Inspector the march was allowed to proceed. Then, a short meeting was held in Roxborough, after which the march proceeded to Speyside.
discussions of good governance and rights of the people.
The Speyside community was dominated by the owners of the Speyside estate, who were the main employers in the district. The Lau family had a bad reputation for exploiting, maltreating and disrespecting workers and so antagonistic were the marchers that it took efforts of the leadership to move on to Charlotteville without further incident. Marchers were welcomed to Charlotteville, by the aroma that emanated from the pots that were boiling on the beach. Marchers interacted with the population discussing issues pertaining to good governance and the rights of the people.
Marchers then had to find their way back to their homes. With nothing pre-arranged, many camped out on the beach with bon fires, eating roast fish and talking through the night while others were accommodated by friends or members of the community.
The march to Parlatuvier traversed the 16.1 mile journey along the Northside Road through Cinnamon Hill, Concordia, Adelphi, Mason Hall, Moriah, Castara to its destination. Its objective was to sensitize villages and gain solidarity for the movement. As with all the other marches, people lined the route offering a wide variety of food and drink and the procession picked up additional marchers along the way. Conversations were held with the villagers until it was time to return to Scarborough. The return from Parlatuvier was the most difficult of all because it was a low traffic area. Many people walked a substantial part of the return journey up to Moriah before being able to obtain transport.
The March to Mt Irvine was the last in the series, which was halted by the ‘State of Emergency.’ This march progressed through Patience Hill and Bethel and turning onto the Shirvan Road to the terminal point – Mt. Irvine Hotel and Golf Course. The resident population resented the conversion of the estate to a hotel because they feared that their water supply would be redirected, some were opposed to its foreign ownership and the domination and the continued servile relationship which it engendered. As usual, the villagers were very hospitable and young and old joined in the discussions on the issues which they faced.
State of Emergency
On Monday 20th April, a team which included Ronald Charles, Carlos Williams and Alan Richards held a scheduled meeting in Mason Hall which went late into the night. The group walked from Mason Hall to Scarborough after 11:00pm. The next day 21 April, the State of Emergency was declared. A group of activists organized a rally in the Scarborough Car Park which was joined by a large number of students. The rally was broken up by armed police at about 3.00 pm, after which the leadership of the movement retreated to Bayliss Frederick’s office to discuss their next course of action. The majority agreed that for security, all should stay together at the office but a few went to their homes in a night that was filled with police sirens and fast moving vehicles. Some detainees were picked up overnight and reportedly taken to Trinidad. The police swooped down on the office at about 7:00 pm and beat and arrested those who were there. The story was told of Frederick being kicked down Long Steps, before being arrested. Those detained were: Bayliss Frederick, Anthony McFarlane, Duport Ewing, William Benjamin, Katie Brown, Ruby Smith, Julian Britto, Micah Phillips, Martin George, Clyde ‘Mansie’ Smith, Lynette Balfour and Carlos Williams. They were all taken to the Scarborough Police Station and thrown in cells and then flown to Trinidad.
Several other persons were being held for various reasons associated with the State of Emergency either for alleged arson, breaking the curfew or for activity relating to NJAC. Nine were held for political activity on April 22nd 1970 and charged for holding public meetings and ‘Inciting Public Opinion’ in contravention of Public Order. The nine were: Lennox Daniel (Tana), Telford Barrow, Ronald Charles, Eustace Phillips (Shuggs), Donald Edwards, Mervyn Mc Kenna (Blacks), John Algernon, Anthony Adams (Fecko) and Allan Richards. After the first court hearing, the group was remanded on a seven- day basis by magistrate George Cabral. The families, friends and adherents of the Movement hired Dr. Aeneas Wills a lawyer from Canaan, Tobago, to represent the entire group. All were eventually sentenced to a one year prison term to which Dr. Wills gave notice of appeal. They were transported to Trinidad by the Coast Guard vessel with armed guard and were seen off by a large crowd at the Scarborough port.
population politically engaged
The marches served as an important educational and sensitization tool. The population was engaged on issues relating to justice in order to stimulate efforts to address the social ills which beset the population. As a result of the activities of this group, the entire island was put in revolutionary mode.