Home / View Point / Guest Columns / Claude’s comments: The case for renaming the Churchill Roosevelt Hwy—a monument to two white supremacists

Claude’s comments: The case for renaming the Churchill Roosevelt Hwy—a monument to two white supremacists

Artists and engineers more than any other professionals inscribe the signature of their civilisation.

The newly built Curepe interchange is yet another demonstration of confidence and competence of our engineers and associated professionals and workers in transforming the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway (CRH) from an antique highway to a modern freeway.

Photo: The Curepe Interchange project on the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway.
(via MOWT)

I believe erasing the name ‘Churchill-Roosevelt Highway’ is long overdue, to allow for the celebration of a major piece of indigenous infrastructure.

The present CRH is not the one built by the Americans in the 1940s. Anyone who migrated in the early 1970s would not recognise the CRH they left behind. It is simply not the same road.

As a schoolboy, I vividly recall the stretch from Piarco to Valsayn in March-April, the scenery transitioning from idyllic to majestic, as sugar cane fields gave way to both canopy and carpet of pink blossoms from the neatly aligned poui trees on both shoulders.

Notwithstanding all its magnificence, the CRH was just a single-carriage roadway, except for the section that runs through Wallerfield. The CRH of 1970 was little different from the Valencia stretch, which unfortunately, has remained a symbol of the political neglect of east Trinidad.

The most notable precedent for renaming the CRH is the Princess Margaret Highway (PMH). Completed in 1958, the PMH extended from the CRH (in the vicinity of Grand Bazaar) to Chaguanas. Princess Margaret’s claim to honour was based on nothing other than the fact that Trinidad was the first stop for her Caribbean tour of 1955.

Built as a single carriage road, like the CRH, the PMH was renamed the Uriah Butler Highway (UBH) in 1988—following the extension of the PMH from the CRH to the EMR. Since then, we have the absurdity of a highway that honours a working class hero intersecting one that honours two white supremacists.

Photo: Late USA president FDR Roosevelt (left) and England prime minister Winston Churchill.
(Copyright WSJ)

Renaming the CRH will be consistent with Caricom’s recent adoption of a recommendation of the Caricom Reparations Commission to rename public spaces that bear names linked to the history of oppression.

As a nation, we have been changing place names since independence. Marine Square was the first to go, replaced by Independence Square. Within more recent times, George V Park was renamed Nelson Mandela Park. In between, Claude Noel Highway, Audrey Jeffers Highway, Augustus Williams Park and more, were name-changes in keeping with the spirit of independence.

Between the naming of the UBH and the NMP the country witnessed the emergence of a vocal generation of zealous neo-colonialists who felt their colonial values and aspirations threatened by the nationalisation of prominent toponyms (place-names) and, especially, the campaign to remove the Columbus monument from its present location.

It is not by chance that we now have senior members of Parliament appealing to a foreign power to subvert our sovereignty. This is a classic example of the mindset that invokes the myth of erasing history to defend the glorification of white supremacists, like Columbus, Churchill and Roosevelt.

The logic for changing the name of the CHR is stronger than that for changing the PMH. The new CRH was built with our taxes and involved our engineers, economists, surveyors, landscapers, environmentalists, road pavers and more. How else do we show pride in our achievements but in renaming?

Photo: Two spectators take a selfie during Trinidad and Tobago’s 2016 Independence Day Parade celebrations.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

The remaking of the CRH was part of a package of road development rooted in a national transportation study of 1972 in conjunction with the Canadian International Development Agency. It included expansion of the CRH and the Beetham Highway, and the construction of the PBR, the Solomon Hochoy Highway and Mucarapo Foreshore Highway.

In April 1994, the Trinidad Express published a Reuter news item, ‘Historian: Churchill was a racist’. The report quoted English historian, Andrew Roberts who concluded emphatically, ‘Churchill was a white supremacist’.

Roberts had written an article in the Spectator magazine, stating: “Churchill’s racist views remained unchanged throughout his 50 years in politics and encompassed almost every nationality.”

In October 2010, a leading British newspaper, the Independent, explored ‘The Dark side of Winston Churchill’—a view emanating from Richard Toye’s book, Churchill’s Empire. The Independent described Toye as ‘one of Britain’s smartest young historians’.

In Toye’s book, Churchill emerges with a Jekyll-and-Hyde legacy, being highly rated ‘for leading Britain through her finest hour’ in World War ll to save the empire from the Nazis, but notorious for leading ‘the country through her most shameful hour’. What follows are excerpts from an interview with Toye, published in the Independent.

Photo: USA president Franklin D Roosevelt (left) and Britain prime minister Winston Churchill discuss military plans in February 1945 during World War II.
(via Britannica)

Churchill was a Sandhurst-trained soldier and war correspondent. He fought in, and wrote about, his ‘jolly little wars against barbarous peoples’ that were actually critical to Britain’s imperial dominance in Africa and Asia.

Churchill was in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). He defended the use of Britain’s first concentration camps, the horrors of which were played down by the arch-imperialist High Commissioner, Lord Milner, the grandfather of Apartheid. Although they had chosen to fight on the British side, some 115,000 black Africans were sent to these concentration camps, of whom no less than 14,000 died in detention.

Additionally, 28,000 Boers (now called Afrikaners) died in these camps. About his experience in the war, Churchill wrote: “It was great fun galloping about.”

The Kurds of Iraq rebelled against British rule in 1920. In 1921, still unable to gain the upper hand, Churchill, then Colonial Secretary, recommended using poison gas to spread ‘lively terror’ among the ‘uncivilised tribes’. Poison gas had killed 90,000 soldiers during World War l.

In 1943, three years after US President FD Roosevelt met Prime Minister Churchill and acquired the many military bases in Trinidad—the reason for building the CRH—a famine broke out in Bengal, India, killing three million people in just one year. At the time, the British were taking out over 70,000 tons of rice annually from India.

Churchill bluntly rejected the pleas of his officials to ease the famine by redirecting food to the region. He allegedly responded, ‘I hate Indians’; and that since they were ‘breeding like rabbits’, he welcomed the famine, which would ‘merrily’ reduce the population.

Photo: Thousands of Kenyans were subjected to concentration camps by the British during the Mau Mau revolt led by the Kenya Land and Freedom Army.

Even Churchill’s Cabinet colleagues were uneasy with his extremism, positioning him ‘at the most brutal and brutish end of the British imperial spectrum’.

When Mahatma Gandhi launched his defiance campaign for Indian independence, Churchill advised that the Mahatma should be ‘bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy [Governor-General] seated on its back’.

As a young imperialist, Churchill had favoured the forced removal of Kikuyu and Maasai from their homelands to create a white Kenya, replicating the South African situation. Under Churchill’s prime ministership, English colonials in Kenya unleashed a reign of terror, including electronic torture, against the Kikuyu, imprisoning over 150,000 in concentration camps for demanding an end to British rule.

Hussein Onyango Obama, grandfather of former USA president Barack Obama, was one of the victims.

In 2018, English-Canadian writer, Terry Reardon, refuted some of the allegations against Churchill as war-time prime minister, citing documents from ‘The Churchill Project’—but Reardon did not dispute most of the vicious, racist statements credited to him.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was no less a believer in white supremacy than Winston Churchill. He won his first of four consecutive Presidential elections as a Democrat in 1933, partly because of the massive support of urban black voters who had begun to swing away from their traditional base in the Republican Party.

Photo: A Klu Kux Klan protest in Florida in the 1970s with a familiar nationalist slogan.
(Copyright Mark Foley/AP)

The Democratic Party was ideologically the conservative base of white supremacist from its foundation, up to the late 1950s. As President, Roosevelt was the leader of this party, the party of the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) and Jim Crow (legalised racism), for more than a decade.

Two years after Dr Thomas Parran oversaw the Tuskegee experiment in which 600 African Americans were deliberately infected with syphilis, FDR appointed him Surgeon General.

There were many racial episodes during FDR’s Presidency, but two definitely stand out, Jesse Owens, and Japanese Americans.

Black super athlete, Jesse Owens, won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, including the most prestigious, the 100- and 200-metre sprints. Because of aggressive anti-Nazi propaganda, everyone ‘knew’ that Adolf Hitler had snubbed Owens.

But Owens would later confirm: “Hitler didn’t snub me—it was FDR who snubbed me.”

The president refused to congratulate Owens by telegram or invite him to the White House. Owens actually commended German fans for their hospitality, being careful to distinguish between the Nazis and the German public.

He particularly praised German long jumper, Luz Long, whom he beat into second place. According to Owens, Long helped him improve his jumps and congratulated him on winning the gold. This was a higher humanity than FDR was able to rise to.

Photo: Iconic USA sprinter Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the Berlin 1936 Olympics in the 100m, 200m, long jump, and 4×100 relay events.
(Copyright Los Angeles Times)

Roosevelt was president when the KKK enjoyed its highest political influence. In the 1920s the movement boasted over three million active members. The KKK was the primary civil enforcer of white supremacy. From the adoption of Jim Crow (Segregationist) laws in 1877, the KKK aggressively deployed lynching to intimidate black voters in order to preserve white supremacy.

During Roosevelt’s presidency, there was an upsurge in anti-lynching bills brought before Congress. First lady Eleanor R begged her husband to support the bills; she even formally registered as a member of the NAACP.
The president refused, fearing that if he did, he would lose the support of white Democrats.

Like Churchill, Roosevelt treated all non-whites equally—as inferiors. In 1939, FDR refused to allow a refugee ship carrying about 1,000 Jews to dock in Florida. The ship returned to Belgium. Many of its passengers would die in German concentration camps.

Like Churchill, FDR had his ‘finest hour’ in his response to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour; but he also had his ‘darkest hour’ in consigning some 120,000 Japanese, many of them American citizens, to concentration camps for most of the war. The action may have been justified on military expediency, but it was also informed by racism.

In addressing Japanese immigration to the US in 1925, FDR wrote: “…the mingling of Asiatic blood with European and American blood produces, in nine cases out of ten, the most unfortunate results.”

Photo: USA president FD Roosevelt (centre) prepares to go to war with Japan.

Of course, ‘American’ meant white American. This racist thought originated in the sixteenth century, when Spaniards renounced their own children whose other parent was African and branded them ‘mulatto’, meaning mule.

To his credit, FDR signed an executive order for Fair Employment Practice in 1941. The Order forbade discrimination in Federal employment based on race or national origins. But he refused to intervene to enforce full integration of the US Armed Forces.

Our highways should not be names of shameless oppressors of humanity but names that inspire pride and a greater humanity in our children.

The case against Beetham and Lady Young is reserved for another commentary.

About Claudius Fergus

Claudius Fergus
Claudius Fergus is a retired Senior Lecturer in the Department of History at UWI’s St Augustine Campus who specialises in the abolition of British colonial slavery and its transatlantic slave trade. His major work on the subject is Revolutionary Emancipation: Slavery and Abolitionism in the British West Indies (2013). He has other extensive publications in peer-reviewed journals and edited books.

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4 comments

  1. The question is ,by changing the name what do we really accomplish as a nation? My personal perspective about this is that we should honor our own and be proud of our accomplishments, cause rightfully as mentioned by the writer it’s not the same road as it was back then it is a totally refurbish highway. Engineered by our very own. So why not rebranded by Renaming it with our very own heroes and those who has made a great contribution to our development as a nation. We claimed to be an independent state but independent of who and what? Why should we be honoring presidents of another country be it that they are racist or not. We have our own presidents , our own prime ministers our own national heroes ‘ why not honor them instead. Our little country of Trinidad and Tobago are mostly dominated by two races , Africans and Indians. Honor our African and Indian ancestors who has been through great hardship to bring our beautiful beloved islands to what it is today. By changing the CHR won’t change history but rather create our own history which I think is important for any country

  2. Earl Best

    Claude Fergus clearly does not read. He should try to get his hands on some of Dr Kumar Mahabir’s stuff and educate himself.

  3. Find me any nation’s hero from the past that can pass the test of unanimous “global” support from all of mankind and then we can begin to discuss the merits of changing the name of the CRH. By that standard, not even God himself reincarnated will get the full support of the masses.

    Winston Churchill and Theodore Roosevelt may not have been perfect men, the era that they presided in had many distortions of the laws of natural justice and social equity. However, if not for those two men specifically, the world and yes Trinidad & Tobago included, may have been forced to live under a most severe form of slavery and racism the likes of which were never seen before or after Adolf Hitler.

    So before we pick and choose what and whom we would like to name things after today, perhaps we should not think so myopically of the reported faults of two men but rather the global fortunes that they have made available to all of us free people today.

  4. All well and good to change names but we have to be reminded of our history as those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

    To be honest, the name of the CRH does not impact one way or other in the minds of the general citizenry and one wonders whether the writer’s commentary is simply interesting history but not worth the effort to pursue in making it a reality.