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NJAC rededication: Pegasus’ flight—how forerunner to NJAC inspired national stadium and awards

“[…] ‘Pegasus’ was formed by Brother Makandal Daaga after a life-changing event at an Independence night party, on 31 August 1962. He was shocked when persons protested noisily, when the DJ put on the very first calypso for the night, shouting that it was not Carnival and for him to take it off.

“Brother Daaga knew that if we could not enjoy Independence with our own art form, then we had not grasped the meaning and significance of independence.

“[…] Those who served on Pegasus included: Roy Mitchell, Lieutenant Commander Joffre Serrette, Sir Frank Worrell, Bishop Clyde Harvey, Alloy Lequay, Winston Dookeran, Ken Gordon, Gerry Gomez, Alex Chapman, Gemma Ramkeesoon…”

The following is the third column on the ‘Birth of a Mass People’s Movement’ in a NJAC series on their contribution to Trinidad and Tobago society, after the ‘Black Power Revolution’ of 1970:

Photo: Mourners march down Frederick Street on 9 April 1970 for the funeral of the slain Basil Davis.
(Courtesy Embau Moheni/NJAC)

Chief servant Makandal Daaga ORTT has been one of the most influential leaders ever to have come out of Trinidad and Tobago—a man who was responsible for changing the course of history in Trinidad and Tobago.

He was born, lived and died on the hills of Laventille, from which he led the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) and the masses. On 26 February 1970, exactly one year after NJAC was formed, he spearheaded the launch of the most powerful and colourful mass movement the Caribbean has witnessed.

Named Geddes Leo Granger at birth, he proudly asserted his African identity of Makandal Akhenaton Daaga, when he changed his name shortly after 1970.

Makandal Daaga was always a true patriot and Caribbean man, with a genuine love for the people. It was this sense of patriotism, which led him to form and lead the Pegasus organisation in 1962, which preceded NJAC that he subsequently led. The origin and nature of Pegasus are very instructive and give an insight into the man.

Pegasus was formed by Brother Daaga after a life-changing event at an Independence night party, on 31 August 1962. He was shocked when persons protested noisily, when the DJ put on the very first calypso for the night, shouting that it was not Carnival and for him to take it off.

Photo: Iconic late calypsonian Lord Blakie was the Road March king in 1962 with ‘Maria’.

Brother Daaga knew that if we could not enjoy Independence with our own art form, then we had not grasped the meaning and significance of independence.

His second surprise was finding the city like a ghost town when he left the party shortly after mid-night. There was no serious celebration in Port-of-Spain. There was not even a steelband to be found to usher in our freedom from British colonial rule.

The following day, in discussing the experience with a friend, Winslow Johnson, he expressed the view that what was needed was a body of young, intelligent people who would recognise the problem and who would immediately begin to work toward forging true independence in Trinidad and Tobago.

He then outlined to his friend, a plan which he believed would accomplish this. His friend encouraged him to carry it out and pledged to assist him in whatever way he could. And so, Pegasus was born.

Daaga (then Geddes Granger) was able to attract some 75 of T&T’s most brilliant minds and had them commit to engendering a sense of Independence in the people. Many of them went on to become very prominent citizens in various fields of endeavour.

Photo: Former Integrity Commission chairman Ken Gordon was a member of Pegasus under Makandal Daaga (then Geddes Granger).

Those who served included: Geddes Granger (Makandal Daaga) (executive director), Roy Mitchell (founder – Public Relations Association of T&T, president and chairman of the Cultural Committee), Lieutenant Colonel Joffre Serrette (T&T Defence Force), Sir Frank Worrell (West Indies cricket team captain, who was resident in Trinidad at the time), Bishop Clyde Harvey, Alloy Lequay (MP, Honorary LLB, UWI and president of the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board of Control), Winston Dookeran (government minister, governor of Central Bank), Ken Gordon (Caribbean journalism pioneer, CCN chairman, Transparency Committee chairman), Reverend Roy Neehall (T&T representative at World Conference of Churches in Geneva), Gerry Gomez (West Indies cricketer), Barbara Blenman (UN Security Council member), Carlos Dillon (chairman of External Affairs, manager of Mount Irvine Hotel, Tobago), Alex Chapman (TTOC president), and Gemma Ramkeesoon (pioneer for Women’s Rights).

Pegasus was the first body in Trinidad and Tobago to give ‘National Awards’ and took the lead in honouring our citizens with annual Independence concerts, which brought together African, Indian, Chinese and Portuguese performers on one stage at City Hall. These concerts ran for six consecutive nights, free to the public, with the artistes performing free of charge.

The government introduced its own national awards in 1969.

Photo: Late former NJAC and Pegasus leader Makandal Daaga

Pegasus also devised projects to redesign Port of Spain, to create a national arts centre and to erect a national stadium. The Trinidad City Development Company offered the land required for the stadium. Sad to say, these projects were all stymied by the government.

The Port of Spain National stadium was eventually opened by Prime Minister George Chambers on 12 June 1982, while it was renamed the Hasely Crawford Stadium by Prime Minister Basdeo Panday on 30 December 1996.

All the major Pegasus projects received verbal support from the government, only for them to then take the ideas and implement them as their own—most were started, but never completed.

A case in point was the proposed construction of a national stadium at Constantine Park in Macoya. The government took the idea and jumped ahead with construction of a stadium at King George V Park, which was later renamed Nelson Mandela Park.  After spending a huge sum of money, the project ended in corruption.

The scope of Bro Daaga’s vision, ideas and undertaking, was indeed broad. When hurricane Flora struck Tobago, he organised a relief campaign for residents of Tobago who were affected by it.

Photo: The Port of Spain National Stadium on 19 November 1989 before kick off between Trinidad and Tobago and the United States in a crucial World Cup qualifier.
The stadium was opened in 1982. However, Pegasus proposed a national stadium in Macoya, two decades earlier.

He also spearheaded a national campaign to secure the release of the Independence Calypso King, Lord Brynner, who was imprisoned in Jamaica.

Under Daaga’s leadership, Pegasus, in October 1967, also launched a programme called ‘Model United Nations’ which involved secondary school students in an exercise geared towards giving them an understanding and appreciation of international issues, based on the format of the United Nations General Assembly. This programme continued to be held annually for a number of years.

Roy Mitchell, writing in the T&T Review in 1986 said: ‘Pegasus was not just an organisation. Pegasus was an inspiration, a movement, a spirit from which great things would have been expected for Trinidad and Tobago and Geddes (Bro Daaga) led the way religiously and tirelessly’.

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