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NJAC Rededication: What the ‘Black Power Revolution’ won in 1970

“[…] Most of all, the movement of 1970 gave the population a new sense of ownership of their land. This also meant acceptance of direct responsibility for their nation’s affairs…”

The following is the 12th and final column in an NJAC series on their contribution to Trinidad and Tobago society after the ‘Black Power Revolution’ of 1970:

Photo: Makandal Daaga addresses thousands of demonstrators in POS in 1970.
(courtesy NJAC)

In references to the Trinidad and Tobago Revolution of 1970, one often forgets that for seven months of that year the nation was under a state of emergency (21 April to 20 November). During that time NJAC’s leaders were imprisoned. Neither is due reflection given that the focal point of the revolution lasted only 55 days, from 26 February to 21 April, yet the achievements were remarkable.

The population was inspired by the wave of ‘New Consciousness’—Black consciousness, national consciousness and Caribbean consciousness—which gave rise to greater togetherness and purpose. The people’s creative energies were thus released, giving birth to the ‘T&T Revolution’ and the ensuing extraordinary achievements, during what Brother Valentino calls the ‘Roaring Seventies’.

The following are some of those achievements:

Governance

Of very great significance was NJAC’s contribution to the growth of People’s Power in T&T. This involved a few measures, including the creation of the People’s Parliament, which was launched in March 1970. It was the first and only institution that engaged the population directly in the decision-making process. The slogan, ‘Power to the People’ was thus given meaning in 1970 when communities began to make decisions in their own interest.

NJAC also introduced the political principles of mobilisation, consultation and participation for good governance. Firstly, mobilisation involves a process of uniting people, informing and preparing them to act on their own behalf to solve their problems. Secondly, consultation affirms the right of people to be consulted before decisions that would impact their lives significantly are made. Thirdly, participation gives people the right to be part of the decision-making process on matters that affect their future.

The principle of people’s participation was used in the creation of NJAC’s policy statement. What is most inspiring was the full involvement of the masses in producing this document, which has been NJAC’s manifesto since 1981. The main ideas, suggestions and expressed hopes and aspirations of people were gathered from approximately 600 consultations held across T&T between 1979 and 1981.

Photo: NJAC leader Makandal Daaga (centre) holds a press conference in 1970.
(Courtesy Embau Moheni/NJAC)

The introduction to this document states: “This statement of principles is, therefore, more than an organisation document; it is a statement of a people looking forward to a future that they are taking into their own hands.”

NJAC’s strong focus on enlightening the people led to their rejection of the colonial hangovers of racism and exploitation. The government was, thus, forced to set up the Wooding Constitution Reform Commission in 1971, to produce a new constitution for Trinidad and Tobago. The new constitution was introduced in 1976, creating the ‘Republic of Trinidad and Tobago’. Our president then replaced the British monarch as our head of state.

Unity

One of NJAC’s foundation principles is ‘Unite the Nation’. This principle was given even greater significance on 12 March 1970 in the march to Caroni, when the Indian community gave full support to the March for National Unity. The Indian community, in an expression of true brotherhood and sisterhood, opened their homes to the hundreds of demonstrators who were unable to get transportation back to Port of Spain, given the lateness of the night.

Another one of NJAC’s principles is ‘Be a Brother, Be a Sister’. With the use of this principle in 1970 to redefine the nation as a family, unity, togetherness and love multiplied across the nation, resulting in a 56% reduction in crime in 1970. People were uniting with the singular objective of elevating the entire population.

Nationalisation and Economic Transformation:

NJAC recognised that the vast majority of our people failed to benefit reasonably from our natural, accumulated and human resources. NJAC, therefore, demanded national control of the commanding heights of the economy, and emphasised with the slogan ‘We do not want crumbs, we want the whole bread.’

Due to these demands, state involvement in the economy grew rapidly after 1970, increasing from eight enterprises to 67 in a relatively short period of time. Opportunities were thus created for Africans and Indians to access positions that had been denied them before 1970.

Photo: The First Citizens Bank branch at the Brian Lara Promenade in Port of Spain.
(via Flckr)

Growing out of demands by NJAC and the people for control of national finance, the Bank of London & Montreal (BOLAM) was acquired between the 22nd and 23rd March 1970, and the National Commercial Bank (now First Citizens Bank) was established. It was the very first fully commercial bank to be owned by the people of T&T.

Additionally, all other banks, which were all foreign-owned in 1970, as well as all the insurance companies (except for one that was locally owned), were localised. They had to transfer a minimum of 51% of their shares to citizens of T&T.

NJAC’s strong position on national insurance was largely responsible for the establishment of the National Insurance Board (NIB) in 1971.

Entrepreneurship

The ‘New Consciousness’ also inspired the birth of the ‘Drag Brothers’ on Frederick Street in 1970. They began to make bags, sandals and other leather items, which they sold on the ‘Drag’ (Frederick Street). This early initiative developed into a full-blown revolution in the distribution of business ownership in T&T. It gave rise to the ‘People’s Sector’, which opened the doors for thousands who had no business opportunities prior to the revolution of 1970.

The self-reliance and self-confidence, instilled in the people by the revolution, was so powerful that the three years of 1970, 1971 and 1972 were declared as the years of Small Business (1970), Co-operatives (1971) and Credit Unions (1972).

Photo: The Drag Brothers showcase their leather sandals.
(Copyright Discover TNT)

Caribbean Integration:

NJAC played a pivotal role in the formation of the Caribbean Steering Committee for a united and cohesive development of the region. The committee, which was chaired by Chief Servant Makandal Daaga, addressed problems of individual countries as well as international issues.

The successful campaign by the revolution for the Caribbean to have its own examinations led to the founding of the Caribbean Examinations Council when 15 countries from the English-speaking Caribbean signed the agreement to create this council on 30 April 1972. The CXC has provided the opportunity for millions of students across the region to receive an education that is more relevant to the needs of Caribbean people. Prior to 1970, all secondary level examinations came from Britain.

Equality and Justice

The 1970 Revolution also addressed institutional racism. In Tobago, for instance, the Mount Irvine Bay Hotel and Golf Club were opened to non-whites in the aftermath of 1970. The fence at Bacolet Bay, which was erected by the Blue Haven Hotel to secure the beach as a restricted area for tourists, was cut and steps built to give access to the public. With the dawn of the ‘New Consciousness’, the blatant and open racism of previous years was generally no longer tolerated.

The local white community has also benefited from the 1970 revolution. They obtained many senior positions vacated by the expatriates who departed our shores during the mass people’s movement.

Many nationals gained elevation within the Church hierarchy during the 1970s. For example, a fair number of nationals were elevated in the Anglican Church during and after 1970, including Clive Abdullah who also became the first African bishop of the Anglican Church in Trinidad and Tobago in September 1970.

Through NJAC’sPhilosophy of Inclusion’, T&T became the first nation outside of the African continent to give legal recognition to African Religions with the passage of the Act for the Incorporation of the Orisa Movement of Trinidad and Tobago, Egbe Ile Wa in 1981.

Photo: Gerard Pantin, founder of Servol

The demands of the revolution for greater care for the underprivileged was directly responsible for the formation of Servol. In the 50 years since 1970, Servol has assisted the 300,000 individuals who have participated in their various programmes. The Servol model has also been exported to countries as far as Israel, France, Italy and South Africa the Caribbean.

Race Relations and Cultural Identity

The 1970 revolution also gave large sectors of the national community a new pride in their history, culture and religions. This removed much of the negative and biased images, even though there is still a very long way to go. Much of what was open has simply gone underground or is lurking in the dark.

In its pursuit of a new society, NJAC established the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) in 1982 to help build better race relations in T&T. Among those who gave sterling service are Sister Liseli Daaga, former president, Director—BILL, Archbishop Anthony Pantin, Bishop Clyde Abdullah, Noble Khan, Muslim elder and former senator, Jawara Mobota, former president of the IRR, spiritual elder, attorney-at-law Rev Siewnarine, head of Presbyterian Church, Haji Vinole Khan, Islamic prelate, Servant Embau Moheni, former minister of government, Frank Barsotti, economist and Chaconia Gold Awardee to name a few.

Brother Aiyegoro Ome, historian, national cultural activist and Chaconia Silver awardee was president of the Caribbean Institute of Race Relations (CIRR), the forerunner to the IRR.

Most of all, the movement of 1970 gave the population a new sense of ownership of their land. This also meant acceptance of direct responsibility for their nation’s affairs.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago citizens march for racial unity on 12 March 1970.
(Courtesy Embau Moheni/NJAC)

As NJAC reflects on the past 50 years, we remain committed and prepared to continue this journey with our people through a united, collective effort. For in unity, there is strength and wisdom (what NJAC calls the collective genius). There is little knowledge or understanding of what our people have endured for the past 50 years. We fully recognise and commend their determination and patience, and we are fully confident that the sacrifices made, and pains endured will not be in vain. The dignity and honour of our people will most definitely be restored.

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2 comments

  1. NJAC’s is a disgrace to the african community for it’s co-signing & OVERSEE-ING of the UNC/PP’s virulent, disrespectful, anti-african racism between 2010-2015. The most heinous attack on african people as a group since the colonial governance era of pre 1955. NJAC is nothing more than a front for an indian political organization (UNC), which is completely fine except for the deception, lack of self respect and integrity they posture as having. What is the point of having african garb, names and music if your HEART & SOUL ISN’T? NJAC is a UNC farce!

  2. Thank you for this series. Happy Rededication Day TnT. #1970