NJAC remembers Basil Davis, the first martyr of the 1970 Black Power Revolution

“[…] Basil Davis represented the type of persons who were joining the Revolution in their thousands in 1970. He was an ordinary brother from the blocks of Barataria. His now late mother and other family members testified that Basil was a very kind person, who shared what little he had with his other brothers and sisters.

“The message of 1970 inspired him to join the movement for change and he died as he had lived, expressing compassion, pleading with police officers to empathise with another young man whom they had arrested…”

The following Letter to the Editor on the death of Basil Davis and its role in the 1970 Revolution was submitted to Wired868 by Embau Moheni of the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC):

Photo: The coffin bearing the body of the slain Basil Davis lies in Woodford Square in Port-of-Spain during the 1970 Revolution.
(Copyright NJAC)

In 2022, as the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) observes the 52nd Anniversary of the Trinidad & Tobago Revolution of 1970, also called the Black Power Uprising, we remember Brother Basil Davis, the first martyr of the Revolution.

Davis was a young man of only 22 when he was shot dead by a police officer outside of Woodford Square (renamed the ‘People’s Parliament’ by the thousands who gathered there daily).

Davis’ only ‘crime’ was pleading with police officers to release another young man, Charlie, whom they had under arrest. Instead of releasing Charlie, the police officers decided to arrest Davis as well. He sought to avoid being ‘taken down’, and a police officer, Joshua Gordon, proceeded to take out his revolver and shot Davis once at point blank range. The shot proved to be fatal.

The national outrage which followed the death of Davis was such that his funeral was the largest in the history of the Caribbean. Over 100,000 persons came to pay their respects to a man whose life had been snuffed out in the struggle to achieve a free and just society for all citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.

Photo: Mourners march through Port-of-Spain during the funeral procession for Basil Davis on 9 April 1970.
(Courtesy Embau Moheni/NJAC)

For NJAC, Davis had an equally spiritual relevance. He represented the type of persons who were joining the Revolution in their thousands in 1970. He was an ordinary brother from the blocks of Barataria. His now late mother and other family members testified that Basil was a very kind person, who shared what little he had with his other brothers and sisters.

The message of 1970 inspired him to join the movement for change and he died as he had lived, expressing compassion, pleading with police officers to empathise with another young man whom they had arrested.

Basil was a part of the people’s movement for change, which was led by NJAC in 1970. It was a movement for equality and justice. NJAC and the masses were seeking to transform the nation to guarantee all citizens equal opportunities in a land that has sufficient wealth to provide everyone with a decent standard of living and a dignified quality of life.

Davis died because of his love for people and because he stood up for the rights of all citizens of Trinidad & Tobago. This is why the population came out in their tens of thousands, in a show of love for a young man who had died for his principles and who demanded an end to oppression, racism and the exploitation of the vast majority of the population.

Photo: Police remove placards from the bandstand in Woodford Square in Port-of-Spain on 22 April 1970. The square was a popular rallying point for Black Power activists in the capital city.
(Copyright AP Photo)

Basil Davis and the thousands of youths who swelled the ranks of the people’s movement of 1970 were seeking to introduce more humane and uplifting principles in our nation. For instance, NJAC and the movement re-defined the nation as a family, when we introduced the principle ‘Be a Brother, Be a Sister’. With this principle, the very social foundations of our society were touched in a very serious and fundamental way.

In the people’s yearning for a better life, they embraced the new principles promoted by NJAC and the 1970 Revolution. People began to address each other as ‘brother’ and ‘sister’. It did not matter that you may never have seen the person before.

What was important was that you were both human and, as such, entitled to the same respect and love as anyone else. Most revealing is the fact that this environment of unity, love and togetherness created by NJAC had a very positive impact on the crime rate.

A mere 55 days of enlightenment by NJAC resulted in a record-breaking 56% reduction in the level of crime in 1970. The message was loud and clear; values of brotherhood, unity, love, togetherness and justice are far more important tools in the fight against crime than all the prisons, guns, courts and police.

In 1970, this message was illustrated to be indisputable.

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

So, did the power elite recognise and reward NJAC’s unparalleled achievement? The answer is a big ‘No’. Instead, NJAC and its members and supporters were subjected to illegal persecution, imprisonment, torture and, in some cases, even death.

Basil Davis remains a symbol of the movement of NJAC and the masses for People’s Power and true Independence. It was a movement for inclusion, with the slogan, ‘Old and Young, All Belong in the New Society’. It was also a movement for the enlightenment of the population, which gave birth to the ‘New Consciousness’ that gave our people a greater understanding and appreciation of themselves and their neighbours.

Fifty-two years later, the economic malaise, political ineptness, racial divisions and inhumane conditions of life which Davis died fighting against have escalated as never before, wreaking havoc with our people’s lives across the length and breadth of the nation.

It is also very important for us to examine the diabolical plot which was engineered by the government in order to call the 1970 State of Emergency. This criminal, illegal plot is carried on page 10 of the Newsday of Monday 4 January, 1999. The writer, George Alleyne, attributes the information he received to a Special Branch police officer.

Photo: Demonstrators in front of the Royal Bank of Canada on Independence Square in Port-of-Spain in 1970.
(via NJAC)

This is Alleyne’s account in that edition of the Newsday:

‘Later, he gave details of the events which led to the State of Emergency being declared.

‘Black Power leaders had staged a march of several thousands down Charlotte Street. But unknown to them, there were agents provocateurs from the Special Branch, who marched alongside them shouting Black Power slogans.

‘As the demonstration neared the Charlotte Street and Independence Square (North) intersection, the agents provocateurs reportedly ran into a couple of the Charlotte Street stores and began tossing goods from the shelves. They were quickly followed by demonstrators, who did immense damage, as was the plan.

‘The agents provocateurs immediately ran out of the stores and, moments later, police officers began firing tear gas at the demonstration.

‘This happened on Thursday, April 16, 1970. A few days later the state of emergency was declared.’

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

The fact is that after NJAC’s March to Caroni (Chaguanas and Couva) on 12 March, the government was very concerned about the growing unity between the Indians and Africans. This concern reached desperation proportions when the government learned of the return demonstration from the Indian community to Port of Spain, planned for 21 April.

Just as was done in the colonial days, the government did all in their power to divide our people. Fanning the flames of Indian/African animosities was central to the government’s strategy for dominating the population. The government was therefore determined to prevent this demonstration from taking place at all costs.

Their problem, however, was that all of NJAC’s demonstrations were highly disciplined and peaceful. So the government had absolutely no valid excuse to use for the declaration of a state of emergency. They therefore decided to create their own incident, using Special Branch officers to do their dirty work.

The night after the Charlotte Street incident of 16 April, then attorney General Karl Hudson-Phillips addressed the nation, dishonestly stating that the government supported ‘Black Power’, but could not condone violence and the destruction of people’s property. Five days later, on 21 April, the government declared a state of emergency.

Photo: Makandal Daaga (in mufti in photo at right) and Carl Blackwood are arrested by policemen during the 1970 revolution.

Using deception and a planned and executed incident of their own creation, the authorities proceeded to imprison several of NJAC’s leaders. The return march of the Indian community to north Trinidad was never realised. Today, as the race factor continues to do untold damage to the very soul of a nation, too many of us still believe it is the natural consequence of things.

But the time has come to set the record straight, restore our unity and celebrate David Rudder’s calypso, ‘The Ganges Meets the Nile’.

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