James, A. P. T.
James, A. P. T.
January 5, 1962
Alphonso Philbert Theophilus James was born in Patience Hill, Tobago. He later migrated to Trinidad, where he worked as a laborer with the Brighton Lake Asphalt Company and rose in the ranks to become a foreman, before eventually becoming an independent contractor. He was involved with the Uriah Butler labor movement in the 1930s and was an advocate for labor issues, though he is best known for being the most ardent advocate for political, social, and economic development in Tobago. James was a member of the Trinidad Labour Party, and he won the Tobago seat in the Legislative Council of Trinidad and Tobago in 1946. His tenure in office lasted until 1961.
James believed that Tobago, though disadvantaged by years of neglect, was an equal partner in the former united colony of Trinidad and Tobago, not a subordinate, dependent adjunct. He demanded that Tobago have separate representation and a separate voice on all issues and in all forums, even in the parliament of the British West Indies Federation. He contended that if Tobago's infrastructure, sea communication, and social services were improved, and if its agricultural, fishing, and tourism resources developed, the island would achieve economic viability and thus free itself from dependence on the Trinidad treasury. Probably the most significant of James's convictions was that Tobago should once again be granted administrative autonomy and become a separate entity, independent of Trinidad. At the end of his career he advocated secession from Trinidad.
His advocacy for Tobago resulted in several victories, including the purchase of two new steamships for the inter-island route in 1960, the construction of the North Coast Road, the appropriation of more money for the improvement of medical service and equipment at the Tobago hospital, and the construction of at least two elementary schools in Tobago. James strongly believed that Tobago could regain economic viability, mainly through the development of its agricultural and fishing industries and by encouraging tourism. Thus, in 1948, he visited the secretary of state for the colonies and presented a memorandum for the economic and political development of Tobago from the Tobago Citizens Political and Economic Party (TCPEP), which recommended, inter alia, that the Colonial Development Corporation provide fifteen million dollars towards the development of Tobago. James also lobbied for the extension of water distribution and the provision of electricity to Tobago. In 1952, Scarborough, Tobago's capital, was finally electrified.
By 1947 the uneven development in Tobago led James to threaten to work toward the separation of the island from Trinidad. In 1948 James also championed the cause for full responsible government—that all members of the Legislative Council should be elected, and that Tobago should have two seats in the council and representation on the Executive Council and the Estimates Committee, which created the colony's annual budget. James believed that because Tobago was separated from Trinidad by the ocean, Tobagonians knew best what the island needed. Thus, their increased representation in the corridors of power was essential for the progress of the island. Further, James and the TCPEP demanded that a special ministry to handle Tobago affairs be created, and the Ministry of Tobago Affairs was duly established in 1964.
In 1956 the People's National Movement (PNM), led by Eric Williams (1911–1981), came to power. James was optimistic about Williams' "Tobago Development Programme," with its 9.2 million dollars promised for economic development in Tobago. Williams also proposed a Ministry of Tobago Affairs, with a minister who would be a member of the Executive Council. James soon became impatient with the pace of progress in the development program, however, and that and other matters led to strained relations with the PNM. By 1960 James had formed a group called the Tobago Independence Movement (TIM) to explore the possibility of Tobago gaining internal self-government status within the West Indies Federation. The group proposed a referendum on separation from Trinidad. The proposal was condemned by the PNM government, which James charged with having a colonial mentality toward Tobago.
In 1961 James lost his seat in the general elections. One month later, on January 5, 1962, he died of a cerebral hemorrhage and hypertension. To James's credit, Tobago was a better place because of his unrelenting advocacy on its behalf. The political pressure he put on the central government forced Trinidadian officials to abandon the view that Tobago should only be considered a rural backwater with little economic potential, not worthy of much administrative attention and devoid of political consciousness.
Luke, Learie B. "Identity and Autonomy in Tobago: From Union to Self-Government, 1889–1980." Ph.D. diss., Howard University, Washington, D.C., 2001.
Phillips, Andre. Governor Fargo: A Short Biography of Alphonso Philbert Theophilus James. Scarborough, Tobago: Tobago Printery.
"Resolution Passed at the General Meeting of the Tobago Citizens Political and Economic Party." CO 295/654/70778/1/1: Public Records Office, Kew, England.
learie b. luke (2005)