July 18, 1913
May 18, 1979
Caleb Azariah Paul Southwell is one of the official national heroes of the Caribbean islands of St. Kitts and Nevis. He was born in Dominica and served as a schoolteacher before becoming a member of the Leeward Islands police force in 1938. He left the police force in 1944 and worked as an assistant stock clerk at the St. Kitts Sugar Factory until his dismissal over a wage dispute in 1948. In 1944 he was also recruited into the St. Kitts-Nevis Trades and Labour Union, where he served as part-time organizer until his election in 1947 as union vice-president. Southwell gained tremendous political clout through his participation in militant strikes against the exploitative sugar industry.
Southwell's political ascendancy was accomplished through the struggle for self-government that characterized much of the English-speaking Caribbean during the twentieth century. With the introduction of universal adult suffrage in 1952, Southwell, then the deputy leader of the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party, was elected to the St. Kitts Legislature. He was returned to the Legislative Council in 1956 and became minister of communications and works. During his political tenure, Southwell participated with Robert Bradshaw (St. Kitts's foremost political leader) in daring anticolonial protests. In the aftermath of the massive 1950 demonstration against the appointment of Kenneth Blackburne as Leeward Islands governor, Southwell published "The Truth about Operation Blackburne" (1951), a pamphlet explaining his party's frustration over the failure of the British Colonial Office to consult local inhabitants about political appointments.
In sharp contrast to his early years in Bradshaw's shadow, Southwell took the full reins of political leadership on St. Kitts when Bradshaw left to serve in the West Indies Federation (1958–1962). The 1958 strike against sugar industry employers was mounted and settled on his initiative, and he led a delegation to London in 1959 to advocate for further constitutional and electoral reform. He was elected to the Executive Council in 1960 and elevated to the position of chief minister of St. Kitts, Nevis, and Anguilla—a post he held until 1966. When the islands of St. Kitts, Nevis, and Anguilla (before the secession of Anguilla) became a state in association with Great Britain in 1967, Southwell—in deference to Bradshaw's return to the legislature after serving in the parliament of the abortive West Indies Federation—became deputy premier and minister of finance, trade, industry, and tourism. Following Bradshaw's death in 1978, the mantel of premiership passed to Southwell.
Southwell had hoped to ultimately preside over an independent nation, and he figured prominently in the 1970s independence talks in London. He also worked for years to develop the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States and had agreed to serve as its special ambassador. He died suddenly on May 18, 1979, while chairing a meeting of the West Indies Associated States Council of Ministers in St. Lucia. By then, he had set St. Kitts-Nevis well on the way to self-determination.
Browne, Whitman. From Commoner to King: Robert L. Bradshaw, Crusader for Dignity and Justice in the Caribbean. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1992.
O'Flaherty, Victoria Borg. Pioneers of the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Movement. Basseterre, St. Kitts: Labour Spokesman Press, 1999.
carleen payne-jackson (2005)