Woodford Square, previously known as Brunswick Square, is the enclosed space that opens up across the street from the Red House, the edifice housing the government of Trinidad and Tobago. It was named after Sir Ralph Woodford, who was governor of the colony between 1813 and 1826. The square has been used by many anticolonialists to mount campaigns against the colonial establishment. Many of the country's protest leaders first hoisted their banners in Woodford Square, including Tubal Uriah "Buzz" Butler, the labor leader who in the 1930s became known as the King of Woodford Square.
A New King of Woodford Square
In 1955, Dr. Eric Williams became the new King of Woodford Square. He was a radical, anticolonial Trinidadian scholar and the author of Capitalism and Slavery, the classic study of emancipation in the Anglophone Caribbean. Williams was employed by the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission, an organization sponsored and supported by the British, French, American, and Dutch governments, all of whom had colonies in the region. Williams's writings and public speeches did not sit well with the plantation elites in the region, or with the expatriate officials of the commission, who resented his radical anticolonial analyses of what colonialism meant for the peoples of the region. They were equally unhappy with his arguments about the need to West Indianize the school curriculum and the public services, and with his views on restructuring Caribbean economies to make them less mercantilist and less linked to the industrial production of Europe in general and Britain in particular—views he developed in his groundbreaking 1942 book The Negro in the Caribbean.
Williams's contract with the commission was not renewed when it expired in June 1955. He was instead offered a one-year extension, which meant that he was either on probation or being provoked into resignation. Williams assumed the latter and resigned, turning his energies toward politics. He had anticipated the commission's action and written to Norman Manley, the premier of Jamaica, five months earlier, telling him that "there is no doubt that throwing my hat in the ring will be a sensation…. Elections are to be postponed until September 1956; this will give me more time…. I am immersed in a vast adult education programme … [and] this will keep my name before the public."
Following his dismissal, Williams took his case to the people of Trinidad and Tobago in Woodford Square, delivering a speech to an audience of 10,000 that effectively launched his political career.
Addressing the question of why, if he believed the commission was an imperialist agency, he had sought to become its secretary general, he explained:
I tolerated those conditions for over twelve years [because] I represented … the cause of the West Indian people. I also had more personal reasons. My connection with the Commission brought me into close contact with present problems in the territories, the study of whose history has been the principal purpose of my adult life, while my association with representatives of the metropolitan governments enabled me to understand, as I could not otherwise have understood, the mess in which the West Indies find themselves today.
Williams went on to say:
I was born here, and I stay with the people of Trinidad and Tobago, who educated me free of charge for nine years at Queen's Royal College and for five years at Oxford, who have made me whatever I am, and who have been the victims of the very pressures which I have been fighting against for twelve years…. I am going to let down my bucket where I am, right here with you in the British West Indies. (My Relations With the Caribbean Commission )
The speech was a brilliant apologia. He had cast himself in the role of the providential messiah who had been preparing himself in the wilderness of the commission so that he might with greater effectiveness set his people free.
Educating a Generation
Following his dismissal from the commission and his resignation from Howard University, where he held the post of associate professor (from which he was on leave), Williams delivered more than a hundred lectures in Woodford Square and at other venues in the towns of San Fernando, Couva, Tunapuna, Point Fortin, Sangre Grande, Fyzabad, and Arima. The lectures dealt with a wide range of burning public issues, including the Federation of the West Indies, the need for party politics, and constitutional reform. In these lectures, Williams never patronized his audiences or simplified his presentations for the benefit of the least educated. If anything, his lectures were pitched at too high a level. Williams, however, believed that his historic mission was to raise the level of public education and bring university-type education to the public square, where it properly belonged. As he told the cheering crowd:
The age of exclusiveness in university education is gone forever, though our West Indian University College perversely refuses to recognize this. Somebody once said that all that was needed for a university was a book and the branch of a tree; someone else went further and said that a university should be a university in overalls. With a bandstand, a microphone, a large audience in slacks and hot shirts, a topical subject for discussion, the open air and a beautiful tropical night, we have all the essentials of a university. Now that I have resigned my position at Howard University in the U.S.A., the only university in which I shall lecture in future is the University of Woodford Square and its several branches throughout the length and breadth of Trinidad and Tobago.
The University of Woodford Square
From 1955 to 1965, Williams made the people's political education the main plank in his political platform. As he said in his History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago :
The PNM [People's National Movement] organised what has now become famous in many parts of the world, the University of Woodford Square with constituent colleges in most of the principal centers of population in the country. The political education dispensed to the population in those centers of political learning was of a high order and concentrated from the outset on placing Trinidad and Tobago within the current of the great international movements for democracy and self-government (1964, p. 243).
The "University of Woodford Square," the cradle of Trinidad nationalism, was closed in 1970 in the wake of the black power revolution to prevent it from being used by radical Black Power elements for their protest meetings. Although the King of Woodford Square returned to the lecture podium from time to time after 1970, the students had in effect chased Williams from the professor's chair. Ironically, Williams had achieved his goal: He had educated a generation, and it had graduated politically, thanks to his tutelage.
Williams, Eric. Capitalism and Slavery. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1944.
Williams, Eric. The Case for Party Politics in Trinidad and Tobago. Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago: Teacher's Economic and Cultural Association, Public Affairs Pamphlet, 1955.
Williams, Eric. Constitutional Reform in Trinidad and Tobago. Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago: Teacher's Economic and Cultural Association, Public Affairs Pamphlet, 1955.
Williams, Eric. My Relations with the Caribbean Commission, 1943–1955. Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago: B.W.I, 1955.
Williams, Eric. History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago. London: A. Deutsch, 1964.
selwyn ryan (2005)