The Caribbean World After Eric WilliamsBy Franklin W. Knight
Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Professor of History
Director, Center for Africana StudiesTwenty-Eight Dr. Eric Williams Memorial Lecture, Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago, Port of Spain, Trinidad, Saturday, June 14th 2014.
Thank you very much for this invitation to share this important moment with you.
Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago are commemorating the fiftieth anniversaries of their political independence. This is a good moment for reflection on where we have been, where we want to go as a people, and how we ought to get there.
And this special occasion represents the 28th Dr. Eric Williams Lecture. Eric Williams as scholar and statesman was an extraordinary Caribbean individual. He was from Trinidad but belonged to the entire Caribbean and the wider world. His scholarship and his political career is reified in that majestic poem beloved by Dr. Williams, A Psalm of Life, of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow [1807-1882]:
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream! ---
For the soul is dead that slumbers.
And things are not what they seem.
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And departing leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing 'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
Yes, Dr. Eric Williams truly did leave his footprints on the sands of time.
But coming to Trinidad to speak on any aspect of Eric Williams is akin to the well-known English idiomatic expression, "taking coal to Newcastle." What could I tell you that you have not heard more eloquently and more profoundly expressed by others? I looked at your list of former invitees and saw such illustrious scholars and personalities as W. Arthur Lewis, The Honorable P.J. Patterson, Professor Rex Nettleford, Professor Arnold Rampersad, Professor Nigel Harris, Professor Colin A. Palmer, and Sir Shridath Ramphal. Those are giant names to make anyone tremble with fear.
Having heard the best I figure you are now on your plan B to hear the rest.
You have probably heard and forgotten much more about Eric Williams than I ever knew. Nevertheless, I will take my departure from the extensive scholarship of Eric Williams and try to examine the present and the future of the Caribbean through the insightful historical lens that he created.
Eric Williams did much to shape our world of the last fifty years not only intellectually but also politically.
In the highly original and inspirationally insightful thesis of his major work, Capitalism and Slavery, Williams connected in a more direct and sophisticated way than previously done the dynamic relationship between imperialism, slavery and the rise of industrial capitalism. Despite the extensive controversy surrounding the original thesis, no historian has been able to demolish the basic argument set forth by Williams in 1944. The Williams thesis, as it came to be called, is far more sophisticated than most of his critics realized. Williams was talking not merely about economic changes but also fundamental changes in the social basis of political economy.Click Here for Full Lecture