Tuesday 21 May, 2019

Clean up campaign destroys more historic buildings

Home of Henry Sylvester Williams before it was demolished.

Home of Henry Sylvester Williams before it was demolished.

Trinidad and Tobago has lost two more buildings of historic significance.

The homes of Henry Sylvester Williams and George Padmore were reportedly demolished during the National Clean Up campaign in Tunapuna recently. That was the second time the Clean Up campaign was responsible for the demolition of historic buildings. In Sangre Grande, historic Government buildings were demolished when the campaign rolled through in April.

These recent demolitions were highlighted by cultural activist Rubadiri Victor who lamented the continued erasure of our history.

“This last week this government has demonstrated again the complete bankruptcy of Imagination of our ruling class- and shown us exactly why this country is in the tragic mess it is in. Government destroyed the home of legendary George Padmore and Henry Sylvester Williams- the fathers of Pan Africanism. These are the men responsible for midwifing the Independence movements across the African continent and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa,” he wrote.

Shabaka Kambon, founder of the Cross Rhodes Freedom Project, said as part of their Saving Our Heroes project they visited Williams’ house weeks before the demolition.

Admitting that it was in a dilapidated state, Kambon said they had planned to lobby for the house to be turned into a museum and heritage site.

“They have to put a monument there,” he said, noting that Williams' home in London bears a plaque signifying that he lived there.

When contacted, Rudylynn Roberts, President of the Citizens for Conservation, told Loop that they heard about the demolitions.

She explained that in the case of privately owned properties, there must be an application made for the buildings to be preserved.

“If it is a private home or the community feels strongly about then a dossier has to be created that talks about the building, its history, why it is important, plans etc. It is a long process. The National Trust has started preparing dossiers, we have about 30/40 done because it is a legal document, you need information from land and surveys and so on.  It takes a while to declare a building protected by law,” she said.

She said the National Trust has been talking to Regional Corporations about the preservation of historic buildings over the last two years. She said that was done in the Sangre Grande situation but they were ignored.

“We have to lobby on two different fronts, the private sector and public sector. There needs to be help for privately owned historical building, there need to be an incentive offered, a system to qualify for grants, low-interest loans because people can’t afford to maintain them, every month we are losing buildings,” she said, noting that just days ago, a former Jewish synagogue near Victoria square in Port-of-Spain was demolished very quietly.

The Girl Guides hut, one of the original buildings near the Emperor Valley Zoo, was also knocked down on Monday without explanation.

Repeated calls to Local Government Minister Kazim Hosein and Paul Leacock, Chairman of the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation went unanswered.

About Henry Sylvester Williams and George Padmore

Williams and Padmore were foremost figures in the international Pan African movement.

Williams, who was born in Arouca, is featured on the site 100 Great Black Britons. He moved to England following studies in the US and is considered the UK's first black Barrister.  The site credits him as the first black man to address the House of Commons.

“He was also instrumental in the creation of the African Association, to promote and protect the interests of all subjects of African descent. He had always had the idea of a world conference of black people, 'the first occasion upon which black men would assemble in England to speak for themselves and endeavour to influence public opinion in their favour',” according to the site.

Williams died in Trinidad in 1911.

Hailed as the father of African emancipation at his funeral in Ghana in 1959, Padmore is considered one of the greatest West Indians who ever lived.

Born Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse in Arouca in 1903, Padmore became one of the foremost leaders in the black struggle around the globe. He founded the International African Service Bureau (IASB), designed to promote the Pan-Africanist cause and was instrumental in the organisation of the fifth Pan-African conference in Manchester. He was an advisor to Kwame Nkrumah, President of Ghana.


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