Historian and politician. He was the leader who guided Trinidad and Tobago through the process of decolonization and independence, and is therefore considered the father of his country.

Eric Williams was the oldest of twelve children in a middle-class family in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad. He was able to get an education thanks to scholarships he won for academics and sports. Because he was an excellent soccer player, he won a scholarship to study at Oxford University, where he earned his doctoral degree in history in 1938.

His academic work was dedicated to showing that the British abolitionist movement of the 19th century was not based on humanitarian or moral ideas, but rather on the economic convenience of the elites. He attacked the idea, still deeply rooted in the 1940s, that the impetus behind the British Empire was the benevolence and morality of the Anglo-Saxons. Despite the success of his historical analysis, he was not offered any positions in the U.K., so he moved to the capital of the United States to teach in the School of Social Sciences at Howard University, the “black Oxford,” as Williams called it in his autobiography Inward Hunger: the Education of a Premier Minister (1969). In 1944, he published his masterwork, Capitalism and Slavery, a book in which he broke down many of the preconceptions in the sympathetic historiography of the British Empire.

He also got involved in social struggles and, along with others, formed the People’s National Movement. Because of his international reputation, Williams became a prominent figure in the party, but it was thanks to his political and oratorical abilities that he won the steady support of voters in Trinidad. Under his leadership, the party worked for economic decolonization within the British system, which would allow the country to control its resources and integrate economically with the Caribbean region. He also practiced a “pragmatic socialism” that promoted better social services in the areas of education and health and greater economic development through attracting foreign investment.

Williams was elected representative of his hometown of Port of Spain and was elected chief minister in 1956. Later, in 1959, during the brief West Indies Federation, he was premier. In 1962, he was selected prime minister, a position he held until his death in 1981. During those years, Williams led his country to become a stable and democratic independent nation during the period of decolonization of the British Empire.

 

Author: Pablo Samuel Torres
Published: April 14, 2012.

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