Prominent historian and political activist in Guyana who was assassinated in 1980.

Walter Rodney was born in Georgetown, Guyana, on March 23, 1942, in a working class family. After his early education, he won a scholarship to study at Queen’s College. At Queen’s, Rodney stood out both academically and in sports and debate. In 1960, he won another scholarship to continue his studies at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. He graduated with a degree in history in 1963 and won yet another scholarship, this time for the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. In 1966, at 24 years of age, he earned a Ph.D. with honors in african studies. The subject of his doctoral thesis was slavery on the north coast of Guinea. In the process, he learned Portuguese and Spanish, as well as the French he had learned in his studies at Queen’s College.

In 1970, his doctoral dissertation was published by the Oxford University Press with the title A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545-1800. This work demonstrated Rodney’s tendency to challenge the beliefs of western historians about the history of Africa and to establish new standards for looking at the history of oppressed peoples.

A supporter of black liberation, he took his message to Jamaica. Mainly, he shared his understanding of Africa with the marginalized sectors of Jamaican society, the Rastafarians. Walter showed an interest in political activism from the time he was a student in Jamaica and Britain. In the summer of 1968, Rodney’s work with the poor of Jamaica began to attract the government’s attention. In October of 1968, he was prohibited from returning to Jamaica, a situation that provoked a series of altercations and violent protests that led to deaths and injuries.

In the period of African liberation, Walter became involved and participated by offering his skills to work for the freedom of the people. From this effort arose his most important work: How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, which was published by Bogle-L’Ouverture in Britain, along with the Tanzanian Publishing House in 1972. This period was the most important time in the formation of his ideas. Many of the articles he wrote in Tanzania appeared in Maji Maji, a newspaper of the TANU Youth League at the university.

He also developed a reputation as a pan-African theorist, participating in congresses held in Tanzania. He was very close to the leaders of some of the liberal movements in Africa and to the political leaders of popular organizations in the independent territories.

In 1947, Rodney returned to Guyana to work as a professor of history at the University of Guyana, but the government decided to rescind the offer. Despite that, Rodney remained in Guyana, participating in a new political group, the Working People’s Alliance. From 1974 to his assassination in 1980, he emerged as a leading figure in the movement against the growing authoritarianism of the PNC government. He spoke publicly and privately around the country. During that time, he also developed his ideas about the freedom of the working class, the people’s power, and about racial democracy. On July 11, 1979, he was arrested along with seven others after a fire at two government offices. From that time on, Rodney was constantly persecuted and harassed until the afternoon of June 13, 1980, when a bomb in the middle of Georgetown assassinated him.

Walter was married to Dr. Patricia Rodney and they had three children, Shaka, Kanini and Asha.

Author: Zahira Cruz
Published: February 28, 2012.

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