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Eugene Godfried in jacket at the Plessy vs Ferguson
 Panel, October 6th 2006, College of Law, Michigan
 State University at Lansing

Eugene Godfried In Dialogue with James Millette
on Plessy Versus Ferguson and Its Impact on 
The British Colonized Caribbean
, 10/06

Plessy vs Ferguson and the Caribbean
by Eugene Godfried, 10/15/06

Outline of intervention at Symposium “A Timely Reflection, Plessy vs. Ferguson: 110 Years Later: Implications in the Americas.” Symposium held on October 6, 2006 at Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI by Curacao born guest speaker. 

1. Introduction

I must express my gratitude to the African Atlantic Research Team for inviting me here. I hope this is the beginning of a true process of dialogue between us all, our close neighbors as well as those neighbors who live further away. The times currently demand this from us.

The 1896 High Court decision that ruled against Plessy in favor of segregation had a thunderous effect in the United States. Its influence was felt on a national level whereby legal patterns of segregated relations at local facilities throughout the USA were introduced. However, on an international scale, one could see that these patterns were imposed by the USA as the country spread its wings in the Caribbean region.

Backed by this 1896 court decision in favor of segregation, the new Euro-Anglo-Saxon elite in the USA were determined to portray themselves as an imperial power in the world. They already considered the Caribbean their personal backyard.

2. Clarifying concept “THE CARIBBEAN”

Before continuing we should have a common understanding about the Caribbean as a concept. Are we talking about those sunny and sandy islands from Jamaica to Trinidad and Tobago or from Antigua to Aruba that are lovely and good for tourism? Or, are we talking about all those countries and territories on this side of the world that knew European colonialism of different types, Dutch, Spanish, French, British, Portuguese, Danish, Swedish? And those countries that knew plantation economies, and therefore slavery? If we choose for the latter definitions then we could include the whole continent in this concept of study.

3. Longtime USA imperial interest in the Caribbean

Long before 1896, the dominating white class of the United States started showing its hegemonic interests in the Caribbean, not only in economic fields but also in the political arena. There is the example of U.S. hostilities against Simon Bolivar’s regime that won independence from Spain in 1820. That territory was then known as Gran Colombia, and is currently Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. U.S. naval ships were sent to the shores of Venezuela to assault Bolivar’s government. Bolivar had warned against the disastrous interests of the encroaching monster to the North, referring to the U.S.A. 
.
4. European colonialism in the Caribbean

Around that epoch, the British, French, Dutch and Danish colonial powers in the region practiced their own ways of segregation in their respective colonies. They felt comfortable with the idea of segregation just legalized in the U.S.A. None of these elites would enter in any dispute with the U.S.A. on such a matter and would not want to jeopardize their economic relations with this new upcoming power. Moreover, blacks and coloreds were out of power in their territories and would also be kept out of the reach of democratic advantages in all of the European colonies.

5.Former Spanish colonies, recently independent or in the process of independence

On the other hand, we have the specific case of the former Spanish colonized countries that during the course of the nineteenth century became independent from Spain. The new elite in those countries were themselves, in many cases, a new class of former plantation owners or involved in socioeconomic activities related to it, who after contradictions with the land of origin chose to break away from Spain. Their world outlook did not include the freedom of enslaved peoples nor the well-being of those oppressed and exploited people of color. 

In this regard, the year 1896 reminds us of the date of death of legendary Cuban independence fighter of African descent Antonio de la Caridad Maceo y Grajales. A man who we have to talk more about for his great contributions to the independence struggle of that Caribbean nation, Cuba. 

Antonio Maceo had always warned for the danger of involving representatives of the U.S.A. elite in the Cuban struggles. He was aware of their racist ideologies and attitudes. He was clear on this with colleagues such as Tomas Estrada Palma, Calixto Garcia, Jose Miguel Gomez and many others who themselves had a racist reputation in Cuba. The link of that sector with the racists from the USA was of a long historic nature.

Antonio Maceo was admitted to spend part of his exile in Costa Rica, which had then a progressive government with regards to the liberation struggles from Spain. Yet, the only condition that that government put on Maceo was that he could settle down and prepare colleagues for the independence of Cuba, only if he brought white Cubans with him. He could not be based on the Caribbean Sea side of Costa Rica, but in Nicoya, on the Pacific Ocean side. The race element in independent Costa Rica clearly played a role even in such important moments.

6. U.S.A. joins war against Spain – Introduction Neocolonial republic

As the U.S.A. decided to join Cuban forces to oust Spain in 1898, finally, new maneuvers took place such as the Platt Amendment of 1902, which sealed the neocolonial position of the U.S.A. The Panama Canal and Cuba became protectorates of the U.S.A. and on the bay of Guantanamo, a United States naval base was installed. Puerto Rico became a so-called associated state of the U.S.A. 

It is noticeable how neocolonial developments took place in Cuba and walked hand in hand with the phenomenon of racism on that island.

7. US intervention government in Cuba

In 1906 after the turmoil of the uprising against President Tomas Estrada Palma, who in a fraudulent way tried to be reelected, an important man was surprised and brutally killed. We are talking about Quintin Bandera, the general of three wars of independence of Cuba, of African descent, forgotten and mistreated by the new regime in the new republic of Cuba. General discontent of African descendents and people of color in general was growing for not having equal share in social, economic, cultural, or political spheres of life in Cuba. Not only former freedom fighters, but people of all walks of life were among those expressing their complaints.

After the above mentioned uprising, an intervention government was imposed by the U.S.A. under Charles Magoon.

Magoon ratified the appearance of a new party called the Partido Independiente de Color, PIC (Independent Colored People’s Party) under the leadership of Evaristo Estenoz and Pedro Ivonet. 

Magoon from his segregationist background could have nothing against the fact that Blacks had their organization. Yet, the neocolonial power worked at the back of the PIC with their opponents the Conservative and Liberal Parties to destroy the organization. 

8. Massacre of Blacks in 1912 and Guantanamo U.S.A. Naval Base

Jose Miguel Gomez, among the least respected Presidents in the history of Cuba, made the decision in 1912 to actively massacre blacks in his aim of forever ending the P.I.C. Yes, most un-respected President, everybody is highlights the horrors of the Batista regime, yet I think that Jose Miguel Gomez was worse. The official death count stands at just over 2000 Cubans of Color. However, our research reveals a much higher figure, roughly 7,000 deaths. In La Maya alone, 3,000 were killed, in the Guantanamo territory it is still countless, in Havana and Matanzas, the same.

A sign of homage should be paid to Evaristo Estenoz, Pedro Ivone,t and Eugene Lacoste, these last two of Haitian descent.

This symposium is called to join us in this endeavor

9. Desire to usurp French and Dutch colonies

Towards the end of the First World War, the U.S.A. initiated negotiations with France to buy the island of Martinique. The French seemingly still remember the sale of Louisiana Territory by Napoleon to the U.S.A. and did not enter in that venture.

On several occasions, the U.S.A. had shown interest in the Dutch colonized islands Curaçao and Aruba, just off the western coast of Venezuela. Oil was just discovered in Venezuela where a revolutionary process of anti-dictatorship was going on. The U.S.A. and European colonial forces managed to get control over the oil wells in Maracaibo, Venezuela. The U.S.A., The Netherlands, and Great Britain decided o join forces in the exportation of the oil and separating that from its refining and distribution processes. Therefore, the Dutch complacently gave way to the U.S.A. firm Standard Oil of New Jersey to establish in San Nicolas, Aruba. On the other hand, Royal Shell settled down in Curaçao. Both operations were refining Venezuelan, Colombian oil as well as from elsewhere.

10. Case of Slave Trade early 20th Century in the Caribbean U.S.A. and Denmark involved

To conclude we should mention that the year 1916 marked the year of massive sale of slaves, when the Danes decided to sell the Virgin Islands, Saint Thomas, Saint John and Saint Croix to the U.S.A. One went to sleep one night to find out the following day that one had been sold to another nation.

Eugene Godfried
Caribbean specialist/journalist/
Author/community organizer

October 15th of 2006
Lansing, Michigan, USA.
Special thanks to editor and fotoreporter Shanti Zaid, African Atlantic Research Team, 
Michigan State University at Lansing.

 

Eugene Godfried In Dialogue with James Millette
on Plessy Versus Ferguson And Its Impact on The British Colonized Caribbean, 10/06


EUGENE:

Professor James Millette, you are a historian born in Grenada and who lived and worked at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago for many years. You have thought profoundly about European colonialism and its impact on Caribbean societies. There is one specific question I want to pose. In 1896, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the Plessy versus Ferguson case in favor of “separate but equal” racial segregation. The decision had profound adverse effects on communities of color in the U.S. Are there parallels with the British colonized Caribbean?

JAMES MILETTE:

In the same fashion as the 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson court decision of the U.S.A., Britain introduced the Crown Colony system to replace the Assembly system in the Caribbean.

The Assembly system only gave the right to vote to white men of voting age (21 or 25 years old). It excluded women, blacks, and coloreds in general. On the other hand, the Crown Colony system established direct rule from Britain and suspended all local elections.

Since the seventeenth century, Britain had imposed the Assembly system in its Caribbean colonies. In 1810, Britain installed the Crown Colony system in Trinidad, which lasted until Trinidad gained its independence. 

CUT the upcoming of Eric Williams. He fought for independence of Trinidad in the fifties and sixties of the Twentieth Century. 


The change to Crown Colony system occurred later in Jamaica. In 1865, the Morant Bay Rebellion took place in Jamaica. Blacks on that island insisted on an equal share and participation in government affairs. In order to avoid a black, brown, or Jewish takeover of the country, which they feared would create a second Haiti, the British abandoned the Assembly system of government and introduced the Crown Colony direct rule system. 

The British established the Crown Colony government system throughout the colonized British Caribbean. The only islands in which this system was not installed were 
Barbados, Bermuda and the Bahamas. 

EUGENE 

What about opposition against the Crown Colony government system? Could you tell us more about that movement if one ever existed?

JAMES MILLETTE:

There were many prominent figures who mobilized against that unjust system. They had some success by mid-twentieth century, with the proclamation of independence in a great number of those Caribbean islands and countries. We should undoubtedly mention and remember the following personalities who played an important role in that struggle. Some of them may have changed their revolutionary performance regarding other matters, but even in this case, we should still commemorate and mention them all without a single doubt. 

EUGENE GODFRIED

Anyhow, they played a progressive and revolutionary role then. Later on, they could have diverted into accommodating themselves and even imitating the former masters? But, that is a different matter for discussion. Let us continue now with some names of examples you can mention.

JAMES MILLETTE

Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante from Jamaica were among the most outstanding fighters against the CROWN COLONY GOVERNMENT SYSTEM. In other countries of the Caribbean, we must mention Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham from Guyana, Grantley Adams of Barbados, Eric Gairy of Grenada, and Tubald Uriah Buzz Butler, Arthur Cipriani, and Eric Williams from Trinidad.

EUGENE GODFRIED

Now, finally in order to conclude, could we say that Britain’s Crown Colony system for the Caribbean was produced from similar motivations, intentions, and background as the Plessy vs. Ferguson decision in the U.S.A.?

JAMES MILLETTE

The Crown Colony government system, as introduced and supported by certain dominant elites in the British colonies of the Caribbean, was parallel to the racist ideas of segregation decided upon in the Plessy vs. Ferguson court case in the U.S.A.

EUGENE 

Professor James Millette has written two books on the Crown Colony phenomenon, please tell us more about these books.

JAMES MILETTE:

I wrote The Genesis of Crown Colony Government: Trinidad, 1783-1810 (Curepe, Trinidad: Moko Enterprises, 1970) and this was reprinted with a new preface as Society and Politics in Colonial Trinidad, 1783- 1810 (Trinidad: Zed Publishers, 1985). This book was also translated and published in Spanish as El Sistema Colonial Ingles en Trinidad, (1783-1810) (Casa de las Americas, La Habana, Cuba, 1985).

EUGENE GODFRIED

Thank you very much, James Millette and we wish you much success in your everyday work as professor of History in the African American Department at Oberlin College in Ohio. We thank you once more for your contributions as a true son of the Caribbean.

JAMES MILLETTE

Thank you, all the best

EUGENE GODFRIED

All the best to you too. ………

October 15th of 2006
Lansing, Michigan, USA.
Special thanks to editor and fotoreporter Shanti Zaid, African Atlantic Research Team, 
Michigan State University at Lansing.

 

 

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