Beginning of the Movement
It is commonly agreed that forerunner of the establishment of Rastafari in Dominica was the black power movement.
The phrase “Black Power” was popularized by a young, trinidadian-american activist and civil rights leader named Strokely Carmichael, later known as Kwame Toure/Ture. Defense against racial oppression, to the establishment of social institutions were a range of political goals expressed by “Black Power” in addition to a self-sufficient economy. Stokely Carmichael saw the concept of "Black Power" as a means of solidarity between individuals within the movement. “Black Power” was a replacement of the "Freedom Now!" slogan of non-violent leader Martin Luther King. With his conception and articulation of the word, he felt this movement was not just a movement for racial desegregation, but rather a movement to help combat America's crippling racism. Martin Luther King said, "For the last time, 'Black Power' means black people coming together to form a political force and either electing representatives or forcing their representatives to speak their needs."
Being so close to USA, Black Power was also felt throughout the Caribbean. Although it had a distinct foreign impetus, Dominica also had unresolved issues of colour prejudice, interwoven with the economic imperatives of class (Christian). As such, the issue of whether blacks, i.e. the majority of Dominicans, had any power was relevant. Additionally, the recognition that Dominicans had no real control of their trade with Britain, or that colonialism had not benefited the population after hundreds of years began to gain advocates/supporters.
Moreover, it has been said that Black Power thoughts may have also been originated in Dominica because of psychological scars from ridicule and self-hate upon Africa and its descendants. However, as the racial pride spawned by black power thought took root, the frequency of ethnic or color-based insults decreased.
Organized 'black thought' eventually coalesced in the Movement for a New Dominica (M.N.D), formed in Roseau in the Summer of 1972 (Christian). The movement immediately raised black consciousness, by popularizing dashikis, afro hairstyles, and hosting meetings at the D.T.U hall in Lagon, Roseau. Black power advocates would gather and march at different times during the 70s. They would then wend their way past foreign owned symbols of colonial commerce, where marchers would pause and listen to a speech on how much money the particular institution was "ripping-off" from Dominicans. Later, the marchers would regroup at their starting point. At that time speakers like Bill Riviere, Desmond Trotter and others would address the crowd. The highly educated black power orators would delve into history, economics, statistics: hard facts. For Roseau crowds which had hitherto enjoyed the entertainment provided by the saucy political mud-slinging (or "mepuis", in patois) of the traditional polticians, the new oratory was sobering fare; a new form of poltical education (Christian). Majority of Roseau residents were still onlookers for the time; soon, that changed. Those who considered themselves Freedomites, were openly critical and scornful of these "ungrateful black power boys, for whom white people had done so much".
On the other hand, Caribbean leaders and the press stressed that the position of the black man in the Caribbean was far different from the black American. They stressed that in the Caribbean, the blacks actually had power, and an editorial further accused the Movement for a New Dominica members of being ‘bogus’. Even those from Overseas questioned the movement, but that didn’t stop them, and by then, there were serious incidents.
Mass support or not, the societal surge for change fostered by black power thought was building. When the first memorable confrontation would come, high school students would take the lead. Since, 1970-71, students had met at One Hundred Steps at the Botanical Gardens and other places, arguing, discussing; with books on Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Che Guevara, The Black Panthers, Soledad Brothers and other (primarily black American) radical leaders and movements clutched in their increasingly feverish and impetuous grasps.
In 1972, there was a disturbance at the St. Mary’s Academy (SMA), where a student was confronted by the principal over the state of his Afro hairstyle, which resulted in a virtual strike of students. Sides were thence taken, and SMA deteriorated. At the time, the Canadian order of the Christian Brothers of Ireland, the ones who ran the school, had become “targets for racial attacks”. Consequently, it became hard to operate the school normally, and the Brothers had left the island.
(Supposedly)Prior to their departure, when the call for action came, it was first answered by students from the most unexpected and, hitherto conservative, of sources. In 1972, the first overtly black power demonstration by high school students took place at Roseau's prestigious St. Mary's Academy. Meanwhile, the S.M.A. was (quite ironically) the high school of Reggie Armour, Desmond Trotter, Perceval Marie, Birdeaux Shillingford and many other known "black powers", as adherents of black racial pride ideology were called.
Several statues of white Roman Catholic saints at the nearby cathedral and cemetry were painted black. Placards were prepared with slogans supporting racial pride. Frederick Mondesire (son of 1920's Garveyist radical Mongerie), and other outside sympathizers handed-out red arm bands. At assembly, the day following the incident, a walk-out was staged. The students poured into the streets, "black powers" in the lead. The protest made its way through the Roseau business district. Onlookers from shops, stores, offices were aghast. Roseau had never seen such a spectacle before. It is remembered by some, that quite a few ultra conservative parents resorted to outright belt lashes on sons who they could grab-out of the crowd.
Eventually, the student marchers arrived at the new government headquarters at Bath Road and Kennedy Avenue and appealed to Premier Leblance. He was attentive, responsive. He was said to have agreed with the students’ action in principle. For that he was attacked by the conservative Dominica Chronicle and other establishment media and people thought that he was an advocate for Black Power.
Whether Leblance was a black power sympathizer or not, an increasingly radicalized and boisterous youth was proving to be politically oppositional and bold in its challenges to his rule. It seemed that the societal ferment which accompanied black power thought had also added muscle to the voices of the traditional opposition. Henceforth, the Freedom Party and M.N.D. would seek political mileage from any disturbance, black power inspired or not.
Around carnival time, February 1974, an American tourist John Jirasek was killed. Police affidavits were later entered into evidence, which purported to show that one Antiguan female visitor (alias Pretty Pig) was in the company of Roy Mason when, black power notable Desmond Trotter, whispered excitedly, "I just kill a white man". Read More>>