Further Reflections on Oscar Allen as I knew him
I attended the Oscar Allen “Memorial Emancipation Lecture” and left inspired to continue my reflections on Oscar. Reverend Patrick Perrin’s early encounters with Oscar at Theological College in Jamaica reminded me so much of Oscar as I knew him. When I took up a teaching position at my alma mater shortly after leaving school, Oscar had returned to teaching after a stint at the Agriculture Department. We applied for scholarships for further studies and I remember well the occasion of the interviews. My interview preceded his. The chairperson of the interviewing committee was Ebenezer Duncan, author of A Brief History of St.Vincent. I asked Oscar later about the interview. He wasn’t sure, because he started the interview with a question and for the time spent he was the person asking the questions, which were certainly not about his area of contemplated studies.
I went to Canada and Oscar to Jamaica. On my return he was already in Diamond, and I went there fairly regularly. Walter Rodney’s death in 1980 led to the formation of the Walter Rodney Centre. I left the Grammar School sometime after the 1975 Teachers’ Strike and took up an appointment with the Caribbean Conference of Churches working through CADEC and the Christian Council at the ‘Glebe’ in Barrouallie. Among my tasks was organising different groups in the community. Oscar provided valuable assistance with a farmers group that I started, and on occasions came and spoke to the young people.
During this period, we discussed Liberation Theology of which Oscar was, in my view, an exponent. As Perrin mentioned, his commitment was to the Church. In April 2017, I received from him a copy of a document that he had circulated to others. It was captioned “Cautious Response to Our South Caribbean District Strategic Plan Document”, and he was seeking our comments. The final document was, I believe, sent to the Church.
The volcanic eruption of 1979 prompted the formation of Projects Promotion (PP) and later CARIPEDA, with CUSO’s assistance. I left for further studies, but kept in touch through Janice Williams, then Secretary of PP. In one of those letters in 1984 Oscar congratulated me on the birth of my twins. The issue of a job following my studies was settled, Oscar being instrumental in my accepting the position of CARIPEDA’s Coordinator. He let me know that he did not expect me to turn it down.
When I assumed the position of UWI Resident Tutor, later Head of the Open Campus, our relationship moved in a different direction. The Campus started an Annual Independence Lecture series to expose Vincentians to progressive Caribbean thinking and Oscar always offered suggestions. He was particularly pleased with the invitation to Dr Clive Thomas of Guyana, a member of Rodney’s Working Peoples’ Alliance. He also played a part in the introduction of the annual Open Campus’ Emancipation lecture, and I strongly endorse the decision, this year, to rename it “The Oscar Allen Memorial Emancipation Lecture”, done in collaboration with “Friends of Oscar Allen”. One thing which seemed to have been forgotten is a Project Promotion’s publication, authored by Oscar and entitled We Want to Become Wise, a contribution to the Transatlantic Slave Route Project with partial funding from UNESCO. It was meant to be a Reading Book on Transatlantic Slavery for Classroom, Home and Community. This book needs to be reprinted and widely used.
My last conversation with Oscar shortly before his death was about plans to commemorate the Emancipation Anniversary. He had, since April, made suggestions with the theme “A Luta Continua, Emancipation Still Coming”. Ronnie Daniel, who took up a post with the Open Campus, became part of a trio that collaborated on many things, including the launching of my book on the 1935 Riots. There is so much more to be said, but space does not permit.
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian