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Surely, Alfie deserves a memorial

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During the course of the Test match at Arnos Vale between the West Indies and Bangladesh, I received a copy of a most interesting letter, written 16 years ago and addressed to the St Vincent and the Grenadines Cricket Association.

The letter, a copy of which I am circulating to the media, makes a very modest request for the Cricket Association to pay homage to the memory of the late Alphonso “Alfie” Roberts, by dedicating a memorial to him at the Arnos Vale Playing Field.{{more}}

I am sure that for an embarrassingly large number of Vincentians, the name “Alfie” Roberts does not ring a bell, nor are too many of us aware of his humble, but massive contribution to, not just cricket, but St Vincent and the Grenadines as a whole. I do hope that the local media would share the contents of the letter with the public, thereby raising awareness and contributing to the continuing development of national pride.

For the moment, I would just like to say that “Alfie” was the first-ever cricketer from the “small islands” to play test cricket for the West Indies, nearly 20 years before the advent of the cricketing knights from Antigua, Andy Roberts and Viv Richards, and opening a path through which the likes of our own Mike Findlay, Winston Davis and Nixon Mclean later trod. He was a mere 18 years at the time of his test debut, and sole test appearance, against New Zealand in March 1956.

“Alfie” was to fall victim to the discrimination which had kept Vincy speedster Frank “FO” Mason from a West Indies cap and which was to hurt the careers of Findlay and Dominica’s Irving Shillingford, among others, in later years. He migrated to Canada, but did not disappear, becoming a major force in the Caribbean and Afro-Canadian community, a staunch advocate of independence for his homeland, mentor of the progressive movement and a titan in the academic, political and cultural life of the Caribbean community in the North American diaspora. It is a pity that as blind as we remain to our history, not much is known of his massive contribution.

It is in recognition of Alfie’s pioneering efforts, his achievement in the 1956 breakthrough of the “small island” barrier, and as a tribute to his cricketing accomplishment and skill, that an ad hoc committee was established since 1998 to press for his name to be emblazoned somewhere on the Arnos Vale Playing Field, where we can now enjoy international cricket, not even a pipe-dream in Alfie’s time.

The committee listed among its members Vincentian Roy Austin, himself a football titan, academic, prominent masman who was later to become Ambassador of the United States of America to Trinidad and Tobago, as well as other outstanding Vincentians such as the late Dr Errol “EG” King, Rudolph Baynes Jr, Carl Stephens, Lyden Charles, Cris Stephens, Cikiah Thomas and New York-based Atiba Weza.

Their request of the Cricket Association was quite modest, asking only for “the dedication of a memorial (pavilion, stand, scoreboard etc)” as a “most fitting tribute to this great son of our soil.” How could such a humble request be ignored for so long? Surely, Alfie’s progressive views, his unstinting commitment towards opposing colonialism and imperialism, his strongly-espoused socialist views, his uncompromising stand on behalf of black people, the poor and oppressed, cannot and must not be yet another discriminating barrier against his sterling contribution!

All over the world, the names of the pioneers and the “greats” of world cricket are being emblazoned on pavilions, gates, scoreboards etc, from WG Grace at Lord’s. There are even grounds named after famous players. But after all these years, not even a scoreboard for Alfie!

Time for us to put on the proud mantle of our past. Let the new leadership of the Cricket Association set the example!

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.
 
APOLOGIES AND CORRECTION
 
Before I make my contribution this week, let me issue an unqualified apology for a gross error in last week’s column, pointed out to me very promptly by one of my longest-standing brothers and comrades, Samuel “Kala” Gordon, now New York-based.

The ageing process must be really catching up with me, for in my two-part series on the 40th anniversary of YULIMO, I seemed to have gotten all muddled up between the participating organisations in two separate, but very related events.

For the records, the three organisations which came together to form YULIMO were OBCA (Organisation for Black Cultural Awareness), BLAC (the Black Liberation Action Committee) and, the Young Socialists Group (YSG) led by the late Caspar London and veteran masman Hugh Ragguette. The ARWEE group of Diamond village was not part of that 1974 unification process, but very much a component in the subsequent follow-up process in 1979, which gave rise to the United People’s Movement (UPM).

Thanks, Kala, and again apologies to my readers.

Renwick

 

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