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McIntosh for National Hero

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Three very important dates in our national history have passed these last two weeks. October 21 marks the anniversary of the people’s rebellion of 1935, which shook the colonial foundations and opened the door to Adult Suffrage (1935), self-government, and then the march to the second important date, National Independence on October 27, 1979. Connecting those threads was one of the most important shapers of our country’s democratic advances, George Augustus Mc Intosh. He died on November 1, 53 years ago.{{more}}

Strangely, though McIntosh is one of four persons being considered for National Hero status, the dates of his birth and death pass largely unnoticed. This is a contradiction to the status for which he is being considered, to join our lone National Hero, Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer, on that lofty pedestal.

Recently, local historian, Dr Adrian Fraser, did a live interview (by Skype) with a UK based Vincentian, Clintel ‘Rashid’ Rose, who does a monthly programme for local television in the UK. The interview was done and broadcast on September 24, 2016, and I thought it fitting, in respect for the anniversary of McIntosh’s passing, to highlight here some aspects of the interview, which I am sure that Dr Fraser won’t mind.

Recalling Mc Intosh’s outstanding contribution to our social and political development, Dr Fraser drew out some areas of his life’s work. I list some of these as:

1. His tireless struggle for the rights of Vincentian people and his use of existing mechanisms, the newspapers and limited legislative organs to promote his campaign for fundamental rights and freedoms, which today we take for granted. Included in these struggles was his courageous efforts to have the ban on the Spiritual Baptists (Shakers), imposed by the colonial authorities since 1912, lifted. It was largely due to his efforts, and of course, the events of 1935, that trade union and political rights were won. We owe him a debt of gratitude for this.

2. His commitment to building organizations as a means of bringing about this advancement. Thus he led the formation of the Workingmen’s Association and the People’s Representative Association and was a pioneer of trade union rights.

3. His constant emphasis on education of the people as an essential step in their advancement. As Dr Fraser pointed out, it was McIntosh who promoted the idea of education being lifelong, from the cradle to the grave. He constantly criticized the colonial authorities for their deliberate ignoring of the provision of educational opportunities for the poorer classes. Significantly, Dr Fraser also pointed to Mc Intosh’s advocacy for the teaching of agriculture in schools, for an agricultural school and for opportunities for young people to be trained at the then Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture in Trinidad.

4. Mc Intosh’s attachment to the people and his great contribution as a pharmacist. In this respect he was able to provide medication which poor people could afford. It was to Daddy Mac’s pharmacy that poor people gravitated, whether for laxatives or ointments, among others. He was also an inventor, and made his own fireworks in commemoration of Guy Fawkes Day, a big thing in those days, on November 5 annually. That connection between Mc Intosh and the people was visibly demonstrated in 1935, when the rebels went to him to ask them to lead their petition to the colonial Governor. For that he was tried for sedition.

5. There was also his role in raising political consciousness, and in promoting regional unity, through a proposed federation of Caribbean states, and internationalism. His Workingmen’s association hosted the visits of the great Marcus Garvey to our shores to campaign against the invasion of Ethiopia by Italy. Again, it was no coincidence, that out of the Garvey visit, one of the leaders of the 1935 rebellion, Samuel ‘Sheriff’ Lewis, not only volunteered to go and fight for Ethiopia, but took for himself the name Haile Selassie!

Given these impressive credentials, Dr Fraser argues that McIntosh, by himself, is worthy of joining Chatoyer as a National Hero. It is an argument that none can refute. Yet we don’t even seem to treasure his tremendous contribution.

As a final point, I recall that as far back as 1982, the progressive political movement to which I then belonged, the United People’s Movement (UPM) had passed a resolution calling for the proposed new Parliament building, (which has yet to materialize), to be named the George Mc Intosh House of Assembly building. Three decades later we are still to honour George Mc Intosh as he deserves.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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