Posted on

The Oscar Allen I knew

Share

When I entered the Boys’ Grammar School, Oscar might have been in his last year at school. The only image I have of him then is one on the football field, engaged in his favourite pastime of dribbling. We came into direct contact when I took up the position of non-graduate teacher at the Grammar School. We were members of the executive of the Secondary School Teachers association, he serving as secretary and I as assistant secretary, during the time of the Connell crisis at the Girls’ High School.

I went off to Canada and he, to theological studies in Jamaica, moving after that to Haiti. On my return, Oscar had established his home base at Diamond, involving himself in agriculture and community organization. At his invitation, I went weekly to Diamond to teach evening classes and became involved in the early work of Arwee. The persons whom I remember most as his close associates were Earlene and Kayamba Horne. Simeon Greene and Allan Cruickshank were teachers in the evening class programme.

We connected again as members of the National Independence Committee, chaired by Henry Williams. I worked along with him and others assisting persons affected by the 1979 volcanic eruption. Out of this work emerged the Farmers Association and later Projects Promotion and CARIPEDA, formed with the assistance of CUSO. We were part of a delegation that met with members of Cabinet, following the uproar over the ‘Dread Bill’. Oscar brought the proceedings to an unexpected halt. I was not sure about his strategy, but had so much confidence in him that I went along.

I went back to Canada, shortly after, for further studies. In my last year, I got a letter from Oscar informing me about the availability of the position of coordinator of CARIPEDA. He expected my response to be a positive one. Immediately after completion of my studies, I took up the job.

Oscar was a voracious reader and we exchanged and discussed a variety of books. He introduced me to Monthly Review and was fascinated with Samir Amin, an Egyptian-French Marxist economist, who was a regular contributor. We exchanged and discussed any article we saw by him. He was also an admirer of Walter Rodney. We read and discussed his writings. His death and circumstances surrounding it greatly troubled Oscar. Every year after 1980, he would remind me as we approached the anniversary of his death of the commitment we had made to use our columns in his remembrance and to participate in any activity to honour him. Oscar followed closely the investigation that was held later into his death and built contacts with the Working Peoples Alliance.

Oscar was from a strong Methodist background and much of his thinking and his approach to life was influenced by it. Two of his favourite people were Methodist ministers from Dominica; the Reverend Dr Philip Potter, who was General Secretary of the World Council of Churches for 12 years and Reverend Dr William Watty, who served as President of the United Theological College of the West Indies and President of the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and Americas. Their work and outlook fitted his. Although Liberation Theology is associated with Catholic priests in Latin America, Oscar could have indeed been classified as an exponent. His approach to Methodism was not necessarily the traditional one, as he imagined the Church moving in a different direction.

Oscar played an important role in pushing me to complete my book on the 1935 riots. I had to force myself to have it done, after being tired of having Oscar question me about its date of completion. At its launching, Oscar was one of the reviewers, and a member of the audience hoped that I would not have to wait on Oscar’s push to complete my history of St Vincent and the Grenadines. This I owe Oscar and will certainly dedicate it in his honour.

Oscar was an exceptional communicator. He was very original in his thinking and had a unique way of communicating his thoughts, whether through his writings in the newspaper or through the spoken word. He was a genuine human being, who stuck to his ideals. He was not for sale.  He could have jumped on many band wagons and would have been rewarded for it, but he was not that kind of person. He walked the talk.

He inspired and encouraged many people, who grew as strong and confident individuals in the process. He was not an organizer, but an initiator and expected others to take control. His passing just before Emancipation Anniversary Day was exceptionally sad for me. The day before he went in to the hospital we discussed Emancipation Day activities and he wanted me to be involved in an activity planned for Diamond. He had tried earlier to invite a few persons to plan month-long activities for the occasion, but had difficulty finding a time that was convenient to them.  

Oscar will long be remembered by me – a genuine individual, who was about people and community and not about himself. He was a deep thinker, who always respected the opinion of others, even if contrary to his own. Rest in Peace, brother Oscar. There are few, like you! 

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian

LAST NEWS