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... He was such a useful man

Caldwell Taylor

Alister Hughes, the Grenadian journalist, broadcaster, historian and environmentalist who died on February 28 at the age of 86, wants to be remembered for having been
" a useful man". It is well worth telling how Hughes came to this laconic and recklessly modest assessment of his long and eventful life.

It was the afternoon of October 19 , 1983, and the executions had been carried out on the orders of the Central Committee, or most certainly with its tacit approval. The stout walls of an ancient fortress bore a stoic testimony to the cold-blooded savagery. Alister Hughes was somewhere in Town and his wife was extremely worried.

Suddenly , a women came along to report the news of the carnage at the Fort. Dead bodies were strewn everywhere and Alister Hughes was among the dead, reported the woman. "Mr.Hughes was shot right in front of me", she continued. The news
sent Alister's wife into a state of inconsolable grief. The reporter offered her deepest sympathies and as she turned to move away she mumbled to no one in particular: "Ah dunno why dey killed 'im; he was such a useful man".

Miraculously, Alister turned up a few minutes later to the great relief of his family. He was told the story of the woman who reported his death and her comment about how useful a man he had been . Alister immediately laid claim to the woman's epitaph:

"He was such a useful man"

Alister Earl Hewiston Hughes was born on January 21,1919;his remarkable life spanned the major watersheds of modern Grenadian history.

Alister was a toddler when a rash of fires hit St Georges , the Grenadian capital, in 1920. The Grenadian authorities blamed the fires on disaffected ex-soldiers  and other hotheads, who had come into contact with the inflammatory ideas of Marcus
Garvey on the one hand, and the 1917 Russian (Bolshevik) Revolution , on the other. In the wake of these incendiary fires, many official fingers got pointed in the direction of a young ex-soldier from the Williamson Road ( St George's) area. The young ex-soldier packed up and left Grenada in January 1921, perhaps to escape the accusatory gazes of the colonial constabulary. He went down to Trinidad where he would become a champion of the working class. Tubal Uriah Butler was his name. 

In the 1920s, Grenada was a racially stratified and viciously colour-coded society dominated by a white plantocracy and a brown merchant class. More than eighty years into post-Emancipation, Grenadian society remained the perfect pyramid of the slave era: a handful of whites ( expatriates and creoles) at the apex; browns in the middle and blacks and indentured Indians at the base. Hughes was a scion of the brown merchant class, but his decency allowed him to talk openly about the privileges he enjoyed for being brown. Talking to an interviewer in 1997 about the scholarship he won to the GBSS in 1931,Hughes said:

In those days, I had an unfair advantage.  While my father could pay for lessons
for me and I could go home and study, most of those I was competing with didn't have
that privilege.

Alister was six year old in 1925, when Grenada 's crown colony government was "modified" to give Grenadians a measure of elected representation on the island's Legislative Council Actually, this modification was a sop that was meant
to buy-off local agitation for some kind of self-rule. In the decades following on Jamaica's epochal Morant Bay Rebellion (1865) ,which , according to Eric Williams,
originated "in the desire for land", the British embarked on a propaganda offensive to douse the revolutionary appeal of Morant Bay and to remind us of our racial inferiorities and our biological unfitness for home-rule:

Such important reminders came from Professor James Anthony Froude, who visited the West Indies in 1887 and one year later published his observations in a book entitled "The English in the West Indies, or the Bow of Ulysses". Froude's five- hour stay in Grenada resulted in this racist calumny on the Grenadian and West Indian people:

"Black the island was and black it will remain.  The conditions were never likely to rise which would bring back a European population; but a governor who was a sensible man, who reside and use his natural influence , could manage it with perfect ease. The island belonged to England; we were responsible for what we made of it and for the blacks' own sakes we ought not to try experiments on them. They knew their own deficiencies and would infinitely prefer a wise English ruler to any constitution which could be offered them. If left entirely to themselves, they would in a generation or
two relapse into savages; there were but two alternatives before not Grenada only, but all the English West Indies- either an English administration pure and simple, like the East Indian or falling eventually into a state like that of Hayti, where they eat their
babies, and no white man can own a yard of land".

Professor Froude's views were echoed by others, including Rudyard Kipling, the poet laureate of European imperialism. Kipling published in 1899 a poem- "The White Man's Burden"- which called on the United States to join the white races in a crusade to civilize the "half devils" of the world. 

Take up the White Man's burden 
Send forth the best ye breed- 
Go send your sons to exile 
To serve your captives' need 
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild
Your new-caught sullen peoples
Half-devil and half child
Take up the White Man's burden

Alister was 17 years- old and a student at the Grenada Boys' Secondary School ( then a place to potty-train Grenadian Englishmen) when Grenada was awarded another
constitutional touch up in 1936.

In 1944 Alister was one of 4,000 Grenadians who were allowed to vote : twenty-five thousand adult Grenadians were denied that vote as they did not have the necessary property qualifications.

More constitutional change came to Grenada on August 1, 1951 with the introduction of Universal Adult Suffrage. By this time Hughes was immersed in local politics. Indeed, he joined the Grenada National Party (GNP) at its founding in 1955 and served as its general secretary for more than ten years.

There was more constitutional change in 1958, when Grenada became a member of the West Indies Federation (1958-1962).  Hughes, a self-confessed West Indian nationalist , was a huge supporter of the federal experiment which, sadly, ended in a
babel of recriminations.

Following on the collapse of the Federation, Hughes's GNP sought unitary statehood with Trinidad and Tobago. Eric Gairy's Grenada United Labour Party, the other major electoral outfit in Grenada, flirted with the idea of a "Little Eight" federation. The GULP also pined for absorption into Canada.

Meanwhile, the British and the Americans were quietly plotting the future of the islands. The two countries settled the matter in the course of an October 1965 meeting between Britain's colonial secretary Anthony Greenwood and the US secretary of state Dean Rusk. The Greenwood-Rusk package was conveyed to the islands some eight weeks later.

Greenwood told the islands that they were going to be the recipients of a brand new constitutional dispensation named "Associated Statehood".  The details concerning this new constitutional animal were codified in the 1967 West Indies Act, which devolved full and complete internal self-government on the respective island legislatures .Grenada celebrated its Statehood Day on March 3,1967.

"Statehood" brought the island within easy reach of total independence.  In fact," Independence" came to Grenada in 1974 in the face of three months of protest demonstrations. Alister Hughes was attacked by government - backed goons while covering one of these protests on January 21 ,1974- "Bloody Monday in Grenadian history.

Eric M.Gairy (1922-1997) was the Grenadian prime minister at the time of Independence. The Gairy Government was overthrown in 1979 and was replaced by the Maurice Bishop (1944-1983)-led People's Revolutionary Government (PRG); Alister Hughes faced severe restrictions for his opposition to the policies of the PRG.  He was locked -up in October 1983, when the PRG was replaced by the Revolutionary Military Council ( RMC) .  The RMC was disloged by the US forces which invaded the island on October 25, 1983.

Alister Hughes, who became a journalist at the age of fifty, won many awards for his outstanding reportage. Among these awards were the Columbia University Maria Moors Cabot Award "for distinguished journalistic service" and the Caribbean Publishers and Broadcasters Association's prize "for outstanding coverage of Grenada's pre-Independence "disturbances". In 1994 the University of the West Indies
conferred on Hughes a Doctor of Laws degree.

It is worth telling that Hughes turned down the offer of a British award, the Commander of the British Empire , CBE, on the grounds that "it undermined all that he stood for.  "If I accepted it", he told a reporter, "I am not centering myself in the Caribbean, I am centering myself in Britain, which is now a foreign country". He might also have added that, something is very wrong with the 'post- colonial' government that hands out such trinkets to their "outstanding citizens". Imagine rewarding Ajamu's
made-in -Grenada genius with this imported British bauble!

Alister Hughes was for more than five decades our leading public historian . He had a keen understanding of the organic relationship that obtains between memory and individual and group behaviour. Besides, he knew that self- knowledge is an indispensable pre-condition for any meaningful self-government.

He was such a useful man .

March 2, 2005

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