NOTES TOWARDS A TRIBUTE TO CRESSWELL O’REILLY JULIEN
O Captain! My Captain! our
fearful trip is done;
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought
The port near, the bells I hear, the people all
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
-Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
Cresswell O’Reilly Julien,
teacher, educator, historian, sociologist and one-time
mayor of Grenville, died on the evening of December 5,
following a brief illness.. The very sad news of “The
Cress’s” passing reached me on the morning after, as I
sat at my writing desk pondering the death of that great
psychiatrist of the colonial condition – Frantz Fanon-
in a Maryland (U.S.A.) hospital on December 6 back in
1961: Fanon was a tender 36 at the time of mortal
Though they were polar opposites in life, The Cress and
Fanon are, in my mind, united in their deaths. Besides,
they are among the most revered of my teachers, the one
of the psychopathology of colonialism, the other of a
hard-headed Burkean conservatism that was larded with
the “commonsense” moral philosophy of G.E. Moore and the
biting wit of Shakespeare.
I met Mr. Julien at SAASS (St Andrew’s Anglican
Secondary School and I discovered Fanon via his
masterwork-“Les Damnes de la Terre*”- that phrase having
been lifted from a poem by Jacques Roumain (1907-44),
poet, novelist and founder of the Haitian Communist
Party. Roumain was the epicist of the Haitian peasantry
(see his “Master of the Dew” (1943);indeed, Fanon’s idea
of placing the peasantry in the vanguard of the Fanonian
revolution may well have been inspired by Roumain’s
I visited Martinique, Fanon’s homeland, in 1971 while
still a student at Mr. Julien’s school: This trip to
Martinique-along with Monica, Evadney (“Darling”),
Lynthia, Yolande (“YAMS”), and Vincent (“Old Man”) – was
led by our French teacher, Mr. Painter, an Englishman-
and was meant to refine our French; I think this idea of
refinement was Mr. Julien’s. In any case, Martinique
“refined” my French only in a very limited and marginal
sense. On the other hand, the visit added up to an
experience that vehicled my political imagination to
another realm, giving me a new point of vantage from
which to view what had suddenly become an old, decrepit
Frantz Fanon was born in Martinique in 1925, and he made
his name as a fighter for Algerian independence and as a
theorist of revolution . Fanon the theorist got a couple
of things spectacularly wrong: He was certainly wrong to
have assigned to the so-called “lumpen proletariat” the
role of “historical agent” ,contradicting the carbuncled
old man who saw the lumpen – supposedly the most
degraded stratum of the working class -as a braking
device. And Fanon came close to making himself-with
generous help from Jean –Paul Sartre- an apostleof a
A blood-drenched Grenadian experience (October 19) has
taught me that there exists no such violence, and so I
favour Hannah Arendt’s critique: violence has its
self-made inner logic, a one that defies human dictates.
But let me hasten to concede that the righteousness of
the prophet’s howl is by no means vitiated by one or two
Mr. Julien never read Fanon’s works. But he was aware, I
recall, of Fanon’s speech before the 1956 gathering of
Negro Writers and Artists, in Paris. I have no
recollection of what Mr Julien thought of that speech; I
knew him well enough to be capable of intuiting some
responses. I shall stifle that temptation, though I wish
to say that Mr.Julien- the consummate historian, had a
superb grasp of the various anti –colonial currents in
Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. In his very own way, he
backed the aspirations of the men who met at Bandung in
1955-Tito, Nasser, Nehru and Kwame Nkrumah- to found the
Non-Aligned Movement. When I became enamored of Black
Power politics, Mr Julien wasted no time in tagging me
with the name “Kwame”. Thinking back to this reminds me
of the Cress’s penchant for dropping nicknames ; I am
also reminded of the day he dropped a moniker on his own
son, Christopher. And that’s a yarn that is worth the
It was one Saturday in the seventies and I went to the
school to do a history tutorial. Mr Julien came into the
building as was his wont of a Saturday afternoon while
Mrs. Julien did the shopping: he was accompanied by
Christopher, his youngest- who was then no more than 7
Mr Julien and I soon got immersed in a discussion and
Christopher seized the opportunity to steal off to the
school’s battered piano; he was drumming away when Mr
Julien fired a glance in my direction: “Kwame”, he said,
“ you hear Elton John. Elton John”. The name Elton John
stuck for many years thereafter.
Cresswell O’Reilly Julien was born in Tobago in 1923,
and he made his name as a teacher in Grenada. The
Cress’s parents might have named him for L.A.P O’Reilly,
who in the 1920s served as a nominated member of the
Trinidad and Tobago Legislative Council. O’Reilly was a
member of the Select Committee of the Legislative
Council appointed in 1926 to “enquire whether it was
desirable to introduce legislation to fix or restrict
the hours of labour in any particular trade, business or
industry in the Colony”. In the course of these
hearings, O’Reilly distinguished himself by putting some
tough questions to estate owner E.A. Robinson, an
ideological progeny of Long, Edwards, Young, Poyer,
Atwell and the other racist settler –historians of the
“British” West Indies”.
Mr O’Reilly: With regard to children?
Mr Robinson: We have none in the factory, but 120 work
They are from 10 years up to 20 ; they work from 7a.m.
O’Reilly: Do you think it is satisfactory to have a
child of 10 working
that number of hours?
Robinson: This is an agricultural country. Unless you
put the children
to working in the fields when they are young , you will
them to do so later
O’Reilly: You agree that the present system shuts them
Robinson: They are well-fed!
Being named for LAP O’Reilly was not a bad thing for a
child who would grew up to be teacher and educator.
Actually, The Cress liked the name and that explains why
he passed it down to his son , Francis O’Reilly
(“Junior"), who also became a teacher.
As teacher, Mr Julien had two short stints at the
Grenada Boys’ Secondary School( GBSS). One of those
stints, I believe, occurred in mid-forties, at a time
when the GBSS was headed by Dr Wilfred Rankin, the
Guyanese –born Latin scholar and putative black radical:
Dr Rankin, a naturalized American was viewed by
Washington as a subversive and intelligence agents
holidayed in Grenada to keep a watchful eye on him.
Mr Julien was a quiet man, but those who knew him will
tell you that he was capable of espousing very radical
ideas. Could this have been on account of his exposure
to Dr Rankin, the radical black nationalist who was
close friends with Dr Phillip Savory, the Guyanese –born
co-owner of Harlem’s Amsterdam News?
Mr Julien the teacher made his name at SAASS. Heck, he
made the school-he is Mr.SAASS. I think of the school’s
motto, Semper Navigans, and I immediately think of its
great helmsman: the two are inseparable.
Ultimately, Cresswell Julien was a teacher’s teacher; he
enjoyed teaching just about any course, but he was at
his best when teaching Literature, Religious Knowledge
,History and Latin . In his Latin classes he would be
mindful of the mischief that could be performed in the
recitation of the future tense of the first conjugation
to love :
Amabo; I will (shall) love
Amabis: you will (sing) love
Amabit: he , she , it will love
Amabimus: We will (shall) love
Amabitis: you (plural) will love
Amabunt: they will love
Cresswell Julien believed that school was more than a
place where knowledge was decanted into green vessels:
his philosophy of education is described in a 1990 essay
, which was commissioned by the Grenada Civic Awareness
Organisation. He wrote:
“Education does not mean attending school and learning
the lessons taught therein, passing examinations-Common
Entrance,‘O’ and ‘A’ levels, CXC. For a few it means
also going on to centres of higher education-Tertiary
Education. All of these provide us with certificates to
show when we apply for a job. But education means more.
That is why in our years at school our teachers try to
teach us other things besides English, Mathematics,
Geography and Science. They try to instill the good
habits of punctuality, politeness, thoughtfulness,
truthfulness, cleanliness and neatness”.
Mr Julien thought that these “good habits” could be
taught and or reinforced on the fields of play; playing
sports was at the core of his of the philosophy of
education,. Therefore he emphasized the importance of
the House System.
The Cress’s philosophy of education was developed from
his wide reading and also from the stuff he distilled
from our historical experience. He knew that British
colonialism did not make us British ; he understood the
peculiar story of the birth and evolution of popular
education in the West Indies, beginning with Negro
Education Grant of 1835. The British Parliament
discontinued the NEG in 1845 so education was left to
the churches and other philanthropic parties. In the
Cressie Tobago, the first secondary school- Bishop’s –
opened in 1925.
The great and immortal Cress saw the school as the
conservatory wherein citizens were made. Those of us who
“passed under his hand” are forever thankful: in our
eyes he is man, a legend and indestructible institution.
He is our Tobago Hill
In Tobago there is a place called Grenada Hill. The
place is so named because once upon a time it was
settled by scores of Grenadians, who formed a community
in the immediate wake of the abolition of slavery in
1838. It is probably true to say that the
Grenadians were the most prominent of Tobago’s “tranger
nagers”-outsiders- and were among the first of these
“trangers to become fully integrated into Tobagonian
society. Tobagonian anthropologist Dr. J.D Elder
(1914-2003) explains that it
was the Grenadians’ “expertness in agricultural work”
that endeared them to the “home born”.
In Tobago the Grenadians ( from the "mainland" and also
from Petite Martinique and Carriacou) were known for
their cultural work, including Shango (Orisha) and Big
There is no Tobago Hill in Grenada. But when I was a wee
fella growing up in a village called " Paradise", kite
flyers used to invoke the name of a Tobago folk heroine-
"Gangan Sarah"-whenever a strong wind was needed to
launch their tissue- papered birds. The invocation went
Wind oh, wind oh, Gangan Sarie
Wind oh, wind oh, Gangan Sarie
This mantra was recited until the wind came.
"Gangan" is one of a few African ( Kongo) words to have
survived the unrelenting pressures of colonialism, the
system that, according to Cesaire, “thingified” the
The word ‘Gangan” used to be a term of endearment : the
title often reserved for an old women who was a doctor
of herbal medicine. And isn’t interesting that such a
word has survived? “Dada”, another African word to have
survived is Ewe for “beloved old woman--” An Ewe word
and a ki-Kongo word: interesting, eh?
According to Tobago and Grenada legends, Gangan Sarah
was an old African lady - in slavery times , who tried
to fly back to the home to Africa.
Our ‘talking books’ say Gangan Sarah "failed to take
height " and so she fell back to the ground.
The talking books also say that Gangan Sarah failed
because she din time the wind properly; she din catch a
big enough breeze. Eventually, a big breeze would became
a Gangan Sarah breeze
Grenada Hill and the story of Gangan Sarah breeze attest
to close ties between Tobago and Grenada-ties that reach
back to 1763, when Tobago was made a part of the
Government of Grenada, following the signing of the
Treaty of Paris in which the French ceded the islands to
their British rivals.
Cresswell Julien is an immortal emblem of the thickness
of Grenada-Tobago ties: He is an ennobling chapter in
the Grenada-Tobago story.
Talking about story, the Cress was the consummate
storyteller. He was also a story maker; literally
hundreds of stories cling to his name.
"Cressie batted for three days and made five rones (
Or was it five days and three runs?
Or: Agatha Joseph ( not her real name),”if you
grandmother gave you breadnuts she would be surprised to
hear the number of taxi numbers you’d call out in your
If you knew The Cress, you would know a least one
hundred “Cressie stories”. Of course, all Cress’s
stories begin with:
Old woman …….
Long live the Cress!
He is forever the great Captain of the unsinkable Semper
“ O Captain! my Captain our fearful trip is done! “
Mr Julien will be laid to rest on Wednesday, December