Eric Williams, De Doctah, and Independence
By Alex Graham
Eric Williams, also known as “De Doctah,” in The Swinging Bridge, was the first and long-time prime minister of an independent Trinidad and Tobago from 1962-1981. He founded the People’s National Movement in 1956 and led his country to independence soon after. Williams was educated at elite universities such as Queen’s Royal College in Port of Spain and the University of Oxford, receiving a B.A. in 1932 and a D.Phil. in 1938, with studies in history and political science (“Eric Williams”). By rallying behind the saying, “Massa day done,” Eric Williams won most of his support from Afro-Trinidadians and calypsonians, while still receiving some votes from whites, and Indo-Trinidadians such as Da-Da. Williams claimed his use of “Massa” was not just referring to whites but rather that it, “represented a class of persons, an orientation that transcended phenotype or ethnicity” (Palmer 24). He strongly urged the followers of the PNM to embrace “all races and colors from all walks of life” and in the same speech promised no special privileges would be given to any specific class, race, color, or national origin (Palmer 24). By giving Trinidadians a sense of national stability through independence, and by rallying behind an idea of equality for all races, Williams won the 1962 election by a landslide.
In the year 1963 Mona recalls being consumed by the idea of “Massa day done” saying, “…we could come into our own. Coming into our own meant celebrating our own culture and not some washed-out white people song and dance sent from England” (Espinet (Kindle Location 911-913)). To Mona and many other Indo-Trinidadians, Eric Williams and the PNM gave them a sense of promise and excitement that Trinidad would finally be relinquished from English cultural influence. In The Swinging Bridge Da-Da was offered a job by De Doctah on the Legislative Council where he was promised honors, recognition, and wealth. Da-Da refused the lucrative job offer saying, “He couldn’t advance himself at the expense of his own people” (Espinet (Kindle Location 963)). Although De Doctah promised him power and influence, Da-Da saw himself as, “an Indian man and a Trinidadian, neither cancelling out the other, a natural inheritor of the Creole culture he loved,” and therefore could not align himself with such a corrupt party (Espinet (Kindle Locations 965-966)). The problem for Da-Da that arose was De Doctah’s partisan display of power was mostly for the benefit of the black population and thus had, “destroyed any vision of oneness and equality” (Espinet (Kindle Location 978)). Instead of joining the country together De Doctah had done exactly the opposite in Mona’s opinion. The contradiction of what De Doctah told Trinidadians and what he actually did when in office was too much of a contradiction for many Indo-Trinidadians to bear. Being faced with extreme racism in Trinidad after the false promise of all races being equal and having equal opportunities to advance themselves under the PNM, Mona’s family decided to migrate to Canada in hopes for a better life.
“Eric Williams”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 15 Apr. 2014 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/644344/Eric-Williams>.
Palmer, Colin A.. Eric Williams & the making of the modern Caribbean. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006. Print.