“He remains one of Trinidad and Tobago’s best kept secrets”December 8th, 2012
George Padmore, the silent hero of Ghana and of African independence, is a native of Trinidad and Tobago, but as Fatima Siwaju, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Trinidad and Tobago writes, few in his birthplace know of his lifelong fight against colonialism.
Mention the name “George Padmore” to the average Trinidadian or Tobagonian and the most common reaction would be a creasing of the forehead, a furrowing of the brows and the inevitable question: “Who?”
This revolutionary thinker and political activist is more widely known in Ghana and the United Kingdom than in his native land. His name does not feature on any street signs, statues or commemorative plaques.
There is little mention of him in the textbooks on the national curriculum. The George Padmore Institute is not located in Port of Spain, as one would imagine, but in London.
He remains, essentially, one of Trinidad and Tobago’s best kept secrets. So who was George Padmore? He has been aptly described as the silent hero of Ghana and of African independence. Yet few Trinidadians or Tobagonians have even heard of him.
As a nation celebrating its fiftieth anniversary of independence, the legacy of this extraordinary son of the soil must be unearthed. His life’s work, his values and the principles he advocated should be a source of great pride and critical reflection at this crucial juncture in Trinidad and Tobago’s history.
Padmore was born Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse in 1903 to a Black middle class family in Arouca. His father, James Hubert Alfonso Nurse, was a well-read schoolmaster, entomologist and agricultural instructor.
Raised in an intellectually stimulating environment, Padmore was the childhood friend of C.L.R. James, a prominent Trinidadian historian and intellectual. After graduating from St. Mary’s College he worked for the Trinidad Guardian as a shipping reporter.
Padmore became a student activist a Fisk University in the United States, where he’d gone in 1924 to study Medicine. While at Fisk he met Nnamdi Azikiwe, who was later to become the first President of Nigeria. Together they established the African Student Organization. Padmore soon rose to prominence as a brilliant speaker and fervent student activist.
Padmore later went on to study Law at Howard University, where he joined the Communist Party. He assumed the name “George Padmore” for party business, and adopted the Communist mandate wholeheartedly. Like many of his African counterparts at the time, Padmore regarded Communism as a powerful tool in the fight against imperialism and colonialism worldwide.
After university Padmore migrated to Moscow, where he became head of the Negro Bureau of the Communist International (Comintern) and Secretary of the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers. He also edited The Negro Worker newspaper, read by thousands in North America, Europe and the Caribbean.
Yet Padmore’s privileged position within the Communist hierarchy would be short-lived. In 1934 the Soviets aligned with Great Britain and France in opposition to Germany and Padmore was instructed to stop agitating against the colonial powers. A principled anti-imperialist, he refused and was subsequently expelled from the Comintern and the Communist Party.
Padmore spent the next twenty years of his life in London, writing vociferously and agitating for the cause of African liberation. Among his notable works are How Britain Rules Africa (1936), Africa: Britain’s Third Empire (1946) and Pan African or Communism? (1956). He played a pivotal role in establishing the Pan African Federation (PAF) in 1944, and in organising the historic Fifth Pan African Congress the following year.
Amongst his associates in London were C.L.R. James, Eric Williams, Jawaharlal Nehru, Jomo Kenyatta and Julius Nyerere. Kenyatta and Nyerere later became the first presidents of Kenya and Tanzania respectively. Padmore also had a close relationship with Kwame Nkrumah, a student from the Gold Coast (modern-day Ghana). It was under the auspices of Padmore’s organisation that Nkrumah launched the political campaign which culminated in Ghana’s independence in 1957.
Soon after independence, Padmore was appointed Nkrumah’s chief adviser on African affairs. In 1958, he organised a meeting in Accra of the Heads of independent African states, and accompanied Nkrumah on several tours of the Continent.
Padmore’s political glory was cut short by the sudden decline in his health. He died in London in September 1959 of a liver ailment. His ashes were flown to Ghana at Nkrumah’s request and interred at Christianborg Castle.
“When I first met George Padmore in London, we both realised from the very beginning that we thought along the same lines and talked the same language,” said President Nkrumah in an emotional eulogy. “Our friendship developed into that indescribable relationship that exists between brothers.”
“The nation, like the individual, is the culmination of a long past of endeavours, sacrifice, and devotion,” says Ernest Renan in his seminal essay, “What is a nation”.
“A heroic past, great men, this is the social capital upon which one bases a national idea.”
George Padmore must therefore assume his rightful place in the pantheon of national heroes.
Photo: Kenroy Ambris/Commonwealth Secretariat
I am an International Relations Officer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. I have a Masters in Development Studies from the University of Cambridge. I am passionate about politics and international affairs, sustainable development and education.
I believe that the media is a powerful tool through which we can share ideas, thoughts and opinions, transcending cultural, social and most importantly, geographical boundaries. Knowledge is power.
You can follow me @fatima_siwaju
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