I don’t use the words “political figure” to describe Maurice Bishop for many reasons but the most pressing of them is this: I see humanity in his leadership through his words, his speeches and the manner in which he lived his life, even to the very end as he stood against the cemented wall at Fort Rupert on 19th October, 1983. Within the colonial walls where he died, he once stood being honoured as Comrade and prime minister of the People’s Revolution. After speaking with Caldwell Taylor, former Prime Minister Tillman Thomas, Liam James, Annie Bain and Sylvia Belmar amongst many others, the man [Maurice], is more prevalent and interesting to me than the “political figure” the world sees and assumes to know.
Last summer I spent hours on the telephone conducting interviews and having conversations with local Grenadians, international journalists and scholars and what I’ve gathered is that Maurice was misunderstood in many ways. Because of this, when I am alone, in moments of sacred silence, I think aloud and I call him Boo Radley—To Kill a Mockingbird. Boo was misjudged but he was one of the silent heroes of Harper Lee’s prolific novel—if not the ultimate hero, next to Atticus Finch. Boo is special because he saved Scout and Gem from the racist prejudicial mob of Maycomb County and reminded us [the readers] of the harm that can be done when we misjudge and prejudge individuals based upon societal biases. He was a good man who people didn’t understand because they didn’t know him—prejudgments clouded their vision and they made misguided assumptions about him, which during his lifetime, Maurice empathised with. Even now that he is no longer with us in this tangible world of sights, sounds, tastes and smells, Maurice is still misunderstood and discussed in the lens of a political figure rather than a son, father, brother, husband or a friend.
Many of the individuals closest to Maurice and who knew him well died alongside their friend and comrade—the others either died from natural causes or remain tight-lipped, traumatized from the events of October 1983, on that small isle of spice. Compiling a biographical composition of an individual thirty-three years later under these conditions poses a challenge. The loved ones who are left are either extremely distressed and don’t wish to talk and others weren’t close enough to Maurice to give substantial details on his character or who he was. However, in 2007, ten years ago, I stumbled upon a news article marking the 24th Anniversary of Maurice’s assassination. In it, his friend describes the final two days of Maurice’s life, from visiting him on the 18th during his house arrest to being jolted by the sound of machine guns on the 19th coming from Fort Rupert:
To historically understand revolution and armed overthrow as a discourse, one must examine the men at centre stage. The ones who started it, the ones who fought for it, and the ones who later died for it. By studying these men one can understand the systematic successes and failures of political rebellion, in this case Maurice Bishop, the NJM, and the Grenada Revolution. Constructing an image of a man through an archaeological narrative is demanding. It is even more uninviting when this man did not leave a journal or diary behind [or they were destroyed]. His printed speeches are the relics of a distant past that I’ve combed through searching for flesh, blood, and emotions to separate the political figure from the man. I have ravaged through his written words searching for clues of his sensibility and consciousness to understand what he thought, what he felt, and what he desired—those entities of personality are absent from the pages in hand. It is hard reading his speeches in today’s climate because retrospectively, the artistic manipulation and effective use of words and discourses are poignantly clear and ever present.
The histories we’ve inherited—what does it mean to inherit history and what is the responsibility of the inheritor? It is with this historical umbilical cord I’ve attempted to answer these questions—who was Maurice Bishop? What did the revolutionary fighters know about Maurice? What did counter-revolutionary populace know about Maurice? What did ‘children of the revo’ know about Bishop? What do the ‘babies of the revolution’ know about Maurice? Not much! Therefore, it is safe to assume that Maurice Bishop is the Boo Radley of the Grenadian Revolution. I am fascinated by the idea of the relationship between Maurice and his father, Rupert, and how early events shaped his political trajectory?
The political figure of Maurice is as polarizing as Rome’s Mark Antony and Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto. All these political icons are considered charismatic, eloquent, charming, courageous but their most prominent trait seems to be their political ascension through the politics of death, revolutionary fervour, absolute courage and determination, incomparable ambition, democratic hypocrisies and their untimely and almost fatalistic, violent deaths. Given that Maurice died abruptly and suddenly, there is no autobiographical or biographical text related to his life and legacy, or who he was as a man (son, father, brother and friend) but only the man in his shirt-jack standing next to other Latin American or Caribbean radical/Marxist/Communist leaders during the Reagan Administration of the 1970s and 80s. And it is in this image, standing next to Fidel and Manley and Ortega that he has been unfairly embalmed within the pages of World History, though, he was unlike the others because he was uniquely Maurice, as demonstrated in this photo:
I happily struggle to compose a photo of Bish or Bishy or Maurice or M.B. or Dad or friend, as he was loving called by loved ones and those who addressed letters to him “Dear Maurice” and who closed with signatures like: “Take care of yourself. Warm regards….” As previously stated, in many ways Maurice reminds me of Boo Radley because I believe that Maurice was a man misunderstood. A man who embodied goodness but was grotesquely misrepresented because of the hijacking of his leadership by power hungry sycophants. Like Boo, he protected children and fought against injustice and imperialist bullies. I am drawn to the ending scene of To Kill a Mockingbird the more I read about Maurice. I am reminded of the final dialogue between Atticus and Scout and Scout’s question to him, “Well, it’d be sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird, wouldn’t it?” Like the mockingbird, it was a sin to kill Maurice because all he did was sing to us, like mockingbirds do. It is easy to cast blame and call him names because of his associates and political alliances. To continue using Harper Lee’s classic as a marker for understanding the massacre on 19th October, 1983, Scout’s final words echoes true: “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.” I often wondered about Maurice and attempted to separate the man from the myths and legends about him; however, I have come to the conclusion that just reading and listening to stories about him, is enough—no need to walk in his shoes, I would not be able to stand upright and steady from the weight of what he had to carry.
Today, 5th June, 2017—marks thirty-four years after his eloquent delivery at Hunter College, NYC! This letter (pictured above) speaks to what was delivered…there’s advice as to what he should do or say and the reasons why. Fascinating to put the pieces together for a holistic image of the man versus the political figure.
This project stemmed from multiple conversations with Caldwell Taylor and an e-mail exchange with Martin Felix—they will be presenting an oral piece on their experience on June 5th, they were both present. Caldwell on stage seated behind Maurice as part of his entourage and Martin, in the audience. Here is a photo taken from the YouTube video that captured the illustrious and ominous evening:
Sunsets & Sailboats,
Photos: some are mine, some were sent to me by Caldwell Taylor and others were taken from Google Images.
© June 2017