On Sunday, Trinidad and Tobago will celebrate Emancipation Day. It was a historic moment when the declaration was made by then-prime minister George Chambers in 1985.
But the records at NALIS and elsewhere do not give Chambers the credit due to him for his decision to change Discovery Day to recognise the importance of Emancipation.
It is simply stated that the government declared August 1 as a public holiday to commemorate Emancipation; this is utterly inadequate, when compared with the rightful recognition given to Basdeo Panday for his decision, as prime minister, to declare the Shouter Baptist holiday.
Chambers deserves credit for listening and responding to the clarion calls from several quarters, including many of those who now comprise the Emancipation Support Committee, for the declaration of a public holiday.
Through his ability to listen to diverse opinions, and his recognition of the merit of the arguments for the recognition of Emancipation, Chambers propelled Trinidad and Tobago to the globally significant position of becoming the first country in the world to declare Emancipation Day as a public holiday.
It is indeed a great honour to recall that the country’s second prime minister also left his mark in several other major changes in Trinidad and Tobago.
Chambers named the Eric Williams Medical Science Complex and the Eric Williams Financial Complex, in recognition of his predecessor, the Father of the Nation, Dr Eric Williams, who served as our first and only Chief Minister, and first Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
Under Chambers’s tenure, Princess Margaret Highway gave way to Uriah Butler Highway, in recognition of Butler’s outstanding and significant contributions to the Labour Movement and workers’ rights. This was a logical consequence to the recognition bestowed on the Labour leader by Dr Williams, who declared June 19 as the official Labour Day holiday.
Under Chambers’s leadership, deserving recognition was bestowed on Audrey Jeffers for her dedication and service in laying the foundation in social work and community development, with the naming of the Highway in the North/West region after her.
Another Labour leader, Adrian Cola Rienzi, and a former mayor of San Fernando, Gertrude Kirton, were also honoured with the joint naming of a major road in San Fernando after them, for their achievements in their respective fields.
Tobago was not left out, with the recognition of Tobagonian boxer Claude Noel for winning his WBA World title in the lightweight category.
That George Chambers set Trinidad and Tobago on the international stage as the first country to declare Emancipation Day a holiday is significant.
Arguably, just as significant was his determination to embed our history as a nation into the everyday world around us by renaming/naming highways and buildings after deserving daughters and sons of Trinidad and Tobago, in recognition of what they did for our nation.
Perhaps it is time he had a similar honour bestowed on him.
former MP for Arima