THE WEST INDIAN PEOPLE
The Conference on West Indian Affairs, 1965, coincided with the revival of the Quarterly Journal, New World. This Conference was the first of its kind to be held on the North American mainland. Its guest speaker was a West Indian, George Lamming, and its theme was “Shaping the Future of the West Indies”.
The conference was organised by young West Indians who could not see the need to maintain the colonial division of the West Indies into island parishes. The papers were the work of West Indians and the participants were primarily West Indians who came to Montreal from distant ports of North America.
The Conference and the New World Group are complementary in the effort to present for the people of the West Indies the issues that face them. It is with this in mind that the Conference Committee has released the text of George Lamming’s speech for publication In the Crop Time Issue of New World Quarterly.
“The settler and the native are old acquaintances. In fact, the settler is right when he speaks of knowing “them” well. For it is the settler who brought the native into existence and who perpetuates his existence”. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, p. 30.
“Writers on the West Indies always relate them to their approximation to Britain, France, Spain and America, that is, to say, to Western civilization, never in relation to their own history.” C. L. R. James, Preface, The Black Jacobins.
Mr. Chairman and members of this organizing committee, fellow West Indians and friends. I don’t know whether you realize what a very significant honour it is for me to be here in these circumstances because although I have done a great deal of travelling in the last 15 years both in Africa and North America, this is actually the first time in my career as a writer that I have ever been the guest of a West Indian organisation. I would like also to let you know that what you are doing here tonight has many echoes in London and for many of your compatriots who work in various activities throughout Africa. You are in a sense operating on a world scale.
I want also, I think, to congratulate you on what I believe is the first conference of this kind. I sincerely hope that you could perhaps achieve another first by seeing to it that the next is held on Caribbean territory.
I don’t know at what age you begin to cross the frontier of youth, but I would like to think of 1944 or ’45 as a point of reference for what I have to say. Remembering that year and what has happened in the last twenty years what do we recall? We recall the Second World War and the decline of France and Britain as colonial powers. We recall the victories of the national struggle in Asia, the Independence of India, the Bandung Conference. We recall Suez, the revolution in Hungary; we recall Mr. Khrushchev’s revelations on the Stalinist regime; we recall the extraordinary stride of China for Asian leadership. We recall Cuba. We recall the lightning presence of African countries in the councils of the world.