Academic journal article African Research & Documentation

Looking at the Walter Rodney Papers: Atlanta, Georgetown and London

Academic journal article African Research & Documentation

Looking at the Walter Rodney Papers: Atlanta, Georgetown and London

Article excerpt

Introduction: Walter Rodney

Walter Rodney1 was born in Georgetown, Guyana on March 23, 1942. Raised in a middle class family, he won a scholarship to enter the most prestigious local school, Queen's College in Georgetown. In 1960, he went to the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Jamaica. After his undergraduate degree, he attended the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London where, at the age of 24, he received his PhD with honours in African History. Rodney's thesis, A History of the Upper Guinea Coast 15451800, was published by Oxford University Press in 1970.

During his studies at SOAS, he travelled to Spain, Italy and Portugal in order to access archives about Guinea coast. In these countries, he made contact with anticolonialist movements, especially the Portuguese one headed by Amilcar Cabrai. Rodney spent his weekends at Hyde Park Speakers' Corner arguing about struggling against apartheid, racism and colonialism. Close to the London Jamaican community, he was engaged in progressive movements. He also read Marx, Trotsky and Lenin, and formed his own version of Marxism during meetings with West Indian students at the house of CLR and Selma James.

After his PhD, he joined Terence Ranger teaching at Dar-es-Salaam University, Tanzania, as an assistant lecturer in history. In 1968, he went back to Mona campus as a professor in African history. Influenced by the Black Power movement that was rising in the U.S., Third World revolutionaries and Marxist theory, Rodney began to engage in a radical left activism and he actively challenged the status quo. He decided to link scholarship with activism, and to write a kind of history from below which distinguished him from his academic colleagues.

His engagement led him outside university walls, to the suburbs of Kingston, where he used to get involved with Rastafari and working people. His radical criticism of the Jamaican government, especially the first black Prime Minister Hugh Shearer, gave birth to a popular movement in Jamaica. It burst into riots on October 1968, when Rodney was unable to re-enter Jamaica after his intervention on Black Power at the Black Writers' Conference in Montreal, Canada. Groundings with my Brothers (Bogle L'Ouverture Press, 1969) describes his Jamaican experience.

Rodney spent several months writing in Cuba and finally returned to Tanzania in March 1969 where he engaged in debates about race, class, underdevelopment and African Liberation movements. In 1972, he published his greatest book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa with Bogle L'Ouverture. He also wrote some papers on socialism in Tanzania that remained unknown because he refused to publish them outside Tanzania.

In 1974, Rodney returned to Guyana but his appointment as Professor of History at the University of Guyana was blocked by the government. However, he remained in Guyana, researching the history of working peoples, and getting involved in political life, becaming a co-leader of the opposition movement, the Working People's Alliance (WPA). He was married to Patricia and they had three children, Shaka, Kaninin and Asha.

As he gained popularity, Rodney became a target of the government, and his life was endangered. Nonetheless, he managed to complete several works in the last year of his life including A History of the Guyanese Working People, 18811905 which was published after his death by the Johns Hopkins Press of Baltimore, and also two books for children, Lakshmi Out of India and Koffi Baadu Out of Africa. On Friday, June 13, 1980, Walter Rodney was assassinated by a bomb in Georgetown, Guyana.

The starting point of my research

Rodney left an archival legacy in the Caribbean, Africa, the Americas and Europe.

I began my doctoral research in 2007 and the sub-title of my dissertation is "a fragmented history of Panafricanism", because the concept of "fragmentation" is linked to the fact that archives have their own history. …

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