Remembering Walter Rodney

The Journal of Caribbean History, July 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Remembering Walter Rodney


The year 2005 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of Walter Rodney, one of the Caribbean's most renowned historians. On 13 June 1980, Rodney, who has been described as a radical or revolutionary intellectual, was assassinated in a car on a street in Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, his birthplace, by means of a remote-controlled bomb. Born in March 1942 in what was then the colony of British Guiana, he had a brilliant academic career. His achievements as a student included a first-class honours degree in History in 1963 from the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. He then went on to do graduate work at the School of Oriental and African Studies, a college of the University of London, where he obtained a doctorate in African history in 1966 at the age of twenty-four.

Rodney embarked on his career as a university lecturer with two stints at the University College of Dar-es-Salaam (later called the University of Dar-es-Salaam) in Tanzania between 1966 and 1974. His service there was broken by a year at his alma mater, the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, where he introduced the teaching of African history. This development came to an end in October 1968 when the Jamaican government banned him from the island because of its belief that his association with the poor and disadvantaged people of Kingston constituted a high security risk. This association was outlined by him in one of his more polemical works titled The Groundings with My Brothers (see below). In 1974 he returned to Guyana from Tanzania to take up an appointment as professor of History at the country's only university, the University of Guyana. However, his appointment was rescinded owing to interference by the Guyana government. Denied a job in his own country, he refused to leave, as the political directorate expected him to do. Instead, he lectured abroad periodically to maintain himself and his family, but spent most of his time at home conducting research on Guyanese history and becoming increasingly involved in local politics.

By 1980 he had become the most strident and feared critic of the authoritarian regime under Forbes Burnham, president of Guyana, whom he dubbed a dictator. His political activism culminated in his assassination at the comparatively young age of thirty-eight. At the time of his death he was Guyana's most internationally acclaimed scholar and an increasingly popular figure in local politics. …

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