By Wallace Williams
Upon arrival at the international airport in St.Kitts, West Indies, situated geographically in the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, a bust of a man sits on a pedestal in the customs area. Robert L. Bradshaw, so honored in the airport named for him, has become both folk hero and perhaps the most influential person in the history of this former British colony. For a colonized people, he perhaps, was the one who did the most to represent their cause.
From Commoner To King: Crusader of Dignity and Justice in the Caribean, tells of the labor movement from its beginning and its political pinning that is St.Kitts-Nevis and Anguilla, as it parallels the life of Bradshaw. Browne an educator in the U.S.Virgin Islands and a native of Nevis, in the forward of his work, identifies the men "who made and indelible contribution to Caribbean development". He includes: Sir Alexander Bustamante, Norman Manley and Michael Manley of Jamaica, Sir Grantley Adams of Barbados, Uriah Butler, Sir Eric Williams and C.L.R. James of Trinidad; Tom Adams of Barbados, Maurice Bishop of Grenada and William Bramble of Montserrat. It is 13 years after Bradshaw's death that the time came for Browne's book to come to life.
Robert L. Bradshaw's "intellectual and political life" is depicted in this work which is an insightful biography of this hero of St.Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla. Browne, depending on interviews of friends and family of Bradshaw and secondary documentation, narrates a chronicle through an historically passionate and substantive journey. Uniquely it serves as a primer to the history of the man and the political arena which is this part of the Caribbean as well. He focuses on the role of Bradshaw as he "supervised, then dominated, the emergence of working class politics from 1944 to 1978. His treatment of 'Issues of Race, Class and Culture', is a useful explanation of how these elements have evolved as dominant ones in the Caribbean society as far back as the time of the Arawaks and Caribs". He states "they simply became heightened and more stressful with the coming of the Europeans, Africans and other Asians. As never before, these factors in the societies became related to oppression and death, or privileges and profits. At one time they were the ultimate determinants of who won or who lost in the Caribbean".
In his analysis, Browne identifies Bradshaw as "not a communist" but "one of the most astute, and pragmatic Caribbean nationalists of his time". He speculates that Bradshaw believed in "Caribbean sovereignty", that even though "he visited Cuba, and appeared to have accepted the Cuban reality, at no time did Bradshaw make special overtures to Fidel Castro". He feels that Bradshaw, had he lived, would have supported elections in Maurice Bishop's Grenada.
In his acknowledgements, he notes that this work was completed without the requested assistance of the then-existing Government which, he indicates, allowed access to needed material by a Japanese researcher but "not one of their own". The work has an ample table of contents; a bibliography, which includes valuable unpublished works and an index. Its black and white illustrations, with the exception of a photo of the young crusader, Bradshaw, which is on the cover and area maps opposite the Foreword, are in the center-section and each are captioned. In fact, the author devotes a chapter (Chapter XI), which he entitles These Testify: Scenes from Robert L. Bradshaw's Time, to photographs. This book is highly recommended for those researching Caribbean history, politics and social interactions of people subjected to that, which was colonialism. Its references in context (documented and implied) are indeed a primer for students of Caribbean history from junior high and beyond. While it is obvious that Bradshaw is a true hero of the author, a capable effort to provide a broader view of the man and the times is cleverly achieved in his narrative. Browne never loses focus of his goal which appears to provide as complete as he is capable, a comprehensive description of the life of Bradshaw, and the part of the world and the people he influenced.
It would be interesting to know how people from St.Kitts-Nevis, Anguilla, the Caribbean both here and abroad, receive Browne's work. Certainly, it is a valued work if only because the author has put so much time and effort into his presentation. This book is a good read. Its serves as excellent resource material for theatrical rendering (play and/or movie). Much praise to the author for producing a work suitable for the Caribbean reader and the library collections of the socially conscious.