Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves on Monday told Parliament that it would be true to say that social and political activist Oscar Allen, who died at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital on Friday, “was one of our outstanding sons”.
Gonsalves, in leading off the tribute to Allen in the national assembly, said Allen, his contemporary, was a social and political activist and most of all, “a human being of a very high quality.
“It is not possible to understand, Oscar Allen, in my view, outside of the context of his Methodism, the life and teaching of Paul — servant of the Lord, called to be an apostle, his commitment to socialism, to our Caribbean civilisation, a sensibility towards Africanist perspectives, the land and the peasantry, the rural folk, solidarity and struggle, individualism and community account,” the prime minister told lawmakers of the man who was once his political ally, but in recent years was scathing in his criticism of him.
Gonsalves said it was not the time to recount in detail about Allen’s school days, his training in theology, going back to Diamond village, living and working among the people, the building of ARWE rural organisation, his involvement in the United People’s Movement, which he headed for a brief moment, and his chairmanship of the non-partisan People’s Movement for Change.
“We have known him as a young man as in the Book of Joel, young men have visions, and as he got older, he got dreams.
“Indeed many of his dreams were such and in his dreaming, sometimes he would infuriate us with his lack of commitment to practicality. But even where he infuriated us with his less than practical tactical approach to matters, no one ever doubted his sincerity and his commitment to the upliftment of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
The prime minister said that Allen was “a man of humility” who lived among the people.
“He didn’t allow earthly riches to consume him. It doesn’t mean that somebody who is wealthy is not a good person. I am just saying what Oscar was: a good man.”
‘he cared very deeply for humanity’
Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday told Parliament that he did not know Allen personally but had hoped to have an opportunity to get to know him better.
“To just talk to him because some of the things the Prime Minister mentioned about this writings and his passions, they moved me, Mr. Speaker, to think that this is a person, who, even in his senior years, spoke and wrote, like many of us would have done at university or later years in high school, with the passion and the clarity of purpose that inspires many, and even as the prime minister said, might have infuriated some. The point is, Mr. Speaker, he spoke his mind, as I understood it,” said Friday, who became opposition leader last October, but has been an MP since 2001.
Friday said that when Allen made a commentary, it was taken seriously, regardless of whether persons agreed with it.
“Because you knew here is someone with considerable intellect, somebody who cared very deeply for St. Vincent and the Grenadines. But I think, larger than that, he cared very deeply for humanity, our humanity, our dignity as human beings, as people and that sustained him.
“To carry that all through your life is really a testament to his fortitude, his commitment, and his honesty of purpose and I do believe, Mr. Speaker, very sincerely that St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a better place for it.”
The opposition leader said that he would wish that younger people in St. Vincent and the Grenadines “would be moved by his example; to say that their voice matters, that a voice matters; whether there is high office that comes with it or simply a clarity and conviction that is communicated, that the voice matters.”
Friday said that Allen’s voice mattered and still matters in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“And I do hope, Mr. Speaker, that his legacy would be one that would not just be contained within the boundaries of the articles he wrote, the organisation he involved himself in and the things that he said. But that they will spread, they will infuse others to adopt that spirit, Mr. Speaker, of commitment to humanity and to country and take up the same kind of commitment that he showed to make things better, to make your voice count,” the opposition leader told Parliament.
‘the father of the village’
Minister of Agriculture, Saboto Caesar, who also grew up in Allen’s home village of Diamonds, said he was a “great man” who was affectionately known as “Brother A” in Diamonds.
“Oscar was a community man and he was ascribed the father of the village. … He was a community activist of the highest order.”
Caesar said that Allen took community activism as his profession and was there for the communities in the constituency of South Central Windward and the nation.
He noted that Allen was a teacher, adding that one of his hallmarks as a community leader was his dedication to adult literacy, having persons going to his home on evenings “to sharpen their academic skills.
“Many times when I was at the A’ Level college and I didn’t grasp some sociological concepts, I would go to Brother A. He would sit me down, he would always have a text on the issue and soon, he would say, ‘Your time is up because somebody else has to come.’”
Caesar said that Allen had a virtual school at his home and introduced to Diamond an activity that he doesn’t think happens anywhere else in the country.
On July 31 annually, he would ask all the villagers to gather in the Earlene Horne Square around 7 p.m. and would recite African poems.
“And he assisted us with reconnecting with our ancestors and we were placed in a spiritual position to remember how our fore parents felt the night when at midnight freedom came.”
The agriculture minister said that coincidentally they were planning for the event to be bigger this year.
They gathered at Allen’s house a month ago and told him they wanted him to write the theme for this year’s celebrations.
The theme he wrote was “Resistance, Revolt, and Emancipation.”
“I wanted to bring something a bit more to the celebrations this year and he contacted some counterparts who work with the EU from Guatemala and they sponsored five persons of Garifuna heritage to come to St. Vincent to be part of the celebrations.
“Oscar would not be there in person but he will definitely be there in spirit. Earlene Horne is gone in person, she remains in spirit, Solomon Butler gone in person remains in spirit, and Oscar Allen remains in spirit and also remains in some of the names of the people of Diamonds,” Caesar said.
He told Parliament that Allen believed that those who could not go back to Africa physically could express their emancipation in little things.
“And he was of the view that if massa … gave us a name during the period of slavery, a free society, one of the expressions of our freedom should be [that] we must come up with home-grown names.”
He said that in the village there are names such as Aluka, Lacada, Nazinga, Kayunba, Sanga, Saboto, Sabinto, Aluko, Acusa, Kaman.
Caesar said that Allen gave the names of African nation to different parts of Diamonds village, adding that the section where he grow up is called Mozambique.
“Oscar was a very thought provoking man and you never left a conversation with Oscar having him buy what you say to him hook line and sinker. He always had a spin,” Caesar said of the man who had disregarded a proposal for a chicken project in the community because the word “profit” was included.
Allen wanted to know who the profit would be made from.
“This was the man. Well, some people would tell you that if you don’t make a profit you shouldn’t continue the business. Well, Oscar’s profit was people’s involvement and their benefit and if there was any surplus, it was to be equally redistricted and ploughed back into the business. He was a great man. We will miss him, and his legacy will forever live on.”
‘a very decent human being’
Member of Parliament for East Kingstown, Arnhim Eustace, told lawmakers that he knew Allen virtually all his life and recalled their first conversation around age 13 in Methodist Youth Fellowship.
He said that at one point he had expected Allen to become a Methodist minister and superintendent of the Methodist church regionally, rather than just locally.
“Oscar was a very decent human being. He was not dependent on anyone. He had strong views and he defended them.”
Eustace, an opposition lawmaker and former opposition leader, noted that Gonsalves had said that Allen sometimes said things considered impractical.
“I have had that experience myself sometimes with him, but I can never doubt his sincerity and his commitment to what he stood for.”
He said he and Allen had gotten into arguments at youth fellowship about political matters.
“And Oscar always had a view which was somewhat different; but you can’t say it was foolish. He always had a view, which, to me, was the hallmark of his independence as a human being. Everyone knows about his support for his community and for this country.”
Eustace said he was not surprised by Allen’s passing, saying that someone had told him some time ago that Allen was very ill but was not letting on about the extent of his illness.
“So since that day, I’ve been kind of expecting to hear that he had passed. And even that, his approach to that situation was as if, in a sense, that you have to go. I’m not fighting that. He has his Christian beliefs, his faith in Almighty God and he lived it in all aspects of his life and over a long period of time.
“Our country is poorer for his passing,” Eustace said.
‘a good soul’
Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown, St. Clair Leacock also paid tribute to Allen, telling parliament he was “ a good soul”.
“He meant good for people and for St. Vincent and the Grenadines. I don’t think Oscar had an enemy. If he had a difference with you, he’d tell you. And even the way he would tell you would be different because he would make it palatable,” Leacock said.