WALTER RODNEY & WORKS | The Walter Rodney Foundation – Walter Anthony Rodney was born to Edward and Pauline Rodney in Georgetown, Guyana on March 23, 1942. He developed into an intellectual and scholar and is recognized as one of the Caribbean’s most brilliant minds.
Rodney’s academic record is filled with awards, open scholarships and honors. He attended Queen’s College, the top male high school in Guyana, and in 1960 graduated first in his class, winning an open scholarship to the University of the West Indies (UWI). He pursued his undergraduate studies at UWI Mona Campus in Jamaica, where he graduated with 1st class honors in History in 1963. Rodney then attended the School of Oriental and African Studies in London where, at the age of 24, he received his PhD with honors in African History. Rodney’s thesis, A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, was published by Oxford University Press in 1970.
Rodney combined his scholarship with activism and became a voice for the under-represented and disenfranchised – this distinguished him from his academic colleagues. His interest in the struggles of the working class began at a young age with an introduction to politics by his father, and continued with his involvement in debating and study groups throughout his student years. His PhD thesis illustrated his duality as an intellectual and activist as he challenged the prevailing assumptions about African history and put forth his own ideas and models for analyzing the history of oppressed peoples. Influenced by the Black Power Movement in the U.S., third world revolutionaries and Marxist theory, Rodney began to actively challenge the status quo.
In 1968, while a UWI professor in Jamaica, he joined others to object to the socio-economic and political direction of the government. Unlike his counterparts, however, Rodney involved the working class, including the Rastafarians (one of Jamaica’s most marginalized groups) in this dialogue. His speeches and lectures to these groups were published as Grounding with My Brothers, and became central to the Caribbean Black Power Movement. Rodney’s activities attracted the Jamaican government’s attention and after attending the 1968 Black Writers’ Conference in Montreal, Canada he was banned from re-entering the country. This decision was to have profound repercussions, sparking widespread unrest in Kingston.
In 1974, Walter returned to Guyana to take up an appointment as Professor of History at the University of Guyana, but the government rescinded the appointment. But Rodney remained in Guyana, joined the newly formed political group, the Working People’s Alliance. Between 1974 and 1979, he emerged as the leading figure in the resistance movement against the increasingly authoritarian PNC government. He give public and private talks all over the country that served to engender a new political consciousness in the country. During this period he developed his ideas on the self emancipation of the working people, People’s Power, and multiracial democracy.
As the WPA gained popularity and momentum, the PNC began a campaign of harassment including police raids, house searches, and beatings. On July 11, 1979, Walter, together with seven others, was arrested following the burning down of two government offices. Rodney and four others (known as the “Referendum Five”) faced trumped-up charges of arson, but without proof and scrutiny from international supporters, the government was forced to drop these charges.
Rodney’s voice was not confined to Africa and the Caribbean but was also heard in the U.S. and Europe. In the early-mid 1970s, he participated in discussions and lectures with the African Heritage Studies Association at Howard University; the Institute of the Black World in Atlanta, GA; the African Studies and Research Center at Cornell University; and the State University of New York at Binghamton.
The persecution, however, continued: two party members were killed, and the government denied Rodney and others permission to travel. Despite this, Rodney continued his political work and attended Zimbabwe’s independence celebrations in May 1980.
On Friday, June 13, 1980, Walter Anthony Rodney was assassinated by a bomb in Georgetown, Guyana. He was 38 years old.
Though Rodney lived with constant police harassment and frequent threats against his life he nonetheless managed to complete four books in the last year of his life: An academic work: A History of the Guyanese Working People, 1881-1905; A political call to action; People’s Power, No Dictator, and two children’s books: Kofi Baadu Out of Africa and Lakshmi Out of India.
Walter Rodney was married to Patricia Rodney and together they have three children – Shaka, Kanini and Asha. They also have three grandchildren – Asia, Kai and Skye.
Wikipedia: Later years and assassination
Later years and assassination — In 1974 Rodney returned to Guyana from Tanzania. He was due to take up a position as a professor at the University of Guyana but the government prevented his appointment. He became increasingly active in politics, founding the Working People’s Alliance, a party that provided the most effective and credible opposition to the PNC government. In 1979 he was arrested and charged with arson after two government offices were burned.
On 13 June 1980, Walter Rodney was killed, at the age of thirty-eight, by a bomb in his car, a month after returning from the independence celebrations in Zimbabwe and during a period of intense political activism. He was survived by his wife, Pat, and three children. His brother, Donald Rodney, who was injured in the explosion, said that a sergeant in the Guyana Defence Force named Gregory Smith had given Walter the bomb that killed him. After the killing Smith fled to French Guiana, where he died in 2002.
It was, and is still, widely believed – although not proved – that the assassination was set-up by then President Linden Forbes Burnham. Rodney’s idea, that the various ethnic groups who were historically disenfranchised by the ruling colonial class should work together, was in conflict with Burnham’s presidential opinions.
In early 2015 a Commission of Inquiry (COI) was held during which a new witness, Holland Gregory Yearwood, came forward claiming to be a longstanding friend of Rodney and a former member of the WPA. He testified that Rodney might have had a hand in his own demise, having presented detonators to Yearwood weeks prior to the explosion asking for assistance in assembling a bomb.
“Rodney’s most influential book was his magnum opus, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, published in 1972. In it he described an Africa that had been consciously exploited by European imperialists, leading directly to the modern underdevelopment of most of the continent. The book became enormously influential as well as controversial: it was groundbreaking in that it was among the first to bring a new perspective to the question of underdevelopment in Africa. Rodney’s analysis went far beyond the previously accepted approach in the study of Third World underdevelopment.
“Instead of being interested primarily in the inter-relations of African trade and politics, as many of us were at that time, Walter Rodney focused his attention on the agricultural basis of African communities, on the productive forces within them and on the processes of social differentiation. As a result, his research raised a whole set of fresh questions concerning the nature of African social institutions on the Upper Guinea coast in the sixteenth century and of the impact of the Atlantic slave trade. In doing so, he helped to open up a new dimension. Almost immediately he stimulated much further writing and research on West Africa, and he initiated a debate, which still continues and now extends across the whole range of African history.
When teaching at the Universities of Dar es Salaam and the West Indies, he launched and sustained a large number of discussion groups which swept up and embraced many who had had little or no formal education. As a writer, he reached out to contact thousands in The Groundings with my Brothers (1969) and in his influential How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972).” — Remarks by Professor John Richard Gray, History Today, Vol. 49, Issue 9, 1980.
“When we think of Walter Rodney as a Revolutionary Scholar we are talking about two things, Radical Scholar and his revolutionary contribution to the study of History ie. History of Africa. Walter Rodney was a pioneering scholar who provided new answers to old questions and posed new questions in relation to the study of Africa.” — Remarks by Professor Winston McGowan at the Walter Rodney Commemorative Symposium held at York College, USA, in June 2010.
“Walter Rodney was no captive intellectual playing to the gallery of local or international radicalism. He was clearly one of the most solidly ideologically situated intellectuals ever to look colonialism and its contemporary heir black opportunism and exploitation in the eye” — Remarks by Wole Soyinka, Oduduwa Hall, University of Ife, Nigeria, Friday, 27 June 1980.
Rodney’s community-grounded approach to mass education during the 1960s and his detailed descriptions of his pedagogical approach in Groundings (1969) document his role as an important critical pedagogue and contemporary of Paulo Freire.
Rodney’s death was commemorated in a poem by Martin Carter entitled “For Walter Rodney,” by the dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson in “Reggae fi Radni,” and by Kamau Brathwaite in his poem “Poem for Walter Rodney” (Elegguas, 2010).
In 1977, the African Studies Centre, Boston University, inaugurated the Walter Rodney Lecture Series.
In 1982,the American Historical Association posthumously awarded Walter Rodney the Albert J. Beveridge Award for A History of the Guyanese Working People, 1881-1905.
In 1984, the Centre for Caribbean Studies of the University of Warwick established the Walter Rodney Memorial Lecture in recognition of the life and work of one of the most outstanding scholar-activists of the Black Diaspora in the post-World War II era.
In 1993, the Guyanese government posthumously awarded Walter Rodney Guyana’s highest honour, the Order of Excellence of Guyana. The Guyanese government also established the Walter Rodney Chair in History at the University of Guyana.
In 1998, the Institute of Caribbean Studies, University of the West Indies, inaugurated the Walter Rodney Lecture Series.
In 2004, Walter Rodney`s widow, Patricia, and his children donated his papers to the Robert L. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center. Since 2004, an annual Walter Rodney Symposium has been held each 23 March (Rodney’s birthday) at the Center under the sponsorship of the Library and the Political Science Department of Clark Atlanta University, and under the patronage of the Rodney family.
In 2005, the London Borough of Southwark erected a plaque in the Peckham Library Square in commemoration of Dr. Walter Rodney, the political activist, historian and global freedom fighter.
In 2006, an International Conference on Walter Rodney was held at the Institute of Development Studies of the University of Dar es Salaam.
In 2006, the Walter Rodney Essay Competition was established at the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan
In 2010, the Walter Rodney Commemorative Symposium was held at York College
The Department of African American Studies at Syracuse University established the Angela Davis/Walter Rodney Award of Academic Achievement.
The Department of Afroamerican and African Studies (DAAS) at the University of Michigan established the DuBois-Mandela-Rodney Post-doctoral Fellowship Program
In 2012, the Walter Rodney Conference celebrating the 40th anniversary of the publication of How Europe Underdeveloped Africa was held at Binghamton University.
Rodney is the subject of the 2010 documentary film by Clairmont Chung, W.A.R. Stories: Walter Anthony Rodney.
The Walter Rodney Close in the London Borough of Newham has been named in honour of Dr Walter Rodney.