Joshua, Ebenezer (1908–1991), first chief minister and longtime legislator of St. Vincent,
was born in Kingstown on 23 May 1908 to Jonathan and Adlyn Joshua. After graduating from the Intermediate High School, Joshua, as he was commonly called, took up teaching and taught in a number of the rural areas of the country, something that was to serve him well later. He left the country in 1941 and settled for a brief period in Guyana before moving to Trinidad where he continued to serve as a teacher. Later he became involved in Uriah Buzz Butler’s British Empire Workers and Citizens Home Rule Party through the proofreading of that party’s newspaper, The People. Afterward he became a platform speaker and in 1950 contested a seat in the borough of San Fernando, gaining “a dry run in electoral politics on a Butler Party ticket” (John, 1991).
On the eve of the first set of elections to be held under adult suffrage in St. Vincent in 1951, Joshua journeyed back to St. Vincent to test the political waters. His trip is believed to have been made at the invitation of persons associated with the recently formed United Workers and Rate Payers Union (UWRPU) that was in the process of contesting the elections. He arrived by boat on 18 May and spoke a few days later on the platform of the UWPRU. A report in the Vincentian, the leading newspaper of the day that supported the planters, described him as giving “a sample of the good, old rabble-rousing oratory.”
After a short return trip to Trinidad, he was back to St. Vincent participating actively in the political campaign as one of the Union’s candidates. Despite the Vincentian’s hostility to the candidates the Union was putting forward, it began to recognize the qualities of Ebenezer Joshua, referring to him as brilliant and acknowledging that he was worthy of a seat on the Legislative Council. Joshua was schooled in the trade union activities and politics of Butler and regularly made references in his speeches to Butler. He was flamboyant and gifted with oratorical skills and began to set the pattern that was to mark him throughout his political career. His speeches were punctuated with biblical references, playing to the religious orientation of the people and with references to ancient history and English literature. He was humorous and attacked his opponents in terms that brought laughter to his listeners.
The party to which he was attached, led by George Charles, swept the polls in 1951, winning all of the eight seats at stake and referred to afterward as the Eighth Army of Liberation; it was actually the political arm of the United Workers Peasants and Ratepayers Union. Shortly after, there was a split within the party, and Joshua formed his own party, the Peoples Political Party, in 1952. He had at that time been upstaging George Charles, his attacks on colonialism and the plantocracy striking a responsive chord among the masses of people who had only recently been given the right to vote. His attacks at that stage of colonial development represented little more than rhetoric, but they helped to lift the consciousness of the people and created problems for the planters in a country still dominated by the plantations, although by then the system was substantially weakened.
Joshua’s Peoples Political Party won the 1957 general elections, and, with constitutional changes leading to ministerial government, he became chief minister in 1961. Joshua was to serve his country as a member of the legislature until 1979, the year of independence. This meant that his active period in politics spanned what can be described as the “climatic era of colonial politics.” His period as chief minister lasted from 1961 until 1967. He won the elections in 1966 but because of the machinations of the politics of that time new elections had to be called in 1967 and his party lost. His party’s victory in 1966 was by a one-seat margin, with one candidate winning by four votes. The results were challenged in the courts, but before the matter could be finalized, the candidate Samuel Slater crossed the floor to the Opposition benches.
Joshua had been treasurer of the UWPRU, but after his separation from the Union he formed his own union, the Federated Industrial and Agricultural Workers Union. He spearheaded a number of strikes in the North Windward area, which was still devoted to sugar, but the demands of office led him to surrender the position of president, although he took it back briefly later. By the late 1960s the Union became dormant, if not actually defunct. Joshua’s attendance at meetings of the World Federation of Trade Unions behind the Iron Curtain drew the ire of the colonial administration, and he was on two occasions actually voted out of the executive council on grounds of being in contact with international communism.
Joshua helped in the building of the country’s social and physical infrastructure. Roads and bridges were built, new primary schools constructed, and government housing schemes set up. Under him the Arnos Vale airport, the country’s main airport, was established and a deepwater pier was built on the waterfront in Kingstown.
His role in revoking the law that had banned the Shaker religion in 1912 and that continued on the statute books will long be remembered by members of that faith. George McIntosh had earlier fought to have the ban removed, but it was not until 1965 that success was achieved when Joshua introduced a motion to that effect in the country’s legislature. In this he was strongly supported by the leader of the Opposition, Milton Cato, who pledged the full support of his party. Members of the Shaker religion provided bedrock support throughout most of Joshua’s active political life. Vincentians remember the many candlelit marches with strong support from the Shakers, who led the marches with their lighted candles, singing lustily “We Will Never Let Joshua Fall.” The massive turnout of members of the faith at his funeral is testimony to the embrace they provided him. Ebenezer Joshua is regarded as one who struggled on behalf of the poor and underprivileged people of the country both in and out of the country’s legislature, and the Shakers represented a large proportion of the poor and underprivileged. He also championed laws banning child labor.
Joshua’s regular Wednesday night meetings at the Market Square in Kingstown were very much anticipated. There Joshua delivered his political message to an adoring audience, made up of a large number of elderly people who had journeyed there to listen to him as he lambasted his political foes and challenged the planters and colonialism with what some referred to as his stunning and “spell-binding rhetoric.”
A number of crises confronted Joshua during the period of his leadership of government: the closure of the lone sugar factory in 1962 following a strike by workers, the collapse of cotton, the teachers strike of 1961, and a scandal that arose in the public works involving members of his government. Joshua’s battles with the opposing St.Vincent Labour Party were legendary, and the leader of that party was regarded as the arch-enemy. When Joshua found common grounds with Cato in 1974, his followers were shocked and some began to lose confidence in him, since he had spoken to them so regularly about the evil ways of the opposing party and its leader. He actually served in the government of that party when it won, with his help, the 1974 elections. But by 1978 they had parted ways over issues related to independence, with Joshua claiming that the country was not ready for it, and Joshua went down to defeat in 1979, never again to enter the halls of the legislative chambers.
Joshua died on 14 March 1991, a day now recognized as National Heroes Day. This had little to do with Joshua but with the country’s first National Hero, Joseph Chatoyer, who was said to have died on 14 March 1795. Joshua was survived by his wife Ivy, who had also been a member of parliament, and one son from a previous marriage. In delivering the eulogy at his funeral on 18 March, Dr. Kenneth John, lawyer, political scientist, and newspaper columnist, said that Joshua was sometimes described as a “political enigma.” He preferred to see him as a “colossus that bestrode the political centre stage at a critical time in our development.” He noted that he lived the simplest of lives devoid of any social pretensions. The crowd that attended his funeral and lined the streets as the cortège passed is testimony to the high regard with which he was held by ordinary folk. As the Vincentian newspaper noted in its editorial of 22 March 1991, he had vigorously agitated on behalf of the ordinary man. Joshua could be regarded as the right leader for the right time, a period when the masses were admitted into the formal political process, his style of politics appearing relevant to those times.
Fraser, Adrian. “Enter Ebenezer Joshua.” The News, Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, SV Archives, 22 March 1991.Find this resource:
John, Kenneth. “Eulogy Delivered at the Funeral of Ebenezer Theodore Joshua.” Vincentian, 22 and 28 March 1991.Find this resource:
John, Kenneth. “St. Vincent: A Political Kaleidoscope.” In The Aftermath of Sovereignty: West Indian Perspectives, edited by David Lowenthal and Lambros Comitas, pp. 88–91. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor, 1973.Find this resource:
Patterson, F. J. V. “The Eight Seats.” Vincentian, 26 May 1951.Find this resource:
Ryan, Cecil, and Cecil A. Blazer Williams. From Charles to Mitchell: George Hamilton Charles and Ebenezer Theodore Joshua. Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines: Projects Promotion, 1985.Find this resource: