From time to time, it is helpful to remind ourselves of the names of some of the great names of scholar –activists who have passed among us and then departed. I had the honour of attending the 10th Anniversary of the Walter Rodney Foundation in Atlanta, Georgia on the 22’nd and 23’rd of March this year.
Walter Rodney, born in 1942 in Guyana of a working class family in the capital city of Georgetown, was a brilliant student who graduated from the University of the West Indies with Honours in History and got a scholarship to the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. By the age of 24 he had a PhD in History having done what is said to be a definitive history of the Atlantic Slave Trade, published by Oxford University Press as A History of the Upper Guinea Coast 1545-1800.
He taught in Dar es Salaam at the University of Dar es Salaam on and off from 1966 to 1974 when he returned to his home in Guyana. Walter spent several years in Jamaica where in spite of his newly minted PhD in history, he found the knowledge and wisdom of the Rastafarian movement to be transformative. Walter was a towering figure in world intellectual history linked to the Pan Africanist movement of CLR James and Kwame Nkrumah. Tragically he was murdered in June of 1980 by the Guyanese political establishment fearing the growth of his charismatic political presence.
Walter was a remarkable and skilled technical historian, as good as any turned out by the British. But from the perspectives of our work in community-based research and social responsibility in higher education, there are several things that we can take from his ways of working. First of all he listened to the working people of Guyana, Jamaica or Tanzania with whom he interacted daily. Second, he took his ideas and thoughts and shared them in public settings so that his scholarship could not be contained in the closed files of normal academic life. Finally, he felt that he has a responsibility to a life of solidarity with the struggles of those least well off. His work is carried on today through the Walter Rodney Foundation under the leadership of his widow Patricia Rodney and his children Shaka, Asha and Kanini.