"He leaves a lasting legacy to the country that he loved so much"
Eulogy William Emmanuel (Para) Riviere (19 April1940 to 30 November 2021) By Bernard Wilshire
Dr. William Emmanuel (Para) Riviere, historian, university professor, author, political leader, father, husband, patriot, was a true son of the soil of Dominica. He was born in Portsmouth on April 19, 1940, the last of six offspring of Leonce Alexander Riviere, Headmaster and District Education Officer, and his wife Mary Uella Riviere. It says much for the quality of his parents and of their generation that all his siblings went on to distinguish themselves in public or community service.
From a young age, Para showed signs of the intellectual brilliance that would blossom in later life. He qualified to start Grammar School at 9, and crowned his school career by winning the Island Scholarship and a place to study engineering at McGill University in Canada. He soon changed his field and place of study and eventually graduated with special honours in History at the University of the West Indies, Mona. From UWI he went to the University of Glasgow in Scotland where he completed the Ph.D. in just two years.
This was classic preparation for a promising academic career in which he excelled. His Ph.D. thesis "The Emergence of a Free-Labour Economy in the British West Indies, 1800-1850" was a classic piece of scholarly work to compare with such eminent scholars of the calibre of the late Professor Elsa Goveia. Through detailed, meticulous research of British and colonial archives, he was able to show how the ex-slaves built an economy within the very bosom of a dying plantation system to spread their influence into the very fabric of a structure from which they were once excluded as mere chattel.
Following his Ph.D., he began teaching history at UWI's Mona campus in Jamaica in 1969. Those were turbulent days in Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean. It was the age of the famed Dr. Walter Rodney, Para's colleague in the History Department, who was soon to be expelled from Jamaica for "corrupting" the minds of the youth with political education. Para felt it prudent to relocate to UWI's St. Augustine campus in Trinidad, but by then there was a revolution in the air throughout the Caribbean. His role as elucidator, as an educator, could not be held back. In the maelstrom of the army revolt in 1970 and the social and political ferment that followed, Para, ever the companion of the marginalized and oppressed, continued to teach and conscientize the students. His effectiveness as a teacher and communicator was evidenced by being expelled from Trinidad just as his colleague Walter Rodney was from Jamaica.
But that could not stop the intrepid Dr. Riviere. What he could not do in the Caribbean he found ample scope for in the momentous struggle of African Americans for justice and equality in America. He was appointed Assistant Professor in the City University of New York 1973/74. At a later stage, he would head the new Caribbean Research Centre at Medgar Evers College, City University of New York 1985/1988. He would eventually return to UWI as Research Associate Professor at the now named Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies. In 1992 he was appointed Senior Lecturer at the Consortium Graduate School of Social Sciences, UWI, Mona, Jamaica.
His academic career thus spanned a period of some thirty years and his publications reflected the dominant theme of his life: the welfare of the marginalized and oppressed. He wrote about several topics including the Oil Field Workers riots in Trinidad in 1937, the Troubled Story of Colonial Rule in Guyana, Political Protest Action in the Caribbean, the resistance of black people against oppression, the political realities of Dominica and Grenada. The list is a long one to be compiled in a booklet for the benefit of the public.
But brilliant as he was as an academic, the sheltered halls of academia could never be enough for Dr. Riviere and the generation to which he belonged. He was part of the post-World War II generation that saw the rapid dissolution of the European empires that held black and brown people in colonial bondage for so long. Para threw himself into completing or continuing the work of our great liberators like Marcus Garvey and the Pan Africanists of the period. The times called for African people everywhere to break the bonds of psychological slavery. That stage of our struggle took the form of the Black Power Movement and Para can rightly be regarded as one of the architects of this crucial stage of the advance of black people everywhere.
He understood instinctively the need to work in the communities, among the people: Education must be a tool for liberation not for continued subjugation. The educated man must never be puffed up with the pride in his education, which in any event was inevitably from colonial sources. The consciously educated needs to go down to the people, work with them, live with them, understand their needs in order to animate action for progress and protection.
The construction of the bridge in Lagon, Portsmouth, was emblematic of this philosophy. It is entirely appropriate that that bridge is known today as "Para Bridge". When the government would not assist, Para mobilized the local youth, committed young men like Otis, Beard, Brewster, and many others, and built an all-weather bridge to ease the suffering of the people.
This was community spirit in action. Who would have expected that a man who had climbed to the pinnacle of academia would devote his life, his energies to the welfare and progress of his people, choosing to live in a small petit kai bwa, (really little wood house) in the middle of Portsmouth in a kind of renunciation of materialism in order to reap the spiritual fruits of his idealism.
In the United States Para soon became a leading light among young Dominican students and others for whom the regeneration of their country was a major concern. He joined the group, Dominicans in Support of Progress, spearheaded by brother Ron Green and others. It brought together Dominicans from all over North America to support the Movement for a New Dominica (MND) which at the time was the vanguard of the struggle for change in the island. It united a whole generation of intellectuals and students such as Rosie Douglas, Joey Peltier, Sister Nats among many others, all focused on the liberation and development of our country.
Para always stressed the importance of organization, of institutionalizing the struggle. This was in fact a point of difference with another icon of the struggle, Rosie Douglas. Para knew that the Revolution required effective management otherwise our efforts could be dissipated and rendered ineffective. He organized first the League of Socialist Workers and later the People's Democratic Party, PDP from Portsmouth. It was this organization, together with three other Left groupings such as the Working Peoples' Vanguard and the Popular Independence Committees (PIC) that came together to form the Dominica Liberation Movement (DLM), nicknamed "The Alliance", to contest the general elections of 1980 in which Para contested the Cottage seat.
The Party did not win a seat, but it gained 5% of the national vote. Napoleon once said that an army marches on its stomach. The same can be said of Revolutionary politics.
Para realized like the rest of us that political change cannot be made without securing some form of economic base for personal survival. Following the 1980 elections and the debacle of the Grenadian Revolution in 1983, the time seemed right for those in the struggle to make good the deficiency. He returned to Academia and in effect became a student again, this time in law which would enable him to return to his beloved homeland to continue the struggle to improve the livelihoods of the people from a more secure and sustainable footing.
He soon launched the People's Democratic Movement (PDM) and contested the Cottage constituency once again in 2009. But by then the age of idealism had come to an end. The prolonged economic crisis precipitated by the demise of the banana industry starting in the 1980s came to a head at the start of the millennium in 2000, when it finally collapsed. People became preoccupied with survival rather than on transformational change. It is a measure of his standing that during the Premiership of Pierre Charles, Para was invited to become Secretary-General of the ruling Labour Party in the expectation that he would succeed to the leadership. But Pierre died in 2003 suddenly and his successor clearly had other ideas.
In his last few years, Para turned his attention once more to the education of the people. He wrote a regular weekly column in the Sun newspaper on law and history and later compiled these into a series of volumes on the laws and history of Dominica in plain layman language. He also wrote 5 more books on the history of Dominica that are yet to be published.
He leaves a lasting legacy to the country that he loved so much and for his children – his daughter, Alicia; his sons, Chico and Andrew by his first marriage to Loretta Ramsingh. He leaves to mourn, but also to celebrate a life well and purposefully lived, his second and dear wife, Virginia, affectionately known to all as Ginny.
He has earned his place in our history as one of the Great Dominicans of the 20th/21st Century.