Darcus Howe: Life and legacy of the ‘Devil’s Advocate’

A tribute to a civil rights champion

By Vistra Greenaway-Harvey - 20th April 2017

A good measure of a man’s life is his obituary – the one article that seeks to define his character by summarising the events of his life. Darcus Howe’s many obituaries offer polarising views on his character. Some celebrate his accomplishments as a combative campaigner for civil rights in Britain (The Times, 2017); others are far less congratulatory. In the less than glowing reviews, Howe’s temperament is confrontational; his politics so skewed and marred by conspiracy theories or his obsession with racism (The Telegraph, 2017) that the conceptualisations of ‘Howe the hero’ and ‘Howe the bruiser’ focus so heavily on the man that the broader context in which he operated is overlooked (Andrews, 2017).

Born in Moruga, Trinidad on February 26, 1943, Rhett Radford Leighton ‘Darcus’ Howe came from uncontroversial beginnings. He received a colonial education, first at an Anglican school where his father was both headmaster and deacon, then in the prestigious Queen’s Royal College Port of Spain. As Howe became versed in Latin, cricket and other fine trimmings of British culture, independence movements were reverberating around the globe. A growing nationalist movement in Trinidad modelling itself on Kwame Nkrumah’s independence struggle began to oppose popular ‘Trini’ rhetoric that Africans were “backward people” (Howe, 2013). Incarnations of African pride in the 1959 Trinidad Carnival also struck Howe. It was from then that his willingness to study and adapt to these movements signify an important lesson for future Pan-Africanists. Unlike modern activists, Howe was taught nothing of Africa, yet he realised his fate and Africa’s were tied (Howe, 2013) and sought to learn all he could about liberation.

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Vistra Greenaway-Harvey

Vistra Greenaway-Harvey is an academic copywriter and legal researcher. As well as African commentary, she drafts consultations and legal submissions for local councils and Fortune 500 companies.

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