Eric Eustace Williams

(1911—1981) historian and prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago

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(b. Port of Spain, 25 Sept. 1911; d. Port of Spain, 29 March 1981)

Trinidadian; Chief Minister, Premier and Prime Minister 1956–81 An academic and much-respected historian, Oxford-educated Williams taught in the USA before working for the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission (1943–55). He founded the People's National Movement (PNM) in 1956 and won general elections that same year on a platform of anti-colonialist nationalism. Williams became Chief Minister and won considerable support through his popular style of oratory and appeal to Trinidad's majority black population. In 1958 Trinidad and Tobago joined the ten-state English-speaking West Indies Federation, whose headquarters were situated in Trinidad. But the federal experiment failed amidst inter-island disputes, and Williams was eager to leave the Federation and pursue the goal of Trinidadian independence from British rule. This was achieved in 1962 and Williams became the country's first Prime Minister.

Although widely recognized as an outstanding intellect, Williams began to lose the popular support that he had enjoyed in the 1950s. In 1970 an abortive ‘black power’ uprising and near mutiny shook his government and he was forced to declare a state of emergency. Increasingly reclusive and aloof, Williams announced in 1973 that he would stand down but then changed his mind. The main reason for his change of heart was the sudden and unexpected rise in world oil prices, which brought a huge windfall into oil-producing Trinidad. The oil boom restored Williams's political fortunes and he was able to preside over a period of rapid economic growth and extravagant consumerism. In 1976 the PNM was able to win another general election and Williams remained in office until his death in 1981, the year in which the oil boom came to an end.

The author of important works on slavery and other aspects of Caribbean history, Williams is commonly judged to be the most intellectually accomplished leader in the English-speaking Caribbean's history. Conversely, he is also widely believed to have been vain, autocratic, and lacking the ‘common touch’.

Subjects: History.

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