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16 October 2011

On this day in history: Rodney Riots, 1968

On 16th October 1968, the students of the University of West Indies (UWI) in Jamaica became the latest to join the worldwide student protests of that year. The spark that lit the flame, in this case, was the Jamaican government's decision to bar Dr. Walter Rodney, a Guyanese national, from returning to the country to continue his job as a lecturer at the university. Rodney, an influential left-wing historian of Africa and vocal participant in the Black Power movement, had been attending a conference in Montreal, Canada, but when he returned to Jamaica the authorities would not let him disembark from the plane. They claimed that he had been identified as a prohibited immigrant as a result of his visits to the USSR and Cuba.

When the students of UWI heard of Dr. Rodney's plight they caused such disruption on the campus that the university was forced to close. They then took their demonstrations onto the streets, marching first to Prime Minister Hugh Shearer's residence and then on to the parliament in Kingston. As the students marched other demonstrators joined in and the protests became increasingly violent and spread throughout the city leaving several dead and millions of dollars worth of damage to property.

After a short visit to Cuba, Dr. Rodney became a lecturer in Tanzania gaining a reputation as a leading Pan-Africanist. He returned to his native land in 1974, having been offered the job of Professor of History at the University of Guyana, but the government blocked his appointment. He became a fervent opponent of the ruling People's National Congress party until his assassination in 1980.

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