Remembering Activist Panman Michael Leroy Joseph aka “Scobie”


by Gerry Kangalee

Editor’s note:  Michael Leroy Joseph passed away March 24, 2020
Michael Joseph aka “Scobie”
Michael Joseph aka “Scobie”

“...we sing this song of praise for those who
Helped to clear the path that we could see through
So now we children they have a source
So very Trinbagonian, of course
Out of a muddy pond,
Ten thousand flowers bloom”
-- David Rudder

Trinidad & Tobago, W.I. - I first met Brother Scobie in late 1975, when I began to work with the Oilfields Workers‘ Trade Union (OWTU). Of course I had heard of him before we actually met. After all, together with Nuevo Diaz and Allan Campbell, he was detained during the second state of emergency in November 1971, ostensibly because of their role in the so-called Badger incident which was used by the Eric Williams regime as an excuse to declare the second state of emergency arising out of the insurrection of 1970. At the time of his detention he was all of twenty-two years old.

He was a bit of hero, by then, to radical youth, like myself and to trade unionists in those exhilaratingly revolutionary times. And here he was, Michael Leroy Joseph, a big, tall red man with an intimidating aura and powerful personality. Our paths would crisscross and we would share experiences for the next forty-five years; the last twenty of those years we would become close colleagues in Southern Marines Steelband Foundation.

Scobie, together with others like Joseph Tookoo Wilkinson, Allan Campbell and others, was instrumental in organising Marabella youths to gain employment in the construction of the desulphurisation plant being built by the Yankee firm, Badger, at Point-A-Pierre.

This was achieved through militant collective action. They faced down Yankee racism, linked up with the Oilfields Workers Trade Union, led by the legendary George Weekes, and Scobie ended up in prison for his efforts. But up to today, many sons of Marabella who learnt craft skills because of the efforts of Scobie and others were able to gain employment all over the world and to drag themselves out of the swamp of poverty and hopelessness.

I first worked with Brother Scobie at a political level. We were all involved at the time with the United Labour Front (ULF) which had formed itself into a political party after the Bloody Tuesday assault on oil and sugar workers and other platoons of the working class on that fateful day March 18th 1975. The ULF was organising itself to fight the 1976 elections.

Scobie and Joe Wilkinson
Scobie and Joe Wilkinson

Together with Joseph Tookoo Wilkinson, who was very close to Scobie, I worked with them on some of the election campaigns. Nuevo Diaz fought those elections on a ULF platform in the San Fernando East constituency. Scobie and Tookoo were part of his campaign team and at different points in time I had to liaise with them in some of the joint campaigns. I used to sometimes assist their campaign, sometimes assist the campaign of Boodram Jattan who was fighting another seat.

We were all products of the revolutionary period which exploded in 1970 and the perspectives which we developed during that period are what, in Scobie’s case, has served as the bedrock of all his efforts in the political, trade union, community organising and cultural fields until his journey to become one with the ancestors.

During the 1980s, he was heavily involved in trade union work with the OWTU. At times he actually did organising work with construction workers. At other times he was the branch leader of the Secondary Roads branch of the union and a member of the union’s general council. What was striking about his union work was that he was never a sycophant to the leadership of the union and while he had great respect for and had shared prison experience with George Weekes, he never put water in his mouth to criticise policies and tactics that he thought were not correct. He developed a reputation as a bit of a maverick, an independent thinker and that he was nobody’s boy.

In that respect he was an important part of a new wave of trade unionists whom George Weekes encouraged to inject new life into the union. Some of those were Man Man Edward, Cecil Paul, the late Sylvester Ramquar, Frank Sears, Ashton Harrilal, Willock Pierre, Gregory Rousseau, Chris Abraham, Alva Allen, the late Angus Lalsingh, Gregory Prevatt, and Sylvan Wilson. I must mention Joseph Wilkinson, Ramdeo Boodram and the late Kelvin Seaton, the three best branch secretaries of my time in the OWTU.

While Scobie was doing union work, he, together with Tookoo and others, set about the task of rebuilding the Southern Marines Steel Orchestra. The successful accomplishment of this task had a tremendous impact on hundreds of youths in the Marabella, Vistabella, Gasparillo, Claxton Bay, Williamsville areas and within the broader Steelband movement.

As Junior Sean Hinds said on his Facebook tribute: “As I sit here in my cabin, don’t know what to think as tears run down my face, this one hitting real hard. August holidays ‘98 I decided to join the Southern Marines junior pan side! A lot of youths around the neighbourhood were a part of the group doing their thing!

“After one of the rehearsals I decided to stay back and listen the senior band practice as I play and swing like a monkey on one of the Panorama 4 bass racks outside the pan yard, is when I truly met Michael “Mr Scobie” Joseph. As he walk outside he stop and look at me, then stated why you playing outside and not behind a pan? I answer I playing on the junior band already! He then call out to Malomo, “look put this youth on a pan and let him stop waste time”... Lol... Lol...

“I will never forget Mr. Scobie! So much advice and life lessons I have learnt! And years of encouragement! From Talent Expression; Winning Bring yuh pan and Come by Carrat Shed he was right at my side as I played! Still giving me words of wisdom and encouragement! To my first junior Panorama arrangement he would ask “So when the front line taking back the melody?” lol.

“As I sit here in this cabin feeling down I could only hear his voice saying doh study it! Mr. Scobie more than just a steel band president but more like a father to me! As when practice done is a lil money for a… burger! I will never forget all these play outs, panoramas, pan is beautiful nine etc. I will never forget Michael L Joseph.”

The Deltones Institute of Steel Drums and Music paid the following tribute: “Mr Scobie was certainly a mentor to us at the institution. He was a representative of the ideology of Steelpan being a mechanism to gain self-awareness and self-appreciation. He promoted the instrument as a revolutionary movement that presents a voice for the voiceless. A space for the socially displaced. An institution to arise indigenous leadership on community and national platforms. The management and staff at the Deltones Institute of Steel Drums and Music salute you, Comrade, and send condolences to your entire family.”

Just around the turn of the century, with the collapse of revolutionary leadership in the trade union movement I began to devote more time to assisting with administrative and project management tasks in Southern Marines.

Under Scobie’s leadership we were able to host emancipation commemoration activities including demonstrations in the Marabella/ Pointe-A-Pierre area to mark the anniversary of the Plein Palais uprising by the enslaved masses in the nineteenth century. The Pan Palais was used to host exhibitions, lectures, cultural shows, health fairs, community appreciation days, concerts, parties, bingos, and Christmas functions for children.

Michael Leroy Joseph aka “Scobie” presenting the winner's prize to Talent Expression 2013 winner Damini Soogrim
Michael Leroy Joseph aka “Scobie” presenting the winner’s prize to Talent Expression 2013 winner Damini Soogrim

But the project that was closest to his heart was the Talent Expression competition which gave a platform to many young performance artistes who otherwise would have struggled to find a space. Many of them are today confidently striding the national cultural stage.

During this period the pan yard was transformed from what used to be called the aquarium to the Pan Palais that exists today. Rae Samuel had this to say: “I had heard of Scobie but did not know him in the times I used to inhabit Paramount.

“It was when I was brought into the Management committee of Southern Marines that I got to know him; first as one of the organisers of the Talent Expression and our Emancipation Day celebrations and eventually as the resident ‘paparazzi’ of Southern Marines. Later on I would learn of his contributions to Marabella, South Trinidad/Tobago as a cultural warrior, working class leader, fund raiser and political maestro.

“He was not of any of the Parties but dealt with all of them. I marvelled at how some of them came to ‘bring greetings’ and how mayors, Ministers, other petty officials left our offices upstairs with their plans awry and their faces screwed up. The one political person for whom he always had appreciation and respect was Sister Joan Yuille-Williams, whatever their differences. My memory of him will always be of this physically big brother, totally African conscious, writing, speaking, organizing for others whether it was through the Marines Foundation, Pan Trinbago, community groups, the New York Connections. A giant has fallen...” 

Scobie was an all-rounder. He was not only a trade unionist, political and community activist, a Steelband leader par excellence. Scobie enjoyed life to the fullest. He was an excellent dancer. He had a beautiful voice and sang in the Petrotrin choir. He also composed calypsos and Southern Marines played one of his compositions, Panman’s Cry, in the Panorama competition. he was a fierce defender of the Canboulay tradition of carnival and tirelessly warned us of the growing dominance of the Mardi Gras of the national festival.

He practised the Orisha tradition but embraced all the people’s traditions that make up this cultural mosaic we call Trinidad & Tobago. He considered himself the greatest saheena and pholourie maker and could often be seen at functions in the Pan Palais frying down the delicacies.

Michael Joseph aka “Scobie” frying pholourie
Michael Joseph aka “Scobie” frying pholourie

He was a prolific writer. For decades he would write letters to the editor and of late he was one of the more prolific correspondents, having his writings published online whether through the website and Facebook pages of the National Workers Union, Southern Marines Facebook page and other online sites.

We say farewell to you, big brother. We are pleased that we were able to celebrate your seventieth birthday last year and that you were able to visit your beloved Africa. We are saddened that we cannot mark your transition in a manner that befits your contribution to your homeland, because of the restrictions inflicted upon us by the coronavirus. But this, too, shall pass and when it does we will celebrate your having walked amongst us: a giant among men; one who served his people out of love and commitment; one who has now united with the ancestors in this never-ending spiral of coming into being and going out of being. The great West Indian poet Martin Carter said:

“...only where our footprints end can tell whether the journey was an old advance or a new retreat”

It is up to us to ensure that your journey never ends in retreat. Walk tall, my brother, walk strong!

Michael Leroy Joseph aka “Scobie”
Michael Leroy Joseph aka “Scobie”

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