Honouring Carl Jacobs
By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
March 19, 2019
"If anyone should have been awarded a national award for journalism it is Carl Jacobs."
—Jones P Maderia
I AM not too sure where I first met Carl Jacobs. However, he was instrumental in making me the writer I am today.
I want to thank him for that and to acknowledge his contribution to the newspaper industry of Trinidad & Tobago and the Caribbean when the newspaper was a major avenue of providing information to the public and offering opinions and editorials that set the tone of the society.
I submitted my first article to the Trinidad Guardian when I was a student at Fordham University. There, in the stifling heat of a New York summer I penned an article, "Black Power, Its Explanation and Trinidad Connections," that was published on August 14, 1966. I was titled a "Special Correspondent" from Brooklyn, New York.
My next article was a description of Sparrow's appearance at Carnegie Hall. Imagine my delight at seeing my name in print in our national newspapers. Carl was instrumental in giving me those opportunities to write in the Guardian. From that point on, we formed a strong friendship that flourished over the years.
I left Trinidad in 1964 and revisited home in the summer of 1968. I was on a United States student visa and was only allowed to return to the United States to continue my education because of the generosity of Dr "Poui" Awon, a Port of Spain dentist, who sponsored my last year at university. I received my first degree in 1969; thereafter I was awarded a presidential scholarship to do a master's degree programme at Fordham.
By 1971 I had written for the Curved Horn, my university newspaper, served as a columnist for the Amsterdam News and the Manhattan Tribune, and had contributed to Liberator Magazine and Black World, previously the Negro Digest, that was published by Johnston Publishing in Chicago. It also published Ebony and Jet magazines.
I first met Carl during my visit to Trinidad in 1968. His easy demeanour and folksy manner immediately attracted me. He liked my radical manner and I loved his scholarly and curious mind. We hit it off right away. Years later a friend referred to him as conservative, but I never found him to be so. We read and shared many books together; he guided my writing and encouraged me to express myself fully.
Carl read voraciously. In the early 1990s, after publishing my occasional articles, he employed me to be a weekly columnist. I enjoyed this challenge immensely. It was there I met Maxie Cuffie, the youngest editor of the Sunday Guardian, and Jones P Madeira, both shining lights at the Guardian at that time. Carl protected me. He intervened with management on many occasions to prevent them from firing me. He stood up for his columnists.
Carl was a political reporter before becoming what they call in the trade "a leader writer". He was responsible for producing the lead editorials for the Guardian and the Evening News. Eventually, he became the executive editor of both newspapers. In 1996, when 17 editors left the Guardian to form The Independent, to which I contributed a column eventually, Jacobs kept the newspaper going merely through the strength of his will.
Carl conducted some important interviews in his early years. After the Royal Society of Literature awarded Derek Walcott a major prize, he interviewed Walcott who said: "The great thing about West Indian writing, especially in the novel, is that its spirit is tragic-comic. It has self-amusement, a sense of irony, that is more robust than most novels written anywhere else today….There is no bitterness in West Indian writing, even if our history is so degraded" (Guardian, May 22, 1966).
Carl also had his critics. He was incorrect when he said "aside from the tradition of tadjah-building, there is very little religiosity involved [in Hosay].…It is a unique Trinidadian phenomenon, more social than religious" (Frank J Korom, "History, Innovation, and Emergent Ethnicity"). He was not aware of the highly religious nature of Hosay that I described as a part of T&T's open-air theatre, Carnival and the Ramlelas being two other such forms. (See Beyond Boundaries).
He was also criticised when he led the effort against Basdeo Panday's claim that the mainly black-owned media was racist and against his government. To rectify this matter, the government published a report, "Towards a Free and Responsible Media," that called for the adoption of statutes that required journalists to report with "due accuracy and impartiality". It also proposed a code of ethics "mandating that journalists promote national unity, and economic and social progress." (Committee to Protect Journalists, February 1998). The government shelved this plan because of a public outcry in which Jacobs' piece, "Panday's Alarum", played a not-so insignificant part.
Carl was part of a distinguished newspaper tradition, the soil in which many of our best literary and political talents were nurtured and cultivated. He worked with Walcott who won the Nobel Prize in Literature, Eric Roach, author of The Flowering Rock and "the most splendid voice of the Caribbean Renaissance (1948-1972)," as Kamau Brathwaite called him, and Therese Mills, the founder of Newsday, and other notable Trinbagonians.
Jacobs has had a distinguished career. I wish to thank him for his assistance and his guidance and to voice my gratitude for this quiet, unsung hero.
Professor Cudjoe's email address is email@example.com. He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.
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