Mr. Edgar Challenger

Some of my most memorable times in Basseterre were spent with Mr. Edgar Challenger, the first leader of the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Union (1940 - 1943). We became friends when I was doing research for the book, From Commoner To King. Because of his wonderful sense of history, local, Caribbean, and international, I was often carried back into time by Mr. Challenger, with amazing stories. He told me about the rigid race and class systems in St. Kitts and how he was victimised by it.

I was carried back to the politics that emerged in the union as he, J. Matthew Sebastian, and Robert L. Bradshaw struggled to become the leading figure in the islands' politics. Bradshaw won when Sebastian died suddenly. Although Bradshaw and Challenger did come to the point that they respected each other's role in the islands' history, there was little trust lost between them. Mr. Challenger also told me about his pet project. He wanted to reinvigorate the Mutual Improvement Society (MIS). This was an organization which fostered intellectual development and curiosity among an emerging educated elite from the working class. A group of Nevisians and Kittitians, and of course,including C. A. P. Southwell from Dominica, who became a critical force in the Labour movement and the emergence of Afro-Caribbean leadership in the islands.

By the time of his death in 2000, there was little doubt that Edgar Challenger was still the best organized local source of St. Kitts-Nevis contemporary history. It has been quite fitting that Zack Nisbett, who also developed a relationship with Mr. Challenger, has capitalized on Challenger's great sense of history, and created a museum at his home in Basseterre. In my many conversations with Mr. Challenger, I found that he had an immense intellect. His grasp of the race and class dynamics in St. Kitts was unsurpassed. Also, I was often amazed at his great sense of humour. Despite his lowly, difficult life, and at times his forgotten presence in the islands and their history, Edgar Challenger must be remembered as one of the outstanding citizens of St. Kitts-Nevis. He traced his heritage to both Nevis and St. Kitts, his family having moved to St. Kitts from Nevis after the decline of sugar there by the early 1800s.

Whitman Browne