Walter Rodney was born in Georgetown, Guyana in 1942. From an early age he was involved in anti-colonial and nationalist politics. He studied history at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. He then went to England to study African History, where he experienced the crude racism of the period and gained a better understanding of the global nature of the struggle against racism and what he could contribute to it.

Rodney tried to put his ideas into practice when he accepted a job teaching African History at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. He believed that universities should contribute to making a better society for working people and left Tanzania to teach at the University of the West Indies. In Jamaica he gave lectures about African history and Black Power and worked with the poorest communities of the island, especially the Rastafarians.

Rodney became a leader of the Black Power movement in Jamaica, which included Caribbean people of both African and East Indian heritage. The government banned Rodney's re-entry on his return from a Black writer's conference in Canada in 1968, so he returned to the University of Dar es Salaam. The Jamaican government's actions led to widespread, violent protests, later known as the "Rodney Riots."

While back at Dar es Salaam, Rodney lectured and published widely on African history, contemporary African affairs, and imperialism, which also saw the publication of his best known work, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972). However, he came to realize that there was only so much he could do as a foreigner in Tanzania and decided to commit himself to working for change in Guyana.

In 1974, Rodney and his family returned to Guyana with the promise of a teaching post at the university. However, the government prevented him from taking the job. Rodney helped set up the Working Peoples' Alliance (WPA), which was committed to the removal of the current government which was only in power because of help from Britain and the U.S. Rodney and the WPA encouraged mass action against the government. The government began a campaign to destroy the WPA and the movement it was energizing. In 1980, Walter Rodney was killed by a car bomb. News of his murder sparked outrage around the world and a massive funeral procession arose in Guyana in defiance of the government.