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FROM THE ARCHIVES: Day Bajans Struck Back

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ON JULY 27, 1937, Amelia Chaderton, then 26 years-old, found herself watching and listening from the window of her mother’s home to the sounds of gun-shots being fired, as news of chaos on Broad Street in The City, spread.

The cause- the 1937 Riots, which created conflict in Barbados leaving 14 dead and 21 injured. It was also to lead to a number of changes made to the social life of many black Barbadians.

The then Carrington Village, St. Michael resident recalled: ‘shot-fly after I returned home from going to the shop to get some sugar, a notice came for the schools to be closed because they had the riots in town,” she said.

Sitting in her St Michael home the elderly woman told HOTT Magazine that the drama of that July afternoon unfolded from the night before.

‘The Monday night before it all happened, there was a big meeting in Golden Square, and then the riots happened the Tuesday. The people were brewing up from the Monday night,” she recalled.

The Tuesday, the elderly woman said, began just as quietly as any ordinary day would, but ended with stories being told of people breaking show windows on Broad Street, and pelting stones at police who retaliated with gunfire and people being beaten with sticks on the Wharf.

“Back then telephones were scarce, only the businesses had phones, so we had to rely on the news by word-of-mouth,” she said, adding only those who had enough courage ventured outdoors to see what was going on.

Amelia, now 89, explained the riots occurred because the people were tired and frustrated with the poor conditions and small wages which they had to endure. It was at that point, she said that Clement Payne and some others got together and decided that something had to be done about it.

Trinidadian-born Clement O. Payne had grown up in Barbados and was active in persuading Barbadian workers to organise themselves in trade unions in order to be a stronger bargaining force for improved working conditions and wages.

As a result of Payne bringing new hope to tired and frustrated Barbadian workers, they became more strike minded and started to protest their situation and demand better wages.

Local authorities saw Payne as a threat, and deported him back to Trinidad, on the grounds that he had lied about his nationality.

This move by authorities only served to fuel the anger of those who listened to Payne and trouble broke out across Barbados-the riot of 1937.

In anger, the rioters took to the Streets, fighting and protesting not only their situation, but also Payne’s deportation.

As she sat in the chair of her living room, Amelia recalled the calm the day after rioters stormed the streets of Bridgetown. “Everything was just really quiet,” she said, adding that changes were seen almost immediately.

She added that after the riots, there was an inquiry out of England by the Moyne Commission, which came to see about wages and the causes of the riot. This commission was sent to the Caribbean to investigate the riots and make and enforce changes to prevent a similar situation from occurring.

The commissioners recommended that the masses be given the right to vote, and an increase in elected representation and limited federation. In addition, they recommended the diversification and an increase in the sugar quota as well as increased communication between the islands.

The commission also recommended that the masses were to receive education, public health care services and adequate housing. Trade unions were legalised, and the masses given the right to vote.

However, the Moyne Commission did not recommend that Caribbean countries be given their independence from Britain.

The riots also spread throughout the other Caribbean islands, killing a total of 46 and injuring several.

This article was first published on February 23, 2001.

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