Seventy years ago on this date, the Barbadian working class took to the streets to protest the arrest and deportation of political activist Clement Payne. The events of July 26 and 27, 1937, changed the social landscape of Barbados forever, culminating in the improvement of the socio-economic lot of Barbadians and the formation of the labour movement. Today, the Right Excellent Clement Payne is a National Hero of Barbados.
To mark this significant milestone in Barbados' history, I'll post excerpts from a novella I wrote for NIFCA two years ago. Entitled Two Days in July, the story chronicles the events of the 1937 Riots through the eyes of the Carringtons, a Black Barbadian family. The events of those historic 48 hours leave a profound impression on the family.
Hope you enjoy and that it provides an opportunity for reflection. To non-Barbadian readers, you'll be getting a crash course in Bajan dialect. Hope you can manage okay.
Two Days in July
Photo: 'Free Man's House' by Rod Carter
July 26, 1937-- Morning
“Dolphus, Dolphus, I ready. Come!” Mavis Carrington shouted through the kitchen window to her husband.
No response, only the occasional grunt of the sow pig from its pen in the yard and the wind whistling through the mango tree beside the tiny chattel house.
“Dolphus Carrington, yuh doan’ want nuh tea dis mornin’? Yuh gine lose de lil pick if yuh doan’ hurry up!”
The hinges of the latrine’s door creaked loudly and Dolphus emerged, tucking his white, starch-collared shirt back into his pants and buttoning his fly.
Mavis sucked her teeth. “I was callin’ yuh evuh since. I t’ought yuh did fall in.”
Dolphus lathered his hands with a piece of blue soap and poured water over them from a bucket in the yard.
“Ah, girl, tekkin’ time ain’ laziness. Anyhow, Mas’ Richard gine work late today. I got tuh guh fuh he ‘round 9 o’clock.”
He sat in the doorway of the kitchen and started on the meal of fish cakes, bakes and cocoa tea. Brown Boy, a bony stray mongrel that had taken up residence under the Carringtons’ cellar, crawled from among the rocks packed under the house and planted himself at Dolphus’ feet. Mavis tossed the dog a piece of fish cake and placed the remainder of the delicacies in a covered bowl in the larder.
“Caw’blema! We like we got one more mout’ tuh feed,” Dolphus grumbled, cutting his eye at the dog. Brown Boy panted and eyed Dolphus’ plate eagerly. The man broke off a small piece of his bake and threw it to the animal.
Dolphus paused as he was about to pop another fish cake into his mouth. “Which part dem children is? I t’ought Winston was tuh go an’ see a man ‘bout a job in town at nine o’clock? He ain’ expect me tuh carry he in Mas’ Richard Bentley, nuh?”
Mavis rolled her eyes and blew into her enamel cup to cool the tea.
“So wait, a Carrington can’ get drive in a Bentley? We only good enough tuh chauffeur white people now?”
Dolphus sucked his teeth. “You sound just like dat hard ears son o’ yours. Next minute you gine start preachin’ ‘bout dis Clement Payne fella too. An’ where Yvette?”
“She still lyin’ down. She ain’ feeling too good. I beg Sandra tuh go in at Fogarty’s and tell de supervisor she not coming today.”
“Hmmph. She sick very often dese days. I hope she ain’ gone an’ get sheself in nuh trouble, ‘cause she would got tuh look for somewhere else tuh live!”
Mavis averted her eyes and took his empty plate. “Hush, man. Is only monthly problems, nuttin’ else.”
Just then, their 19-year-old son Winston shuffled into the kitchen.
“Mornin’,” he grunted, heading to the larder for his breakfast. He them sat on a small wooden bench in the yard and didn’t utter another word until half of his cup’s warm, chocolate contents, five fish cakes and two bakes were consumed.
“Dat’s some good bittle, Ma. Nuhbody can’ cook like you.” He burped noisily and Mavis playfully swatted him with a dishtowel.
“Hmmph. Dat’s why yuh won’ lef’ home, ain’ it? You doan’ know when I was you age I was married and lookin’ tuh head tuh Panama? You should be tinkin’ ‘bout settling down, boy, not runnin’ ‘bout all over town mindin’ poppits.”
Winston put his empty plate aside and turned to face his father. “I can’ understan’ why you doan’ see wuh I tryin’ to tell you, Papa. You work hard all ‘bout Bennetts Plantation and still struggle. Yuh had tuh end up gine tuh work on the canal so yuh cou’d get a lil piece o’ de rock. Youself know how hard um is fuh poor people in dis country, yet you doan’ understand wuh men like Payne and Garvey sayin’. And it ain’ only we, yuh know. Elma Francois in Trinidad an’ Bustamante in Jamaica speakin’ out ‘bout de hell de workin’ class gine through too.”
Dolphus shook his head fervently. ‘Dat’s de problem right dey! All dese people doin’ is talk. Buhbados need people tuh work hard an’ buil’ it up, not tuh bottle dew on nuh street corner talkin’.”
Winston sighed resignedly and rose from the bench. “Well, I guess you did workin’ ‘round certain people too long tuh understan’. De White man doan’ give yuh a crumb. Yuh got tuh snatch it out he mout’. Payne did talkin’ ‘bout agitatin’ widdout violence and dem still arrest he. Peace like it ain’ gine work in dis case. Looka, I gine down by de standpipe and catch some wata tuh bade.”
He pushed open a gate in the galvanise paling surrounding the yard, with Brown Boy trailing behind.
Dolphus shook his head. “Dat boy too own-way. Dem high falutin’ people gine be he downfall, mark muh words.” He got up, grabbed his black double-breasted jacket and trilby off a hook on the partition and pecked his wife on the cheek.
“I ain’ dey. Tell Yvette tuh feel better. I gine an’ collect dis man. As fuh Winston, tell he if he doan’ get through today, go an’ ask Clement Payne fuh a job.”
Mavis rolled her eyes and chuckled despite herself. She watched through the jalousies in the front house as her husband climbed into the gleaming white Bentley parked next to the chattel house. Like clockwork, a group of small boys who were playing in the dusty road gathered around the vehicle and ran behind it as it pulled off.
She waited until the taillights disappeared on to Bush Hall Yard Gap before going into the front bedroom. Yvette lay curled into a ball, her face turned towards the partition.
“Come chile, eat a lil someting an’ see if it woul’ stay down.” She gently touched her daughter’s shoulder and helped her to sit up.
Yvette rubbed the back of her hand across her red, tearful eyes and nibbled on a piece of fried bake.
“I glad yuh mek ginger tea, ‘cause I can’ even tek de smell o’ de chocolate,” she murmured, sipping some of the hot beverage.
“Well, you wou’d expect dat at dis stage. In a few months, you ain’ gine feel suh sick.”
“Dat’s if I keep it. I hear wuh Papa say. I can’ raise nuh child pon de streets.”
Mavis shushed her daughter. “Leave Papa tuh me. Nuhbody ain’ gine pon nuh street. Hard or soft, dis chile is a Carrington, an’ family is family.”
For the first time a small smile broke across Yvette’s dark face. “I bet nuh Carringtons gine ever be suh fair skinned, nuh?”
She became serious and slumped backwards on the bed. “I shoulda neva believe a boy like Thomas could like a girl like me. In Buhbados? Dis is 1937 but we still ain’ move too far off de plantation.”
Mavis embraced her daughter and comforted her as she sobbed. Father, help we through dis time, ‘cause only you know best, she thought.
Fifteen minutes later, she reluctantly left a dozing Yvette and departed for work.