MONDAY MAN: Living through the riots
IN LATE JULY 1937, Emerson Bellamy was just 14 years old when he started his dream job as a ship carpenter.
Just a short time before, he had finished school at St Giles and was very excited when James Cutting, a very popular man at that time, invited him to learn a trade at his workshop in The City.
Bellamy went to learn the secrets of the trade but within less than a week, one of Barbados’ major historical events occurred which would transform his thought process forever.
The event was the 1937 Riots.
Now 93 years old, the agile and dapperly dressed Bellamy recently invited the DAILY NATION to accompany him on a stroll of the area in Bridgetown where it all began on July 26, 1937.
Even almost 79 years later, the events surrounding the uprisings have never been far from his mind. As a matter of fact, Bellamy proclaimed that the only reason he might forget the historic occasion was if he were to become senile.
While many have maintained that the deportation of National Hero, the Right Excellent Clement Payne to Trinidad and Tobago was the catalyst for the civil disturbance, Bellamy said he believed the core issue was the social and economic quandary of many Barbadians at that time.
His workshop was located in Jordan’s Lane and he recalled that on the night of the 25th, a rock was thrown through a window in the same gap and it hit and killed a baby.
From that time the tension intensified.
“Barbados at that time wasn’t like now. As a young person I could see that there was a lot of unemployment and people used to gather in big groups because they weren’t working. That is one of the things that helped build up the momentum of this riot.
“There was nothing for them to really do. The day after the baby was killed [26th], I saw people assembling all their stones under the tree,” Bellamy recalled, pointing at the tree which still stands in what is now the Probyn Street van stand.
“There were heaps of rock stones all around there. This was coming up to midday when all of this thing started to happen. This theatre [Empire] here was in full swing at the time; they used to have midday shows. I remember one of the rioters went there and run one of the women out of the cash box cage and he said to her, ‘Today is town day’.”
Bellamy said that members of the constabulary were quickly on the scene entering from Probyn Street. They stopped at what was then the Robert Tom Garage [now the Probyn Street Fire Station] to plan, but because they were unarmed, they quickly retreated when rioters stormed them with sticks.
However, soon thereafter, the police returned, this time in larger numbers and armed with rifles entering from Probyn Street, Jordan’s Lane and Problem Street as they encompassed the rioters.
“They encircle them . . . and I see lot of people spin all around like a top when the bullets hit them and they fell. This was the starting of the riots. I was frightened because the master ship carpenter that I was working under [Cutting], he was out on the ship negotiating for a job so during the rioting, he had to come through a lot of shooting. The workshop we were in was upstairs a building so when police came around looking for people who they believed were the rioters, we lie down and watched everything that happened down here,” he recounted.
Bellamy said that the disturbances spilled over into the next day so there was no work. However, he added, Cutting asked him to go down to see if the workshop had been destroyed. When Bellamy reached the workshop, it was intact but Bridgetown was a mess.
According to history, an inquiry was conducted after the events and several programmes and strategies were implemented to fill areas which were lacking and to avoid a recurrence.
“Sometimes when I stop and reflect ’pon it, I does wonder if that was what God intended for me to see,” the father of seven pondered.
While he was clear that he did not promote violence, Bellamy charged that the 1937 disturbances taught him that when one was not in the desired situation, one could not just sit and wait for others to act.
“Lots of people used to think a government has to provide for them but sometimes, you have to go out and help provide for yourself. So the people built up an animosity because of this thinking. Even now, some people want to stay home and want someone to come and knock at their door and tell them come for a job. Seek and you shall find.
“If you don’t find here, you will find yonder – and that is how I structured my life. That is what the riots taught me. Each and everyone of us is responsible for ourselves. By so doing you will do something for yourself. Get up and do for self,” he declared.
Bellamy said he was concerned that there were many people today who still failed to appreciate the significance of the 1937 riots. This, he added, was due in part to the fact that its importance was not being promoted in schools.
“They don’t even value it, nor they don’t understand what good it did for this country to this very day. How things were at that time is far far different from now; poverty laid her eggs in Problem’s Lane and it resulted in a child which was a riot.
“Knowing about the riots is very important. I think it would make some of them [Barbadians], it should make all of them able to think for themselves and formulate something for themselves. So that when their children do come along, they won’t be so backward thinking and they too would be able to make a foundation for their children’s children,” he added. (SDB Media)