Precursors of Independence
Education produced two groups in the British West Indies. The
first identified closely with the British system--especially with
the Fabian Society of radical thinkers within the newly formed
British Labour Party--and sought political reforms through
conventional parliamentary channels. The most ardent
representatives of this group were individuals in the local
legislatures such as Sandy Cox and J.A.G. Smith in Jamaica, T.
Albert Marryshow in Grenada, and Andrew A. Cipriani in Trinidad.
Although they did not depend on the masses for political support
(because the masses did not yet have the vote), they knew how to
draw the masses into political action. They joined the municipal
and parish councils in urging a reduction in the privileges of the
old planter classes and more local representation in local affairs.
They also advocated legal recognition of the fledgling trade union
movement in the Caribbean.
The second group, inspired by the idea of a spiritual return to
Africa, was more populist and more independent than the first
group. From this group came individuals such as John J. Thomas (an
articulate socio-linguist), Claude MacKay, H.S. Williams (founder
of the Pan-African Association in London in 1897), George Padmore
(the gray eminence of Ghanaian leader, Kwame Nkrumah), Richard B.
Moore, W.A. Domingo, and Marcus Mosiah Garvey, founder of the
United Negro Improvement Association in Jamaica (1914) and Harlem
(1916). Thomas, Williams, and Padmore came from Trinidad; MacKay,
Garvey, and Domingo, from Jamaica; and Moore, from Barbados.
In addition to these organizers, there were a number of
individuals from all the colonies who had served abroad in World
War I in the West India Regiments of the British Army. Some of
these individuals were of African birth, and after the war were
given land and pensions in several West Indian territories, where
they formed the nucleus of an early pan-Caribbean movement. Their
war experiences left them critical of the British government and
British society, and they tended to agitate for political reforms
to bring self-government to the Caribbean colonies.
The political agitation of these groups laid the groundwork for
the generation of politicians who later dismantled colonialism in
the British Caribbean: Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante in
Jamaica; Robert Bradshaw in St. Kitts; Vere Bird, Sr., in Antigua;
Eric Matthew Gairy in Grenada; Grantley Adams in Barbados; and
Uriah Butler, Albert Gomes, and Eric Williams in Trinidad.
The political agitation that periodically enveloped the British
Caribbean had roots in its dismal economic situation. The colonial
government had placed its faith in sugar and large plantations, but
sugar was not doing well economically. Increased productivity in
Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad could not mask the difficulties of
price and marketing. Unemployment was rife. Wages on sugar estates
were one-quarter to one-half of those paid on Cuban sugar estates
during the same period. Many of the smaller islands had abandoned
sugar production altogether. Not surprisingly, large numbers of
West Indians emigrated for economic reasons to Venezuela, Panama,
Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Cuba, Mexico, and the United
States. When economic opportunities abroad ended with the Great
Depression, the discontent of the returning migrants and frustrated
laborers erupted into violence throughout the region from 1935 to
Data as of November 1987