Notes From a Native Son – Fitting Grantley Adams in the Pantheon of Heroes

Hal Austin

Barbados is a society where the rich and poor conspire to fool themselves: the rich that they have no responsibility for the poor, the poor that they have a better standard of living than they really do. The reality is that Barbados is one society with two peoples, divided by their suspicion and mistrust of each other.

It is a society in which a university degree substitutes for real learning, real progress, a real decent standard of living has become an aspiration for all its people, even if an achievable one. However, mainly in the post-independence years, the rot has set in, politics has become the management of decline. But it was not always so. In the 1950s, Barbados had one of the highest standards of living in the Commonwealth, and thus in the world. By any measure, the worn out cliché about our punching above our weight was really true. Back then Singapore was a swamp that even Malaysia did not want, India was a giant slum, the whole of Latin America was bogged down with military repression and aggressive racism. We had escaped the stultifying austerity of post-war Britain, which only had its heavy industrial might to rescue it. We had sugar and tourism, but most of all a high-spirited people who believed in themselves.

The Founding Years:
Barbados emerged from the dark day so of the 1930s slump and the Second World War economically poor, but socially empowered and confident. Unlike much of Europe, in particular Southern Europe, there was not the hunger of Spain or Portugal, no military repression as in Greece, Spain and Portugal, it was not comatosed by its poverty, punch drunk by its isolation. Rather, it was so confident about itself that even the British colonisers, battered by the war, felt at ease granting the island internal self-government in 1961. As a nation it had a strong belief in its human capital, proud of its educational system, and frightfully ambitious, give that at the turn of the 1950s decade Europe, and more so Britain, was still bogged down with a long-lasting austerity. The nation was inspired: the 1958 Tourism Act kick-started the tourism industry. Before that we had the 1956 Hotel Aids Act and before that the 1955 Barbados Development Act.

We also had the building of the Deep Water Harbour, the extension of secondary and primary education and the reform of national scholarships through The Government Scholarships and Exhibitions Act of 1959, and the formation of the Transport Board and locating it on the site of the Old Combermere. But passing years have withered our memory. When Adams embarked on building the Deep Water Harbour, reclaiming the 90 acres of land between the mainland and Pelican Island, it was such in a progressive social policy initiative that few Barbadians realised the full extent of such a major capital project.

It was precisely at that moment, that historical juncture, that containerisation had begun, which was to transform the shipping of good between nations. Adams put Barbados at the cutting edge of commerce.
As a civil engineering project, few nations had even thought of, far less embarked on such a mammoth reclamation scheme. Now, it has been done on a bigger extent in Hong Kong, Dubai, Japan and other nations, but Barbados was there at the beginning.

For those who, for whatever reason, do not fully understand the social and economic significance of reclaiming that land, one only has to read the literature on the history of containerisation and its economic impact on global trade to realise how innovative was that development. Then, under pressure from Britain, the English-speaking Caribbean islands embarked on another trial of federation, having failed in the 1870s and 1920s, and once more they turned to Barbados for leadership.

At a time when the Caribbean had a collection of political and trade union leaders comparable to any in the world, people of the calibre of Eric Williams, Norman Manley, Bustamante, Capildeo, Bradshaw and others, they turned to Adams to lead the regional Labour Party, which formed the first and only federal government. That was not a compromise, it was the recognition of the man’s intellectual and political abilities, his leadership qualities. Sadly, by 1961, when the Deep Water Harbour was to be officially opened, it was Errol Barrow and the others of the mainly post-war generation of university-educated Young Turks, who had broken away from the BLP, formed the DLP, and grabbed government in 1961, who got the credit. (There are echoes of this arrogance in Sinckler’s recent dismissal of Arthur as being too old).

The same for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, started under Grantley Adams’ BLP (Cunmnins, really), but opened under the new DLP government in 1963. Although Barbados was far from being in the dark ages when Barrow came to power in 1961 as has been pointed out, the first DLP government did introduce some radical Keynesian economic and far-sighted social policies, the most important of which to my mind was the historic decision to reduce the age of majority from twenty-one to eighteen.

For its time, that was such a radical departure from the conventional policy as usual, that few realised what a profound impact it would have on policy making, not only in Barbados and the wider Caribbean, but throughout the English-speaking world. The policy change was dynamic and reflected the purpose and intent of a government brimming with ideas and led by young men and women with the overall confidence to introduce post-war thinking to policy-making.

Analysis and Conclusion:
To fabricate a bogus celebratory history in which Barrow rules like the emperor of some Roman City-stat e is as disingenuous as anything said about our so-called blue-chip educational system under which 70 per cent of school leavers end their 11 years of compulsory statutory education, not only without any qualifications, but effectively functionally illiterate.

Post independence Barbados has not only lost its collective confidence, it has been surpassed by other neighbouring islands, as anyone who has recently visited St Lucia or the Bahamas would confirm. In Barbados there has never been a gilded age, a golden period of progress and unparallel growth. Everything has been incremental. But compared to now, even taking in to consideration the perfection of 20/20 vision, we were in a much better place.

We lived then in a society in which civil servants were outstanding members of society, men and women who gave leadership, which is now reflected in the naming of places and buildings in their memory. From the main civil service to the police, the public sector set an example to us all.

Adams was not perfect, far from it. He had his faults, the most damaging of which was his decision to represent Swaine, the plantation owner who shot the young black man because he though he was a monkey. His excuse for that unforgivable act was to hide behind the amoral practice of lawyers to adopt a so-called cab rank system – representing anyone without taking a moral view of their alleged offences. Many young lawyers now take a different view.

We now live in a society in which the public sector is a drain on taxpayers, a society that has lost its moral moorings which now has one of the highest rates of HIV/Aids and sexually transmitted diseases for under 25-year-old in the civilised world. A society in which no moral leadership comes from the church, civic leaders, politicians, one in which married people think it acceptable to have affairs, in which abortion is a form of birth control.

And, equally, a society in which people think it normal to live above their means, to indulge in family feuds over inheritance, where people defraud their children and parents as well as total strangers.

The weakness of this DLP government is that it was so surprised by its electoral victory that for a time it was hypnotised. It lacked boldness, innovation and vision – unlike the 1961 government. Instead of giving away social houses, it should have made it easier for people to become genuine homeowners, it should have reduced the age of majority from eighteen to sixteen, raise school-leaving to eighteen as part of wider education reforms, with a variety of options from the age of fourteen; it should have created a post office bank.

Further, it should have developed Culpepper Island, pedestrianize Broad Street during the day, introduced a traffic congestion management programme, reform the public sector, including the police and abolish the defence force. Taking cheap shots at Adams only exposes the poverty of thought of the chief architects of this historical revisionism and character assassination.

Both men were outstanding leaders, it is not either or.

51 thoughts on “Notes From a Native Son – Fitting Grantley Adams in the Pantheon of Heroes

  1. Bajans were blessed with Grantley Adams, Errol Barrow and Tom Adams in our formative years and all we have to do to substantiate this is to review the progress of Guyana and Jamaica, two countries with bountiful natural resources, that were MISled by Socialists (Educated Idiots) who alienated the clever and hardworking citizens who fled en masse to Northern Climes leaving behind those less fortunate/ ambitious to fight over relative crumbs.

    What is really amazing is that many supposedly educated people still have NOT appreciated the debt they owe to our true heroes noted above. Indeed some still seem to believe that Burnham and Manley were great leaders which is totally incredible. Any supposed leader that does NOT understand that humans achieve because of INCENTIVE is an IDIOT not a leader. This is exactly why China, Russia and India were failing for many years before they switched to an INCENTIVE SYSTEM.

  2. Another example why we can’t progress. Nostalgia and reminiscing about the past instead of rolling up sleeves and working to secure the future of the country.

    Just like Stuart can only appear in the press doing Governor General dutues.

    And we call we self educated. Still can get a comprehensive agricultural policy with links to tourism after all these years


  3. What is the raison d’être for this article? If it is to praise Sir Grantley some content seems to be missing.

    A short observation Sir Grantley lived a life of unfilled promise, his decision to leave Barbados and become PM of the ill fated West Indies Federation was a colossal mistake, as he left his Stepney in charge of the B’dos Gov’t and was never able to regain power.

    It is telling that none of the other leaders of the major Caribbean Islands (Jamaica & T &T) wanted the position so when the post fell to Premier of little Barbados some one should have smelled a rat. I mean when the Deputy PM of the Federation is an Opposition leader in Trinidad it speaks volumes.

    Austin also wrote and I quote “But it was not always so. In the 1950s, Barbados had one of the highest standards of living in the Commonwealth, and thus in the world”

    Are we talking about the Barbados I grew up in or is this some fictional Eden that exists in someone’s mind? The period starting in the late 50’s to the middle 60’s saw mass migration from Barbados to England and other countries. Many young people who had completed the GCE seized the opportunity to go to England when London Transport came calling, others went to the USA or Canada. If the standard of living was so “high” why did people choose to emigrate en masse? People seldom leave their homeland for permanent residence in other countries when things are going well. Some people may have enjoyed that “high standard of living” but it surely wasn’t the working class Bajan.

  4. Our weakness is that “almost everyone” in Barbados wants to be very rich, rich beyond your imagination, in such a society genuine concern for ones fellow man takes a back seat. You are thought of as the stupid one not to follow that broken path.

    You can go from a person of modest means to being a multi-millionaire in the twinkle of an eye, if you are astute enough to articulate and then fly a certain path. Of course “if you want a place in the aviary you must chirp the right tune” everything has its price. . . . seeds will be offered. We thus disrespect ourselves and everyone knows it but we think it does not matter, we have the DOLLARS..

    Very rarely do a people voluntarily imprison themselves as we have done in Barbados and we excuse such behaviour by saying it is about “CLASS”. But we are so clever that we fail to notice that almost all of one group is deemed of a particulay class. . . . thus exposing the nonsense of that position, and thus the iron ball keeps rolling and we choose not to hear the clinking of the chains.

  5. Hal ‘s enthusiasm for Adams and dislike for Barrow comes across very strongly. His assessment of Adams and the Barbados of the 50’s is far short of the mark. He needs to look at what Commisong has to say in the
    BarbadosToday on (17/4 12) The Seven Deadly Politically Sins of Sir Gantley.
    He himself adds an eigth The Swain fiasco.
    As for Barbados being the most advanced country in the commonwealth in the 1950’s This is a fiction of the imagination.
    In the 50’s Barbados was still one of the most rascist places in the Caribbean, ruled from Westminster and the white bajan plantation owners with Adams struggling to establish his authority as an MP. His decision to take on the leadership of the West Indies Federation needs much closer examination; I am sure that the British Government was behind it and
    Adams, always a British stooge, took the bait whilst the more diserning, trust worthy and astute Caribbean politicians stood aside.

  6. i cant speak about the grantley adams era but i do remember a time when the high end jobs were given to white aand blacks were hawkers and cane cutters , hal seems to sit in a chair that is way above the clouds he needs to come down to earth and get a up close and personnal birds eye view of reality one thing i would give him is a A+ for pontification as said in his last paragaph.

  7. very balanced expose Mr Learned Native Son, but there are certain misconceptions about this AdamsBbarrow divide such as the truth relating to ‘The Genesis of the Introduction of Free Secondary Education in Barbados ‘ which some never want to hear. This should be required reading in schools to set the record stright or as Ambassador Robert Morris so eloquently said in his feature address which he described as ‘anecdotal’ at the 45th Awards Ceremony of the National Insurance Scheme on Saturday night. There is no doubt that he would have brought consternation to the faces of the majority in the packed audience when he credited Sir Grantley Adams and Sir Frank walcott as having been the pioneers of social legislation in Barbados out of which the Scheme. There would always be attempts to belittle the contribution both political giants of their time made to the development of Barbados for one reason or the other because of the savagery of party politics in Barbados but it is the results that count not their errors of judgment and it cannot be denied that both of these great men achieved results in their time for the benefit of Barbados. So Jack must indeed be given his jacket.
    On a point of clarification/elucidation- “Rather, it was so confident about itself that even the British colonisers, battered by the war, felt at ease granting the island internal self-government in 1961″ -In 1946, under what was then known as” the Bushe Experiment”, the leader of the majority party in the House of Assembly was invited for the first time to nominate the members of the legislature to be appointed to the Executive Committee.
    this move paved the way for the introduction of ministerial government on February1, 1954 whereby ministerial responsibilities were assigned to members of the Executive committee who were nominated by the leader of the majority party. Hon. G.H Adams, leader of the Barbados Labour Party which in 1954 had 16 of the 24 seats in the House of Assembly became the island’s first Premier.

    • Interesting perspective on Grantley Adams. Many Barbadians feel pride that he was appointed to lead the Federation, the notion that he was the ‘default’ puts a spanner in the works. Certainly the auto-biographies of Manley and Williams addressed this issue? Have not had the time to research i.

  8. “Some people may have enjoyed that “high standard of living” but it surely wasn’t the working class Bajan.If the standard of living was so “high” why did people choose to emigrate en masse? People seldom leave their homeland for permanent residence in other countries when things are going well. Some people may have enjoyed that “high standard of living” but it surely wasn’t the working class Bajan.”

    Mr sarge things would always be hard for some in any era no matter what ; hardship endured because of circumstances and for other because of poor choices and even now despite the progresss since the socalled bad ole days things are still hard for many so much so that up to now people are still migrating to the USA by fair means or foul in search of what they perceive to be a beeter living.

    1 Vote

  9. Mr or Mrs Ac, if you can’t speak to the adams era, then shut your trap and try to absorb for the purposes of enlightenment what the gentleman wrote. Can you never ever take off your political hat. Still awaiting your answer about the loan. From whom did the BNOC borrow the money and the terms and condituions of repayment?

  10. I always thought that Britain wanted out of her Empire and was perfectly willing to let go after the war ……. India and Pakistan 1948.

    There was also the growing nationalist movements in her former colonies.

    I agree Bajans of the 50’s and 60’s era were far more relaxed about who they were and what they wanted.

    I think they thought more clearly and simply than we do today.

    I think that in countries around the world, the generation that fought the second world war was far superior to any subsequent generation and I believe that world war made them who they were.

    You only have to listen to old folks to realise this.

    The cult of self had not taken hold back then.

  11. Blinded by anachronisms this writer has exposed his petticoat with an ahistorical diatribe devoid of existential realism.

  12. @Balance

    Mr sarge things would always be hard for some in any era no matter what ; hardship endured because of circumstances and for other because of poor choices

    We all know that life can be difficult for some people no matter how prosperous the environment around them but to try to convey the impression that the Barbados of the 50’s was a prosperous society and people left because of “poor choices” is an insult to those who left to toil in foreign lands. Many of those people had no “choice” that is why they took the emigration route searching for a better life.

    It seems that you are a proponent of the “good old days”, take off the rose coloured spectacles and see that the good old days were not so good for many of us.

  13. Adultery began post-Independence? It’s a lovely idea. Mind what we have done is change the language – from ‘mistress’ to ‘F-buddy’. I suspect the latter has a sense of realism the former lacked, rather as this post lacks it too. But – in its way, it’s none the worse for that. The Holy Grail remains as elusive as ever but that we should still seek it says something of the nature of the human spirit.

  14. @mroffbalance for your information the article also highlits some of what hal suggest are the failures of the present govtover the past four years are you and others the only ones to set the agenda and dispense what you perceive as fact .HELL THE ARTICLE IS POLITICAL WITH HAL TWIST AND PERCEPTIONS AS HE SEE THINGS IN THE PASTIn addition to giving a swipe at the the present govt. and for all the “good ole days”he refers to then why is it that he join the list of those who left the country back then.

  15. mr. off balance trip down memory has visions of what should be no one needs to be around in that era to understand ordraw conclusion from that past era one that totally ignore and handicapped the majority from getting an equal part of the economic pie and yet he and others like hal talk about the “good ole days” mr.offbalance and hal is stuck in a time warp Of grand illusion and bioth if them should just be PM Stuart so eloquently stated a few days ago we are who we are because of the past.

  16. Mroffbalance”stillwaiting” still waiting my a…s i ain.t foolish.who de hell you think you talking to stupid!keep waiting!

  17. I always thought the high emigration from the Caribbean in the period had to do with the need for man and woman power to rebuild Britain after the war.

    I reckon things were as tough here as they had always been since the previous mass emigrations to Panama and the US at the turn of the century.

    Too few jobs and an over supply of labour leads to high emigration only if there is somewhere to emigrate to with jobs!!

  18. John

    You should know this. How many of wunna does emigrate to New Zealand and Australia every year, in particular the fifties, sixties and seventies when Australia had a Whites only immigration policy firmly in place …?

  19. as PM Stuart so eloquently stated a few days ago we are who we are because of the past.”

  20. “It seems that you are a proponent of the “good old days”, take off the rose coloured spectacles and see that the good old days were not so good for many of us.”
    i was born in 1947 in a ghetto and went to the stand pipe to bring water and had the luxury of using a pit toilet too but i would not say i suffer nor did i hear my parents before me say they suffered’ true as time evolves, social conditions get better and perhaps a pit toilet by process of progression might have been a luxury compared to times before. i am sure that perhaps 20 years hence based on the rapid changes in technology, our great grandchildren would be frowning ang and laughing at the gadgets electrical and otherwise the uses of which we now promote as having rescued us from the darkness of the bad ole days.the past is the past, rather than frown upon the past, we should learn from the past.

  21. balance

    Believe it or not running water partly caused the demise of the White Hill community in St. Andrew. Last time I passed the area the GOB had a big sign up advising people to move and a liabilitydisclaimer.

    The effluent from sinks, baths and toilets went into the soil and the instability of the Scotland District did the rest. As people converted from wood to wall houses went down one by one.

    It would probably have been better to have kept the pit toilets and standpipes if the residents wanted to keep their community!!

    Chattel Houses were probably the ideal for this terrain but progress intervened!!

  22. People learning and accepting to deal with the hand they have been dealt does not mean that they are not suffering i wonder if you”balance”would give up the gains of today life for the return of “the good oledays”

  23. BAFBFP

    The only close family I have who left Barbados went to the US!!

    Some went by ship through Ellis Island from 1903 to 1924 in the wave of emigration at the time of Pananma and some more recently went by plane.

    You would find the majority of the thousands of Bajans who left Barbados in the 50’s 60’s and 70’s would have gone for jobs in London Transport or as nurses. Many joined the British Army. Most educated themselves and some returned to hold responsible jobs here.

    I know of very few Bajans who went to Australia or New Zealand in the 1960’s. I can think of only 3 families of mixed ancestry.

    In 2010 the top four countries of birth of immigrants to Australia according to wiki are the UK, New Zealand, China and India.

  24. @Balance

    You are speaking to the grandson of a plantation worker so I know all about sweet water and bakes, stew potato and roast salt fish, pit toilets (one and two holers) and stand pipes. I was the first one in the immediate family who had the benefit of at least a high school education- thanks to EWB athough you may disagree- ( I had other kin who were higher up and better off). Do I relish the 50’s? Not by a long shot but I appreciate the lessons that I learned along the way how to appreciate the things I had and not yearn for those I didn’t have.

    If you never heard your parents say they “suffered” you were not listening closely, they like many others often made light of harsh experiences and hard times are often the root of jokes. The 50’s were no bed of roses, people played the hand that they were dealt.

  25. @John

    You only have to listen to old folks to realise this.
    As usual you were listening to the wrong folks, you should have tried listening to the denizens of the back rooms of rum shop whose nightly entertainment consisted of a “nip bottle” and a game of dominoes.

  26. Sargeant

    I am not saying they had an easy time …. or that that the 50’s was a bed of roses!!!!

    That’s why I say the generation that fought the second world war is superior to following generations.

    They had it far tougher than we could ever imagine.

    And that is true all over the world, not just here.

  27. John

    You sure that the stat on Australian immigration is accurate …? I mean I know that the UK, China etc. are a little bit bigger in population size than Barbados but maybe if the Wiki entry stated who was the fifth largest source of immigration to Australia you might see Barbados W (as opposed to Barbados B, the two are different countries as you know) putting in an appearance … wa you think. By the way no people from Barbados W worked on the London transport or the Panama Canal and so on, and no people from Barbados B had daughters married to residents in New Zealand and Australia or moved their entire families to these parts … particularly when Barrow became Premier … or were you not around at the time …?

  28. … pretty sure Carl Hooper married an Australian too, and the whole family moved to Australia ……. guess that doesn’t count as he is a Guyanese!!

  29. “Hooper has lived in Adelaide since the late 1990s. He was named coach for the Woodville District Cricket Club in Adelaide, South Australia for the 2010/11 and 2011/12 seasons.”

    Got that off wikipedia!!

    Sir Carl lives in Australia with his family.

  30. But John I talkin’ ’bout the sixties, seventies and eighties when there was an obvious Whites only immigration policy in Australia and New Zealand and South Africa and Zimbabwe and so on. Yes Gary marry a nice lookin’ White chick but she’s been livin’ in Australia fah years and he and his children have been in Highgate gardens for just as long… Now why you figure that is so?. King Carl marry an equally nice lookin’ chick (yes I jealous as shite … but wha’) but that was in the nineties. I am still asking about the exodus of Bajans from Ba’bados to other Whites only domiciles in the world. Man like you skirting the issue …!

  31. conformity is another way people deal with hardship and for one many of turnnto religion for comfort inhelping them to deal with the harsh realities of everyday life compare the church attendance in the good ole days to now there is a vast difference, not to get off on a tangent but the point being that there was plenty suffering back then but people knew how to pull together and make do until better came along and many did waited and waited and in the process many died waiting hoping for a better tommorow .

  32. John

    You mean that I don’ write clearly …? I mean I know that the spellin’ could be a bit off, particularly when the spellcheck is taking a break, but you are finding it difficult to appreciate the thrust of my discourse? (My God man, dah soun’ sweet …)

  33. ‘if you”balance”would give up the gains of today life for the return of “the good oledays”

  34. “I was the first one in the immediate family who had the benefit of at least a high school education- thanks to EWB athough you may disagree-”
    It would be impertiment of me to disagree with you if that is your belief. Al i have tried to do was to enlighten you otherwise by providing you with unbiased and factual information. For some reason my not so well off parents chose to pay for my secondary education rather than send me to a newer secondary school perhaps because they were indoctrinated to believe that if you did not go to the older secondary schools then you could not get secondary education. Persons like Chris Sinckler, Michael Lashley, Joseph Goddard, the present head master of harrison college among others.

  35. @BAFBFP

    ALL NONE LEFTIEs are Jackasses as far as you are concerned!!!

    Lefties were so successful in China, Russia, India et al they had to ADOPT INCENTIVE SYSTEMS!!
    Europe and now the US have TOTALLY FAILED with THEIR LEFTIE NO STRINGS ATTACHED giveaways!! Can you spell BANKRUPT!!

    So sorry that Lefties FAIL while “Capitalistic socialism with DISCIPLINE” works very well in Singapore/ Japan etc

  36. @MONEYBRAIN aka Joe Gorman
    What YOU dont understand is that IF I HAVE a gun shoved up yuh ASS and I can pull the trigger ANYTIME I feel so to do.
    That is NOT. Incentive.

    Now why not, you go and take a NICE HOT bath, lay back Relax and then SLIT your WRISTS and do us all a big PHUCKIN Favour.

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