Flashback: Founding father of the trade union movement EF Gordon meets the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh in St George’s Town Square in 1953. Dr Gordon is predeceased by SS Toddings, MCP, who was publisher and editor of the Mid-Ocean News
During her long reign, the Queen witnessed Bermuda’s 180-degree transformation from a racist, insular economic backwater to a progressive, cosmopolitan powerhouse, rising above its weight in the world.
For 350 years, Bermuda experienced chattel slavery and rigid segregation, limiting the majority of its population to voting rights, economic advancement and education.
It was probably in 1953 that the first real crack appeared in the edifice that racism had built.
Major change: Queen Elizabeth shakes hands with Ken Richardson, the Cabinet Secretary, as the Duke of Edinburgh and Lord Waddington, the Governor, look on in March 1993
The simple act of Buckingham Palace letting it be known that the Queen would not attend separate events in Bermuda was the impetus.
But the move only came after public outcry after British newspapers – no doubt alerted by Bermuda activists and their allies abroad – expressed shock at Bermuda’s social mores.
The eight years since the end of World War II have seen increasing attacks aimed at loosening the grip of segregation, amid repeated legislative, legal and public protests.
One MP, EF Gordon, frustrated by the insult of being addressed only by his Christian name, Edgar, rather than the honorary title of Doctor of Medicine, obtained with honors at the University of Edinburgh, even changed his name in “Mazumbo” as a way of taking revenge on the elites.
It was on November 2, 1946 that Dr Gordon brought to London a petition signed by the executive committee of the Bermuda Workers Association, precursor to the Bermuda Industrial Union, calling on the United Kingdom to intervene on behalf of black Bermudians.
Presented to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Association’s white paper lists grievances regarding the civic, political and economic institutions of Bermudian society, as they impact what the petition calls “the vast majority of people underprivileged and suffering in Bermuda”.
Meanwhile, it is known that during a visit to South Africa that year, Princess Elizabeth saw her father, King George VI, very upset with formal and informal apartheid laws and officials. , which dictated that he could not shake hands with black veterans. .
With her death and coronation in 1953, the new queen embarked on a world tour to introduce herself to her subjects.
It was to begin in Bermuda, the second prosperous English colony in the New World and the oldest colony in the empire.
For 119 years after their emancipation from slavery, black people were subjected to a form of Jim Crow segregation — “free” in law, but unable to participate fully in the economic and social life of the island.
While it is true that if they were owners they could vote, few of them had the land required to vote.
Out of a population of 40,000 people of all races, only 5,066 could vote. And Bermuda’s particular laws allowed landowners to vote in every parish where one owned property.
The law also allowed people to form voting syndicates, which meant that a large property could have multiple owners – and, therefore, multiple voters.
With the political and economic system controlled by wealthy white landowners, black parliamentarians—members of the colonial parliament—were a minority.
Ira Philip, the late Official newspaper columnist and former editor and jack-of-all-trades at The recorderwrote that black Bermudians formed political associations to field candidates who had the best chance of being elected and representing their interests.
In 1953, the Devonshire Political Association first considered instigator Dr Gordon as a potential candidate, but eventually decided to go with WL “Bip” Tucker, with Dr Gordon’s backing.
Mr. Tucker was more diplomatic than Dr. Gordon and also financially independent, which made him less vulnerable to economic pressures from powerful whites.
The 1953 election had produced the largest number of black parliamentarians elected up to that point, a total of nine in the 36-seat chamber.
The other black MCPs were Somerset doctor Eustace Cann and lawyer and future prime minister ET Richards, both close friends of Tucker.
Tucker’s first speech was in support of a proposal by black MCP Russell Levi Pearman for the creation of an interracial committee to examine the inequalities of black Bermudians.
Later that year, as Bermuda prepared fully for the royal visit, Mr Tucker and Dr Gordon – operating as a kind of etiquette team – spoke to the House of Assembly about preparations, the former suggesting he was disturbed that the leaders were solely focused on the benefits of the visit to tourism.
He told Parliament that ordinary Bermudians should be given the opportunity to meet the Queen. Dr. Gordon’s comments about the visit were more caustic.
Dr Gordon complained bitterly to the House of Assembly about the arrangements, citing the demographics of the island, in which the majority were humiliated by being barred from attending the state dinner.
Leading banker and businessman Sir Henry Tucker replied that invitations to the dinner were limited to “the list of precedence, members of the Executive Council [now the Cabinet]– ignoring the fact that there were no black people on the list or on the board.
When Dr Gordon asked for someone from the back to be appointed, Sir Henry replied: and working life at the present time, who would be justified in accepting an appointment to the Executive Council.
There were nine black members in the House of Assembly.
As the date of his arrival approached, four British newspapers, The daily HeraldTthe news chronicle, The daily mirror and The Daily Telegraph speculated on the propriety of Her Majesty’s participation in separate, white-only events.
The Toronto Starcolumnist, said it was inconceivable that such an incident could happen anywhere in the British Empire where a British governor was the chief executive.
Two days in a row, the Herald attacked “the Bermuda blunder”.
On the day of the visit, The Daily Mirror editor launched an editorial at The Royal Gazette, demanding that it appear on the front page the following day. It appeared on page 12.
In this one, That of the mirror the editor said he heard “no colored guests were invited to the State Welcome Dinner.”
“That’s what Britain said, we hope you print it on your front pages. Bermuda’s 24,000 people of color – 60% of the population – should know we think about how they were insulted.Three national newspapers made the front page of the story.They were The daily Herald, The News Chronicle and The Daily Telegraph.
The daily mirror captioned his comments: “No, no, no.”
Two days in a row, The daily Herald attacked “the blunder” in Bermuda.
“Now 48 Labor MPs have signed a House of Commons motion protesting color discrimination.
“We hope these facts will be brought to the attention of people of color who have been so sadly offended. It would be shocking if anyone in Bermuda thought their governor’s childish blunder was glossed over here.
“Here are the details of what the newspapers said: The mirror deplored the pathetic apologies of your Governor. He said he invited 30 guests to the royal dinner according to the precedence list. He should have doubled that number to include a colored official.
The mirror asked, “Why weren’t the top thirty eliminated from the stupid list!” To the fire of the first families of Bermuda and an end to blind snobbery!
Said The daily Herald: ‘Sir Alexander Hood, Governor of Bermuda, managed to celebrate the start of the Queen’s tour across the Commonwealth by insulting over 500 million of its people.
“Bermudians should know how Britain reacted. It doesn’t erase what happened. But it shows how Britons feel about color discrimination, social snobbery and clumsy governors.
A House of Commons motion signed by left-wing Labor MP Fenner Brockway called for Bermuda’s precedence list to be revised to include more black representatives.
The issue was also hotly debated in Parliament here, but the guest list remained.
“It is a source of sincere regret, for my husband and myself, that our many duties did not allow us to spend more time here,” the Queen said at the State Dinner.
In the end, several blacks were invited to a garden party at Government House before the state dinner.
The Royal Gazette list dozens of the 1,200 Bermudians and foreign dignitaries invited to Langton Hill.
Among them were FS Furbert, principal of the Berkeley Institute, and Mrs. Furbert, Victor Scott, principal of the Central School, which now bears his name, and Mrs. Scott, and the Reverend and Mrs. J. Daniel Smith, l former President of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
At other events, the royal couple were introduced to many black people in high social positions, including colonial Members of Parliament, Dr Gordon and Mr Richards, and even Somerset Cricket Club chairman Warren Simmons.
Millie Neverson, the little black teacher from Bermuda, guide and protector of underprivileged children, was to be introduced to the duke.
Ms Neverson was hidden by the crowd and was visibly nervous about being overlooked.
However, the Duke’s white Bermudian escort, C. Vail Zuill, no doubt aware of the meaning of the salute, was looking for her and brought her in for presentation.
Aware of her concern, the tall royal almost bent double to chat – longer than with anyone else.
A week later, Sir Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister, met with Dwight Eisenhower of the United States and French Prime Minister Joseph Laniel to discuss the emerging Cold War.
At a less formal dinner at the “Big Three conference”, the guest list included two prominent blacks, GA Williams and ET Richards, who was the first to hold the title of prime minister under the new 1968 Constitution.