The Burma Road Riot
Question 1a Write a detailed account of the Burma Road Riot in Nassau, Bahamas. At the beginning of the Second World War the American government made arrangements to build training bases in of the Caribbean Islands. Being a part of the Caribbean, The Bahamian government and the American government scheduled to build two operational bases in New Providence, one in Satellite Field and the other in Oaks Field, they also called it the Main Field.
This would then employ over two thousand men.
The news began to spread to the outer islands and many out islanders saw it as a good opportunity to be employed for big wages. During the last ten years the economy had declined due to the ending of prohibition in 1933. These Bahamians came to New Providence because they knew that the Americans would pay high wages because some worked on the American base in Exuma before. Unfortunately, the Bahamian workers were paid half the wages the Americans were paid for the same job.
After failing to get the employer to remedy their unfair wage, on Sunday 31st May, 1942, the local workers gathered in front of the Pleasantville Construction company with the aim of getting their employer to improve their wages offered to the two site; the wages were lower than the employees expected, also their wages were lower than the American wages who did the same job. Bahamian wages were only four shillings for eight hours. This situation was so unfair it made the Bahamian workers frustrated and bitter against their white employers.
As a result a charged working relationship between the Bahamian workers developed. Since there was no resolution in the meeting on the following day Monday, 1st June, 1942 laborers marched to Bay Street protesting that they be paid the full amount of wages by the Pleasantville Contractors. The Bahamian protestors didn’t know that it was the “Bay Street Boys” that told the Americans to pay the Bahamian employees less that it supposed to be. Because the Pleasantville Contractors didn’t reply to the laborers request it made the workers more infuriated. Moreover, the meeting that was agreed n with the workers and the Colonial Labor Officer never materialized. This infuriated the workers even more. The disgruntled workers were accompanied by a crowd of people. They marched from Parliament via Nassau Street with cubs and sticks. On their way they met a Coca-Cola truck filled with empty bottles which they pelted the windows of the buildings. They used those bottles as missiles. While the rioting was at its height a carbon of police with fixed bayonets and steel helmets came down from the barracks and remained standing in that formation for a period of time in front of the Post Office.
While the sound of glass breaking and the crowd shouting, that could be heard up and down the street, the policemen moved along Bay Street and were successful in dispersing most of the rioters, which they reassembled in other places. The police could not cope with this situation so a detachment of British forces were called in. Before the end of the day members of the Volunteer Defense Force were situated to the Barracks. When order was restored in the city, throughout the afternoon isolated cases of violence were dealt with and some people were arrested. Many of the shops were extensively looted.
Several business shops were stripped of their stock. There were many of the people that were seen with armfuls of stolen goods leaving the city. As soon as the streets were completely clear the suspects were ordered to show the stocks of the parcels that they were carrying on them. Some of the loot was recovered and people were arrested. The damages of the property and merchandise ran into thousands of pounds. They attacked the cars that were moving and parked which were damaged very badly, Also the owners were at the wheel at some point and time. Liquor stores were looted as well and the drunkenness resulting added fuel to the fire.
In conclusion, this rioting and looting lead to two deaths and twenty-five injuries, they also smashed the Red Cross. The rioting lasted for two long days. After all the Duke of Windsor said that the Bahamian wages will be dealt with. Half more of the workers came back. On the 4th June 1942, things were just about normal for everyone and wages were increased by one shilling for the local workers. This riot signaled that Black Bahamians were no longer going to be submissive to the oligarchy. Moreover, black Bahamians became united and silently fought for better living conditions and equal rights and justice.