|1951 AND THE COMING OF FIRST GENERAL
ELECTIONS ON THE BASIS OF UNIVERSAL ADULT SUFFRAGE
Grenada's first general elections on the basis of
universal adult suffrage was held on October 10, 1951.
Prior to '51 one had to own property of a certain value,
or earn an annual income of a specified amount, in order
to qualify for the right to vote. Therefore the Voters'
List for the 1944 elections was restricted to 4,000
persons: it denied the franchise and, quite
frankly,citizenship,to more than twenty-five thousand
With the coming of universal adult suffrage the property
qualification gave way to an age qualification, and
Grenadians who had attained the age of 21 were entitled
to "make dey x".
Thirty-four thousand Grenadians were registered to vote
in the 1951 electoral contest. Doubtless this was an
empowering and heady historical moment for a people that
had been excluded from any meaningful involvement in the
of its country.
In very typical Grenadian fashion, a great number of
songs and refrains were composed to solemnize the coming
of adult franchise. Additionally, a few hot numbers were
imported from Trinidad. One of the imports first saw the
light of day in the
Trinidad elections of 1925,where it proclaimed support
for "the Captain", Arthur Andrew Cipriani- the white
Trinidadian who was then the hero and "champion of the
barefoot masses." The 1925 song went:
Tell me ,who you votin' for-
Pa pa pa pa pa pa pa pa pa lam -
In the village of Paradise and all over the constituency
of St Andrew's North, voters sang:
Tell me, who you votin' for - R.K. Douglas!
Pa pa pa pa pa pa pa pa lam RK DOUGLAs!
"RK" was Ruthven Keens -Douglas.
REBELLIOUS JAMAICA WAS THE FIRST TO GET IT
Grenada (and the other "small islands") came to adult
franchise after Jamaica (1944), Trinidad and Tobago
(1946),and Barbados (1950); British Guiana (Guyana) had
to wait until 1953.
There was very good reason to begin what can be called
the "modernization" of West Indian politics with
Jamaica. The island was the most militant of the West
Indian colonies and the British might have reckoned that
the ballot would cause the Jamaicans to 'simmer down' a
bit. Certainly, the coming of adult franchise allowed
the leaders of the major political parties- the People's
National Party (PNP), founded by Norman Manley in 1938;
and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), founded by Alexander
Bustamante in 1943- to redirect and diffuse the
explosive radicalism of the "mobs."
END OF WW2: IT WAS TIME TO LIQUIDATE THE EMPIRE
Returing to Grenada, it bears remembering that adult
franchise came to the country just six years following
the close of Second World War (1939-1945),and at a time
when Britain was still reeling from the devastating
effects of a six-year -long military campaign: one very
illustrative sign of the time was the fact that food
rationing was still in effect.
In the face of a dire economic situation Britain seemed
eager to liquidate its colonial empire. In the West
Indies there had been much talk of a federation, which
the Colonial Office viewed as way of shaving the cost of
The proposed West Indies federation was also the means
by which the countries- infamously called "slums of
empire"- would achieve independence, something their
leading politicians had been demanding, especially after
such a status was granted in 1931 to the so-called White
Dominions- Canada, Australia, New Zealand- under the
terms of the Westminister Statute.
So federation was proposed as a means of fostering
administrative efficiency- the view of the colonial
office; and federation was spun as a means of bringing
about some self- government- the view of the Colonial
Office and also that of the leading politicians in the
And then there was W. Arthur Lewis (1915-1991 ), who saw
a West Indies federation as a vehicle to bring about
what is now called "good governance". Lewis believed
that it was impossible to bring about good governance in
a small place of say 100,000 souls. Such smallness had
an uncanny way of breeding bubbul, nepotism, cronyism
and related moral diseases, he said. It was a keen
Of course, Lewis never meant to say that small islanders
should stand aside while politicians turned the public
purse into a private money pan; he merely wanted to
acquaint us with the 'structural' problems and the moral
economy that came with smallness.
Grenadians Donovan and Marryshow were among the West
Indian political leaders who demanded federation and
self-government. During a 1947 visit to Aruba Marryshow,
the then president of the Caribbean Labour Congress,
talked rather militantly about the coming to Grenada of
the democratic principle of "one man one vote".
Eric Gairy was in the audience and he clapped wildly
when Marryshow made the pronouncement concerning the
coming of the vote. Gascoigne Blaize and Herbert Blaize
were also present. Gascoigne returned to Grenada in 1951
and was Gairy's co-conspirator in the early hours of the
Strike. Herbert entered politics in 1954, contesting the
Carriacou seat as an independent candidate. He was
unsuccessful; Carriacou was taken by F. B. Paterson.
(The current Governor of New York, David Paterson,
does have a bit of politics in his blood).
Eric M. Gairy returned to Grenada in December of 1950
and in no time he became the country's supreme political
master - as much as this is possible in a
The Gairy-led social revolution of 1950-51 was Grenada's
way of catching up with the events that convulsed the
British West Indies in 1937-1938, and compelled the
British to appoint a Royal Commission- headed by Lord
Moyne -to look into the causes of the "disturbances".
Grenada was untouched by these disturbances and
historians and sociologists are still debating the
reasons why the
island kept His Majesty's peace while the rest of the
English Caribbean became enveloped in the fires of
political unrest. One key reason must be the absence of
a militant political leadership.
Until Gairy, political leadership in Grenada was
monopolized by T.A. Marryshow. Gairy broke Marryshow's
political dominance, which operated as a brake on the
radical impulses of the Grenadian masses. By the mid
-forties Marryshow had entered into an alliance with
Governor Arthur Grimble, forswearing his more radical
days. Furthermore, by the time Gairy arrived in 1950,
the self-styled "Old Bulldog" was in poor health and
stone deaf into the bargain. He died on October 19,
Another braking mechanism was the arcane system of
reciprocal relations binding the labourers and their
bosses, especially on the estates. Many labourers -
perhaps the majority - lived on estate land, and many
"made gardens" , raised livestock, and "burned coals"on
Gairy knew quite a bit about the workings of the
estates, for his father Douglas used to be a "driver" on
the Mt. Horne estate, a stone's throw from La Fillette
where Eric attended primary school. Back in the 1930s
estate "drivers"- the term goes all the way back to
slavery! - were only allowed to go home on two weekends
of each month. That being the case, "Duggie"
Gairy and his wife Theresa tended to speak to each other
by means of an intermediary - their son, Eric.
At Mt Horne Eric noted how his proud father would grin
and grovel in the presence of the white and brown
people. And more than thirty years later he would refer
to himself as Grenada's " first Black Power" [advocate],
and the only that the
There is more than a little bit of truth in the first
part of Gairy's black power claim. It is also true that
Gairy could not decide whether he wanted to beat "them"
or join "them". A 1936 incident sheds some light on this
Eric Gairy was just 14 years old when he delivered a
sermon at the Catholic Church in Grenville- on the
occasion of the Feast of Holy Family- and was commended
by the rich and important people in attendance, one of
whom pressed a shilling piece into his hands. For the
rest of his life he would talk about this incident, for
he saw the gift of the shilling piece as both a
deserving prize and put-down.
This duality characterized his relations with people
from the "upper brackets": he wanted to be one of them,
and he wanted to seize their estates and "cut them down
to size"; he wanted to be Fedon and he wanted to be La
More than hundred years after the abolition of slavery,
the Grenadian estate was still very much a 'total
institution'. To survive this oppressive micro-climate
workers learned to put their "mouths in bottle"--Gairy,
Gascoigne Blaize, Cosmos Wardally-activist and
calypsonian- provided the militant leadership that made
it possible for the labourers to uncork their
It is therefore little wonder that Gairy won the general
elections of 1951, picking up 60 per cent of the popular
vote and taking home five of the eight seats that were
up for grabs. Significantly, Carriacou was among the
five seats in the Gairy bag! It was to be the Kayaks
only tryst with the Gairy and his GULP. After 1951 Gairy
would go on to dominate Grenadian politics until
his overthrow in 1979.
© June 8, 2008.
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