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1951 AND THE COMING OF FIRST GENERAL ELECTIONS ON THE BASIS OF UNIVERSAL ADULT SUFFRAGE

Caldwell Taylor

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 Grenadians.


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 political life
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-
CIPRIANI!

Pa pa pa pa pa pa pa pa pa lam -
CIPRIANI!


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 British rule.


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 respective colonies.


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 observation.


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 colonialpolity.


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,
1958.

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 estate grung.


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
country needed.

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 matter.


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 Grenade.

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
bottled tongues.

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.  All Rights Reserved

             

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