I read with some interest the letter submitted [to The Royal Gazette] by the writer who signed their submission with the initials AJB and which was featured in the Gazette on the 11th of June. In that letter, AJB wrote the following in praise of the ‘Theatre Boycott’: “A very clever person thought of an idea to organize a Theatre Boycott, and together with several friends they went ahead with the scheme.”
He went on to conclude the letter by stating that “the person who organized this boycott deserves to be called A National Hero.”
Well, I can reveal to AJB that the so-called clever person who came up with the idea of targeting and boycotting the theatres in order to topple the system of racial hierarchy which revolved around notions of white supremacy in Bermuda, was none other than my father, Mr Rudolph Commissiong. And I can also reveal to AJB that the so-called friends that he shared his idea with were known as the ‘Progressive Group’. These men and women were the architects of the boycott that successfully ended the various forms of racial discrimination that were so ubiquitous throughout public life in Bermuda during that era.
As featured in the ground-breaking documentary When Voices Rise, my father was the first to propose that the Progressive Group utilize and organize a boycott of the theatres during the late 1950s. This motion was adopted by the group and some time later by way of his continued advocacy was implemented. And the rest, as the say, is history.
Moreover, and as my father related to me some years ago, both he and my mother, who was also a Progressive Group member, had a number of close friends then such as the late Dame Lois Brown-Evans and the late Roosevelt Brown and others, who never went to the theatres precisely because of their racially discriminatory seating policies. This was the real catalyst for the idea that would later result in the proposal to make a boycott of the respective white owned movie theatres a symbolic focal point of the overall struggle.
Lastly, as to AJB’s final paragraph cited above, there was no one person who organized the aforementioned boycott. My father would be the first to assert that it was a collective effort, that included not only the Progressive Group but also numerous individuals who, in effect, led the effort on the ground that ultimately ensured its success. A great debt in that regard is undoubtedly owed to activists and leaders such as Mr. Kingsley Tweed, Comrade Lynch, Prez Ebbin, Coe Sharpe and many others. Ultimately, it was a people’s movement driven by the desire of black Bermudians to be treated as equals in their own country.
In closing, I would recommend that AJB obtain a copy of When Voices Rise, and encourage others who may not be as conversant with that momentous historical event to view it as well. I would also note that the Progressive Group were not driven by the need for praise and recognition. They were determined to do the right thing for Bermuda and future generations.
Notwithstanding that, I too agree — as I am sure many others would as well — that they collectively and rightly deserve to be chosen as ‘National Heroes’.