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Sixty years later, architects of the Theatre Boycott finally meet

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United front: Izola Harvey, left, Kingsley Tweed and Ottiwell Simmons. Mrs Harvey was one of the anonymous organisers of the 1959 Theatre Boycott against segregation while Reverend Tweed spoke forcefully at the protests. Mr Simmons was the long-time president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, which benefited from the momentum which came out of the Boycott ((Photograph supplied)

The picture with this article includes Izola Harvey, Progressive Group member; Kingsley Tweed, honouree and Ottiwell Simmons, former president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, posing at the conclusion of the event organised by Dale Butler and Rotimi Martins in Reverend Dr Tweed’s honour, at St Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church’s Centennial Hall in Hamilton.

That December 10 gathering, – UN Human Rights Day – was in recognition of Kingsley’s key role in the 1959 Theatre Boycott, as well as his contribution to the labour movement.

The 97-year-old Izola Harvey, along with her husband – Gerald – were members of the Progressive Group which secretly planned and initiated the boycott.

Izola was a pregnant mother at the time, who was able to access a copier to produce needed flyers for the campaign incognito. This, with the help of two visiting Canadian teachers who had rented the Harveys’ vacation apartment - what would now be an Airbnb.

Grass roots response: Kingsley Tweed left Bermuda in the wake of his speech in support of 1959’s Theatre Boycott against segregation, becoming a minister within the Africa Methodist Episcopal Church (Photograph Supplied)

The photo is emblematic of the grass roots “relay” that took place during that transformative period, crucial in establishing the democratic and open Bermuda we currently enjoy. Izola and her fellow Progressive Group members thought up the idea of a boycott to transform a segregated Bermuda and took steps to launch that unprecedented campaign, against the odds.

Circumstances unfolded and small numbers of persons informally promoted boycott support, displaying makeshift signs, near Island Theatre. On the second night of the boycott, Richard “Comrade” Lynch spontaneously launched a speaker’s “soap box”, providing some context of events, for those gathered.

By the third night Kingsley Tweed brought his oratory skills to table and along with the electronic wizardry of Robert “Jungle-Bunny” Smith, supported by “Prez” Ebbin, a sustainable platform was temporarily established adjacent Church Street, for boycott supporters to rally around.

Over the subsequent several days, this focal point in “Town” was abuzz with impromptu speakers. Kingsley Tweed provided the “main course”.

Within two weeks of the successful boycott campaign, the hotel owners announced the opening of the ‘front of house’ of all hotel facilities and subsequently the movie operators announced the end of their policy of segregation in cinemas, reopening on July 2, 1959.

That “People’s Victory” energised the entire Island. The BIU was one of the institutions that benefited from that success, since ordinary folks had come to appreciate their power.

The 1955 death of firebrand Member of Parliament EF Gordon left a vacuum which weakened the labour movement, but the Boycott’s success led to a renewal. In fact, Kingsley Tweed along with two members of the Progressive Group – Eugene Woods and Erskine Simmons – became members of the BIU’s executive committee. (Of course, no one knew that these two were PG members).

Within a year or so Ottiwell Simmons became involved with the BIU and subsequently served as that union’s long-time president. The rest is history!

It’s worth noting that Izola Harvey, who was seated on the front row of auditorium, immediately at the conclusion of the entertaining event walked up and embraced Kingsley - meeting him for the first time!

The two “strangers” quickly “discovered their backgrounds”, closing a circle that had begun more than 60 years ago.

What Izola and Kingsley were unaware of, even after that initial encounter, is that they share the same birthday; December 14. Izola turned 97 and Kingsley turned 90 on that date.

As these three trailblazers appear in this photo, we are reminded of the importance of social cohesion – working together for the good of the whole.

Even though Kingsley Tweed and those others who helped sustain the spontaneous rally of Boycott support, did not know Izola Harvey or any of the other Progressive Group members who remained behind the scenes, their “blind” collaboration was vital for that transformative success.

As current generations share our appreciation for the contributions of these “pioneers”, we foster momentum for moving forward for today’s challenges.

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Published December 22, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated December 21, 2022 at 7:10 pm)

Sixty years later, architects of the Theatre Boycott finally meet

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