Acknowledge the influence of the Progressive Group
The Theatre Boycott began on June 15, 1959 as an adventure of civic engagement to fashion a better Bermuda. The island community entered uncharted waters, a historic journey that offers a treasure for present and future generations.
That bounty is found in the evolution of the various storylines of those involved. For instance, Gerald Harvey was in his early twenties when he joined E.F. Gordon’s “Petition Campaign” of the 1940s.
He is captured in a photograph in 1948 picketing outside of Parliament, standing next to Eustace Cann, who broke ranks with fellow black MPs on that complex issue to become a key champion in effecting women’s voting rights in April 1944.
Only weeks after that milestone, a group of workers in conflict at the US Naval Base approached Dr Cann for assistance and in June 1944, the doctor facilitated the birth of the Bermuda Workers Association, now known as the Bermuda Industrial Union.
Were those workers leveraging Cann’s independence? It was the BWA that waged the Petition Campaign, establishing a labour movement in Bermuda, with evident synergy with the women’s movement.
While the Petition Campaign successfully mobilised thousands, only marginal gains were made. However, the trajectory of Gerald’s life was indicative of the foundation that campaign provided for Bermuda’s social progress.
Thus, at 34 and as the “elder” in the Progressive Group, Gerald served as a link between his younger colleagues and the previous generation. When the group was stumped on secretly obtaining a copier, he and his wife, Izola, exercised their independence.
They collaborated with two Canadian house guests to purchase the essential machine to produce flyers for the boycott while still maintaining their cover.
As a taxi driver, Gerald used that access to innovate ways to distribute flyers among the crowds for the boycott while maintaining anonymity. When the cinema owners closed all theatres, the group first suggested a motorcade to St George’s and later one to Somerset on June 26.
That westward motorcade proved to be the closing act to two weeks of “peaceful people power” when on June 29, 1959, hotel owners, out of the blue, announced an end to discrimination in their dinning rooms and clubs.
The local restaurants followed suit the next day, leading to the surrender of the cinema owners. July 2, 1959 became the first day of a better Bermuda, with major racial barriers removed.
It is noteworthy that there was no victory motorcade or rally after that peaceful transformation, wrought by ordinary people.
Reflecting their qualities of character, Progressive Group members and other activists simply became involved in the community in a variety of other ways.
• Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda