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Hospitality heroes’ key civil rights role

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One family's foray into hospitality proved fortuitous during a key phase of the grass-roots civil rights movement in Bermuda when anti-segregation campaigners found themselves turning to tourists for help.

As the Island marks Hospitality Month throughout April, the community group Imagine Bermuda highlighted the surprise role played by two Canadian visitors.

It came about in 1959, a time when Gerald and Izola Harvey (right) — two members of the Progressive Group, which had to operate under secrecy — needed to rally support for the cause.

The peaceful demonstrations known as the Theatre Boycotts eventually forced Bermuda's segregated cinemas to change their ways, and other establishments found themselves pressed into following suit.

“Bermuda was a very prejudiced place at that time — there were certain things we could not do, that we dared not do,” said Mr Harvey, who is now 91.

The Harveys, then a young couple expecting their second child, had every reason to fear being discovered as members of the Progressive Group — for starters, their mortgage could easily have been recalled as a reprisal.

So great was the atmosphere of intimidation that Mr Harvey remembered one would-be member of the group bowed out, leaving them with “his hands shaking with fear”.

The 19-strong Progressive Group met and planned their demonstrations under strict confidence. Members were helped in that, like the Harveys, they did not fit the profile of black Bermudians who would be viewed as militant.

As for the state of hospitality in Bermuda, Mr Harvey came with abundant experience of the racial code obtained in local hotels as well as other establishments.

Visiting a friend staying at the old Eagle's Nest Hotel, he was unceremoniously told he that he “couldn't be there”, Mr Hayward said — remembering that his host, like many visitors, was appalled by Bermuda's segregation.

However, when the time came to organise protests, the Progressive Group faced a problem: getting the word out without getting caught.

“We were badly in need of a machine for our group to make posters,” Mrs Harvey, 89, told The Royal Gazette.

“We knew it would take more than we could make by hand.”

The Harveys lived in the same Somerset home then as they do now, overlooking the Scaur — adjoined nowadays by two apartments that they rent out to visitors.

It turned out that their nearby friends, the Kawaleys, had some guests to host but nowhere to lodge them.

The Harveys got their start by putting up the two friendly Canadian women in their home — and it was clear that neither of the visitors approved of segregation. The two readily agreed to take a trip into Hamilton, specifically to Riihiluoma's, to purchase a simple hand-run rolling press for the cause, which Mr Harvey smuggled back to the house in his taxi.

It was all achieved with such secrecy that even the Kawaleys never learnt of the role that their guests had played.

The flyers for the Theatre Boycotts were duly printed in the Harvey family kitchen.

Mr Harvey later secreted them in his overcoat, strolled into a gathering at City Hall car park and surreptitiously dropped them on the ground — where they were swiftly picked up and distributed.

The non-violent protests gathered momentum and segregation ultimately collapsed as a result — while the printing machine earned its place in history as an exhibit in the Bermuda National Library.

Meanwhile, the Harveys, whom Imagine Bermuda has dubbed “heroes of hospitality” for this month's series, continued taking tourists in at their home, as they still do today.

“We have met a lot of nice people, and people who express an interest in coming back,” Mrs Harvey said. Through an overseas booking agent, they enjoy hosting guests from Canada, the United States, Britain and elsewhere.

Often visitors will drop in to enjoy the view from their porch, or Mr Harvey will take tourists to the shops to buy their groceries.

The tale of the secret printing press purchase has intrigued many a guest over the years.

“I had one schoolteacher who wanted me to come to New York and tell the story there,” Mrs Harvey said.

“Many people have been very interested in the stories we have told.”

Gerald and Izola Harvey were active members of the movement to end segregation in Bermuda. They opened their home in Somerset to tourists many years ago, and some early guests supported the cause, helping them to buy a printing press to distribute information (Photo by Nicola Muirhead)
Geralnd and Izola Harvey look at old photographs of those who helped them in the bid to end segregation (Photo by Nicola Muirhead)
One of Gerald and Izola Harvey's photographs of those they worked with to help to end segregation in Bermuda (Photo by Nicola Muirhead)
Gerland and Izola Harvey in one of the bedrooms they rent out to tourists. The couple has been offering visitors a warm welcome for decades (Photo by Nicola Muirhead)
<p>Champions of hospitality to be recognised</p>

With Hospitality Month now in full swing, Imagine Bermuda member Glenn Fubler sees an opportunity to explore “our sense of self, our relations with each other and our relations with visitors to these shores”.

The heyday of Bermudian tourism, which Mr Fubler described as the “first Renaissance of Bermudian hospitality”, took off at the end of the Second World War into the early 1960s.

It coincided with the activism of Dr EF Gordon, the Theatre Boycotts and the Committee for Universal Adult Suffrage that “removed formal barriers, opening up the Island, empowering people to release their potential”, he said.

“Of course, the ability to offer a culture of hospitality was directly dependent on the sense of self of those who provided the service and the culture of social relations,” he added. “While it is evident that there were reasonable levels of service provided by people of colour under a system of segregation, this may speak to a sense of independence that transcended social norms,” Mr Fubler said, evoking the phrase used by historian and activist Eva Hodgson of “second-class citizens, first-class men”.

Bermuda’s development as a holiday destination followed its social and economic development, into the heyday of tourism from the 1950s to the mid-1980s, and the eventual eclipsing of this industry by international business, which called upon “hospitality of another kind”.

For this month, in tandem with Imagine Bermuda, The Royal Gazette will explore some of the champions of the industry, whom Mr Fubler has described as the “heroes of hospitality”.

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Published April 08, 2015 at 9:00 am (Updated April 08, 2015 at 9:14 am)

Hospitality heroes’ key civil rights role

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