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Drivers to light up to mark Theatre Boycott

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Uncharted waters: Michelle Simmons, an independent senator (File photograph)

Drivers were asked yesterday to mark the achievements of the Theatre Boycott organisers in an island-wide show of support next week.

Michelle Simmons, an independent senator, said that the plea was made by campaign group Imagine Bermuda, which also hoped families would take time this weekend to carry out an online “roll call” of Progressive Group members and activists.

She explained that the theatre boycott started on June 15, 1959 as an “adventure of civic engagement to fashion a better Bermuda”.

Ms Simmons told the Senate: “The island community entered uncharted waters at that point.

“This was an historic journey that offered treasure for current and future generations.”

She added: “It’s noteworthy that once the victory had been gained — that is the end to formal and legalised segregation in Bermuda — there was no call for a motorcade or rally or celebration of any sort.

“The Progressive Group was a group of ordinary people and once the victory had been gained they just got on with their everyday lives.

“The Theatre Boycott as a gateway to understanding modern Bermuda is very, very important.

“And we know we still have a path to tread here, because Bermuda still has some degree of segregation in various aspects of our community.”

Ms Simmons explained that Imagine Bermuda would like everyone on the island to be involved in two activities.

She said the Roll Call Weekend will run from Friday until Sunday and was described by the campaigners as a “family friendly exercise in appreciation”.

A list of Progressive Group members and some activists can be found on the Facebook page of the Human Rights Commission and Ms Simmons said she hoped families would take the time to learn or remind themselves of those involved, as well as people who made a difference in their lives.

Ms Simmons said: “The second suggestion coming from Imagine Bermuda is ‘turn on Tuesday’ on July 2. They say ‘let your light shine’.”

She added that the group would like motorists to drive or ride that morning with their vehicle lights on, “affirming the enlightenment which was achieved in 1959”.

The Theatre Boycott began when the Progressive Group organised a protest against the island’s six segregated movie theatres.

The protest, which ran from June 15, forced the theatres to shut their doors because a massive fall in takings.

They did not reopen until July 2 when they integrated their seats.

Other segregated places soon followed because of fear of closure and the island was effectively desegregated by the end of the year.

Joan Dillas-Wright, the Senate president, read out the names of those involved in the boycott.

The surviving Progressive Group members are Rudy and Vera Commissiong, William Francis, Izola and Gerald Harvey, Florenz Maxwell, Marva Stovell Phillips, Erskine Simmons, Edouard Williams and Eugene Woods.

Clifford Maxwell, Stanley Ratteray, Esme and Lancelot Swan, Clifford Wade, Coleridge Williams, Rosalind Williams and William Walwyn have all since died.

Senators heard that the “key” activists on site included Kingsley Tweed, Earlston Lawrence, Leroy Looby, William Burrows, Kenneth Ebbin, Richard Lynch and Robert Smith.

Ms Dillas-Wright added: “I think it’s important that we took time out ... because we cannot forget, certainly, these individuals who did so much for this country in the past.”

Glenn Fubler, an Imagine Bermuda co-ordinator, added later that faith community leaders were encouraged to include the roll call in this weekend’s services.

Newspaper article about the 1959 Theatre Boycott (File image)