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Premier welcomes pardon for Monk

One hundred years of waiting: David Burt, the Premier, met with a delegation of AME Church ministers, including the Reverend Larry Dixon, the presiding elder of the church, after the Governor signed a pardon for crusading civil rights AME minister the Reverend Charles Vinton Monk. Shown from left are the Reverend Howard Dill, presiding elder East District; the Reverend Terry Hassell, pastor of Heard Chapel AME Church; the Premier; Mr Dixon, the Reverend Nicholas Tweed, pastor St Paul AME Church, and Walter Roban, the Deputy Premier (Photograph supplied)

The Premier tabled a posthumous pardon for a pastor jailed after he exposed horrific work conditions for West Indian workers at the former Royal Naval Dockyard more than 100 years ago.

David Burt said John Rankin, the Governor, had granted the “full and free” pardon to African Methodist Episcopalian Church minister the Reverend Charles Vinton Monk after he had asked him to consider the case more than a year ago.

Mr Burt added: “I wish to thank the Governor for thoughtful and thoroughly researched consideration of this government’s request.

“I saw the working file on this case and it was considerable,” Mr Burt said. “This is no flight of fancy, but a decision made on the strength of the facts presented and one that finally does justice after 116 years.”

The US-born pastor was in charge at the Allen Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church in Somerset near the end of the 19th century.

Work crews were brought to Bermuda from the West Indies, particularly Jamaica, in 1902 to complete work on the Dockyard extension.

A report in the National Museum of Bermuda’s MariTimes magazine said that riots against working and living conditions broke out on Ireland Island in June that year.

Several Jamaican people were arrested and eight, claimed to be the ringleaders, were jailed for up to six months.

An editorial by Mr Monk in The New Era newspaper demanded better working conditions and the pastor blamed the deaths of two workers on the building contractor, which filed a charge of false and defamatory libel against him.

A second piece on the subject led to a criminal libel charge brought by Reginald Gray, then the Attorney-General.

The pastor was unrepresented in court after his counsel died the day before the trial date — amid speculation he was poisoned.

Sir Brownlow Gray, the trial judge, was the father of the Attorney-General who prosecuted the case, and the pair were also related to the assistant justice.

The Crown called just two witnesses compared with more than 100 called to defend Mr Monk’s reports.

Mr Burt said there was “an inextricable link” between the AME Church and the pursuit of social justice.

Members of the AME Church, including the Reverend Nicholas Tweed of St Paul AME, attended a presentation ceremony of the framed writ on Friday.

Mr Burt commended Mr Tweed for his leadership on the issue. Mr Tweed said it marked “a tremendous and historic moment in the life of Bermuda”.

He added: “It is ironic that the same chamber where Monk was described as a dog and dehumanised, now provides a platform that vindicates him and acknowledges the justness of his cause.

“Reverend Monk’s posthumous pardon is a victory not only for his defence of exploited workers, but also for his courageous rejection of racism and injustice, and a defence of the freedom of the press.”

The Right Reverend Gregory Ingram, the Presiding Prelate of the First Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, said he was “elated and immeasurably pleased” about Mr Monk’s pardon. He said that Mr Monk “fulfilled his calling by championing the cause of a people who had no voice, and suffered dehumanising discrimination”.

Bishop Ingram added: “This pardon, albeit over a after his trial and conviction, represents a victory for truth and justice.”

To view the Premier’s ministerial statement in full, click on the PDF link under “Related Media”