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Freedom Square unveiled in honour of Progressive Group

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Surviving members of the Progrssive Group unveil the Freedom Square plaque at City Hall. Pictured from left are Florenz Maxwell, Gerald Harvey, Izola Harvey, Erskine Simmons, Eugene Woods and Edouard Williams (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

A “safe space” at the heart of Hamilton has been dedicated to commemorate the landmark Theatre Boycott of 1959.

The new Freedom Square was also unveiled yesterday in tribute to other key moments where Hamilton hosted the island’s push for social justice.

The square encompasses the block covering Hamilton City Hall and its grounds, as well as the adjacent car park.

It includes the space where crowds gathered 62 years ago to challenge Bermuda’s entrenched racial segregation, starting with cinemas, organised in secret by the Progressive Group of activists.

July 2 marked the successful conclusion of the peaceful protests.

Charles Gosling, the Mayor of Hamilton, said renaming the historic area made good on a request from a year ago during one of the Black Lives Matter marches.

In a ceremony on the steps of City Hall, Mr Gosling declared it “my absolute honour to be here today to formally announce the birth of Freedom Square”.

Many members of the Progressive Group attended – among them Reverend Erskine Simmons, who told the crowd: “Sixty-two years seems like a long time.

“I am here today to speak for a group of people who came together with the idea of changing life in Bermuda, changing life for the Black people who were denied privilege, denied mortgages, denied access to the hospital, and to the full and free system of living in Bermuda.”

Mr Simmons noted that desegregating Bermuda’s movie theatres in just two weeks forced hotels to admit Black guests, restaurants to withdraw segregation, the civil service to open to all and the Government to pass its first anti-discrimination laws.

Mr Gosling added that activist Glenn Fubler had led calls a year ago to rename the block in recognition of the Progressive Group and subsequent campaigns for change.

The Mayor cited other activists such as Bermuda’s suffragettes, Black Lives Matter, and the LGBTQ group OutBermuda.

He said Mr Fubler’s suggestion had been picked up by “an alliance of churches, unions and other socially aware organisations”.

He added: “Freedom Square, on which the City Hall building and grounds rest, will henceforth be recognised as a safe space for people to express themselves regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or national origin.”

As part of a move to make Hamilton a ‘learning city’, Freedom Square has been given codes placed at historic sites where visitors can access informative videos with the swipe of a phone.

Mr Gosling said others would be installed, and ultimately across Hamilton, allowing visitors to take self-guided tours through the city’s past.

“Our long-term wish is to erect a fountain or sculpture along the grassy semicircle area in front of City Hall which further represents the concept of freedom,” Mr Gosling said.

“This will be an outreach exercise that will have the input of the public and community groups to find the most appropriate symbol for this spot.”

Freedom Square plaque unveiled (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Charles Gosling (second right), Mayor of Hamilton, greets the surviving members of the Progrssive Group as the Freedom Square plaque is unveiled at the City Hall. Pictured from left are Edouard Williams, Florenz Maxwell, Gerald Harvey, Izola Harvey, Eugene Woods and Erskine Simmons (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Charles Gosling, Mayor of Hamilton, greets the surviving members of the Progressive Group as the Freedom Square plaque is unveiled at the City Hall. Pictured with the Mayor are Izola Harvey and Eugene Woods (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published July 03, 2021 at 11:10 am (Updated July 03, 2021 at 11:10 am)

Freedom Square unveiled in honour of Progressive Group

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