Something happened, in Nassau, on the Monday evening of June 1, 1942 moving into the early morning of June 2, 1942. Something disturbing and deadly which has been quieted for decades. The event was quieted because it was very important to the Bahamas government, and British Colonial heads that the cause of the riot be solely attributed to a labour dispute.

This was only partly true. Labour disputes had much to do with it, but it was not the only reason.

Many things were in play on that Monday morning of June 1, 1942, but the principal actors (the workers from The Project) had no idea who was waiting backstage, waiting in the wings, for the chance to perform their role. Their role of rioter.

At some point, between the end of the first day of rioting and new light on Tuesday morning June 2, 1942, angry tensions of about 100 negroes, from Grant’s Town, turned the labour riot, into a race riot.

An estimated 80 to 100 men decided to arm themselves, and march from Grant’s Town, down the length of Shirley Street into an exclusive ‘whites only’ residential area called Sears Addition.

Why would they do this?

With British troops on the ground, deputised volunteers (some no doubt carrying their own weapons), and the local police ready for battle, these 100 or so men must have known that, every effort that could be called upon, would be marshalled, to stop the destruction, injury or loss of life in a white suburb like Sears Addition.


TOTAL NEWS CENSORSHIP

A strict news censorship was imposed by the Acting Governor W. L. Heape in the absence of the Duke of Windsor, who would return on Tuesday June 2, 1942 from America, stopped all stories from leaving the island. The narrative had to be controlled. Censorship, as the riot progressed, gagged all press journalists and press releases.

(The Philadelphia Inquirer Wednesday June 3, 1942)

Information released to the world wide media was heavily redacted. Scant details were given.

(The Times Wednesday June 3, 1942)


LABOUR OR RACIAL TENSIONS?

(The Daily Journal, Thursday 4 June 1942)

(The Philadelphia Inquirer, Wednesday June 3, 1942)

If truth be told, the riot came as a surprise because the Duke was in Washington meeting with President Roosevelt to discuss among other things, the ongoing airstrip project in Nassau and wage scales for Bahamians working for the Americans.

If the Bahamian labourers on The Project knew that wage negotiations were underway, why march at all? Why riot?

A labour dispute was more palatable, more saleable to the international media. Labour disputes can be systematically resolved, or at least reasonably negotiated. Racial tensions, on the other hand, were infinitely more complex. These were issues requiring efforts which could not be expended, especially while trying to fight a world war.

Truth was, racial tensions in the Bahamas, had been simmering like a warm cauldron for over one hundred and fifty years up to 1942. Every so often, it bubbled up, but never to boiling point. Never to the point of Burma Road.

On the evening of June 1, 1942, the cauldron boiled over. On that evening word had spread that negroes had been arrested, some shot at, and at least two were shot dead. One shot by British troops for breaking curfew and challenging arrest. Another was shot dead in the riot violence.

As word spread, tensions rose.

This may very well had been the impetus for the march to the whites only suburb of Sears Addition.


Whatever the Burma Road Riot began as, it certainly didn’t end that way. Whatever lofty ideals first drove workers on the American airstrip project to march for equal pay, was quickly lost in the mayhem that began on Bay Street.

Everything took a decidedly violent and deadly turn for which some paid for with their very lives, and others would spend long years in jail to reflect on their role in Bahamian history.

What was supposed to be a firm march by workers, on The Project, for equal pay above the 4 shillings or 81 cents a day that Bahamian labourers were paid, compared to the $1 a day the American labourers were paid, quickly turned into a cutlass versus police truncheon fight.

(The Daily Citizen, Wednesday 3rd. June 1942)


WHAT REALLY HAPPENED IN SEARS ADDITION?

What really happened that Monday night (June 1) going into early Tuesday morning (June 2), in 1942, in the whites only area of Sears Addition, when almost 100 men, armed with sticks and cutlasses, moved with menace intent into the neighbourhood that was off limits to negroes?

Sears Addition is on Shirley Street. In 1942, Bay Street shops were not extended that far moving into the eastern end of the island. This means that the 100 or so rioting negroes had to walk a fair way from Bay Street (the epicentre of the riots) and from Grant’s Town where many blacks lived to get to Sears Addition.

(The Philadelphia Inquirer Wednesday June 3, 1942)


It was Wednesday June 3, 1942, when the first official statements were released. By that time, things were largely under control.

With 4 negroes shot dead (but only 2 reported) in less than 48 hours. Others suffering gunshot wounds and injuries. And one we know of, died in July from being shot during the riots, the very real threat of further bloodshed put a stop to the rioting.

However, many questions abound about what happened when the rioters got to Sears Addition?

All we really know is that British troops were quickly dispatched to the area of off Shirley Street. Whatever action they took was firm and final.

In the aftermath, we are told 32 were wounded. Of this, 30 were white men, with one British soldier seriously wounded.

(The Philadelphia Inquirer, Wednesday June 3, 1942)

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