The Burma Road Riot carved out an indelible place in Bahamian history. The same way rushing water can carve a gigantic hole in the thickest of rocks, if given enough time, and enough force, so did the pent up frustrations of marginalised Bahamian labourers in 1942. Their bottled up frustrations perforated the smugness of the ruling elite of Nassau, who long felt that the docile Bahamian labourer could do nothing, but grumble, and accept his fate.
As time moved on from June 1, 1942, the historical markers, and the memories of the popular uprising that started in Oakes’ Field, in New Providence, began to fade.
History was replaced by folklore.
Folklore become music.
Music became a movement.
A movement changed the future.
At some point, the name of the roads in the areas where the men marched into history, were erased. They were either renamed or removed altogether when further development of the area took place.
Where the footsteps of men who cemented their efforts for change, into the minds of those living, and those yet to be born, once existed, have long ago been concreted over.
The riot began over pay for the Bahamian negro labourers at the “Project.” The Project was the military landing strip for British and American planes during World War 2. The Project was in the area called Oakes’ Field.
After the war, the landing strip became a regular airport. When the airport was moved, the area became zoned for residential and commercial purposes.
Oakes’ Field became Oakesfield, as it is known today. The area is home to government buildings, the University of the Bahamas, schools and several generations of native Bahamians.
Burma Road – The Road Where the March Started.
Oakesfield is named after the man who once owned the area. Sir Harry Oakes, the gold mining millionaire moved to the Bahamas on the behest of Bahamian H. G. Christie.
(Sir Harry Oakes)
H. G. Christie was a traveller. He travelled America and Canada pulling foreign investors to the Bahamas to do one thing. He pulled them in to buy land. If they bought land, then maybe they might invest. If they invested, a hotel might be constructed, a new subdivision might be carved out of the bushes or Bay Street could entertain some new businesses. For H. G. Christie, Harry Oakes was the biggest fish anyone could have caught in that era.
Harry Oakes has millions to spend and he spent a fortune all over the Bahamas. Oakes bought the bush land which sat off Nassau Street, about three miles or so from the city centre, Nassau. It came to be known as Oakes’ Field.
It was said that Sir Harry, was accustomed to getting his hands dirty from mining his own gold, in the harsh rocky land, in cold Canada. So when he had to ensure clearing the land was done properly, to make way for developing an airstrip, Sir Harry went into the bush himself, with cutlass in hand.
Oakes, was in front of a crew, followed by foremen, and a gang of negro labourers. Oakes chopped his way through the initial areas where the road, the Burma Road, would go.
As Oakes had owned the area, it was entirely possible that he, the big man himself, named the main road that would lead to the airstrip. He named it “Burma Road.”
Burma Road it appears was the main road leading to “The Project.” As the main road, with lots of people and equipment moving back and forth quickly, there were quite a few accidents there.
On July 15, 1942, another accident on the Burma Road claimed the life of a labourer on the Project.
William Brown was killed in a truck accident at 10:00 am on July 15, 1942. Brown’s head was crushed and he was pronounced dead five minutes after reaching the Bahamas General Hospital.
(The Nassau Daily Tribune, Wednesday July 15, 1942)
So, if anyone asks, why was the Burma Road Riot of June 1, 1942, named as such, first say it had absolutely nothing to do with some trading route between Burma and Southwest China…
The Burma Road Riot, was named the Burma Road Riot, because there was an actual road named Burma Road on New Providence in 1942.