Of all the factors to become an impediment to the US acquisition of some, if not all, of the British West Indies, including the Bahamas, in 1922, the very last one anyone considered was the southern American penchant for lynching negroes.

No one really knows, except for top British and American officials, how close Britain came to bartering off its far flung island colonies to pay off its war debt to America.

It was not long after World War I ended, that American senators and congressmen began dropping not so subtle hints that they needed Britain to cough up what they had borrowed to defeat Germany. No one then, in 1922, could have foreseen the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the rise of Hitler and another World War in 1939, all of which would deepen Britain’s war debt and bolster American obligation to world peace.

Trading its West Indies islands would have extinguished England’s war debt overnight, but it would have also left Great Britain that much less great, while the now heroic republic of America that much more expanded.

Nevertheless, many in the British colonies, especially in the Bahamas wanted an alliance with the United States. Americans wanted an expanded union as well. It was all supposedly a win-win alliance.

An unexpected impediment to it all, came as an ominous reminder of the way things were in America for negroes, especially in the Southern States.

American Jim Crow laws, mob mentality and the ever present threat of being lynched by the KKK or random group of good ole boys, made standard, garden variety Caribbean racism and discrimination seem like a walk in the park.

With more than three quarters of the West Indies being black or coloured in 1922 and already relegated to second class citizen status, a union with America for the negro didn’t seem to offer any benefits, only very real threats. Voting for a union with the US meant, in all likelihood, its norms and practices and brutal racism, would surely also follow.

Economically speaking, by the 1920s, the West Indies were already dependent upon American interests.

Uncle Sam, the great symbol of America, was willing to pay a fair price for West Indian lands under European flags.

America realised that they could not just take the islands, treating the colonies like cattle. The governed (the people) had to consent to administrative change. With three quarters of the West Indies being black or coloured, and with the vicious racism of America in the 1920s, consent seemed doubtful.

America would congratulate itself on its self-constraint when only fifty or sixty black men were murdered by mobs in a single year.

Would the West Indian Negroes vote themselves into a country which virtually denies the right of trial by jury to men of their race?

“But, if all these difficulties could be avoided, the lynching barrier would remain.”

“The mob that hangs a Negro in Georgia, or burns one in Texas, or beats one to death on the edge of Chicago’s black belt, is standing in the way of natural expansion of the republic and hindering world peace.”

(The Buffalo American, Thursday, 12 January 1922)

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