By the 1930s, Barbados had been under British colonial rule for over three hundred years. Always a poor country ruled by a white, propertied minority, Barbados suffered throughout the 1930s. The rapidly growing population, rising cost of living, and fixed wage scale was exacerbated by the worldwide Great Depression. Riots broke out throughout British holdings in the Caribbean in the late 1930s. Protests in Barbados in 1937 resulted in the deaths of fourteen people.
The British rulers created a commission to look into the cause of these riots, and Grantley Adams, a Barbadian educated in England, rose to prominence after testifying that they resulted from economic distress. He formed the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) in 1938. In 1940, he was elected to the House of Assembly. Over the next few years, he led a reform movement that protected union leaders, increased direct taxation, and created a worker’s compensation program. Adams’s also led the fight to broaden voting rights and, as a result, women were allowed to vote—and the cost of qualifying to vote was reduced, allowing more people to vote. Eventually, Adams became the leader of the government.
Striving toward Independence
British officials had been devising a plan for a federation of the Caribbean islands since 1953. Adams’s became prime minister of the short-lived West Indies Federation, while a political rival, Errol Barrow, founder of the Democratic Labour Party, became Premier in 1961 and led the government for the next ten years. Barrow’s party increased worker’s benefits, supported higher wages for sugar cane workers, instituted a program of industrialization, and expanded free education. The government also pushed for completed independence from Britain, and on November 30, 1966, Barbados became an independent country within the British Commonwealth of Nations; Barrow became Barbados’s first prime minister.
Sugar Cane Economy
In the 1930s, as it had done for the past three hundred years, Barbados’s sugar cane industry continued to be the dominant economic force. The vast majority of the land was given over to the production of sugar cane. The few crops that were grown locally were too expensive for the average worker, and most Barbadians relied on the purchase of imported food. Not until the 1970s did the sugar cane industry relinquish its dominance over the Barbadian economy.
From the mid-1940s through the late 1960s, unemployed Barbadians left the country to find work elsewhere. In the 1950s, Britain was the primary destination of most Barbadian emigrants, but in the 1960s, as Britain placed restrictions on West Indian immigration, more Barbadians moved to the United States. Such emigration led to a substantial diminishment in population growth.
Carol Ullmann (Editor) Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 15, Paule Marshall, Published by Gale, 2002.