Bermuda Day Grand Marshal 2019 – Bermudian Excellence
Visiting the theatre today typically involves ordering popcorn or snacks, picking your favourite seat and then relaxing as you enjoy a film on the big screen. In the mid to late 1950s, however, everything from what kind of job you could have to where you could sit while watching a movie was dictated to you based on the colour of your skin.
The Progressive Group, made up of 19 young social activists, put into motion a plan to end segregation in Bermuda, starting with local theatres. Meeting for months in secret, the young men and women involved courageously worked to address the sad state of racial relations on the Island. Some of the group’s members had been educated abroad and got a taste of new freedoms, which were still being denied to them back home in Bermuda. They organised a theatre boycott, which started in mid June 1959 and gradually gathered steam.
By June 23rd, six theatres operated by Bermuda General Theatres were forced to close their doors due to lack of business and just a week later [on July 2] theatre owners announced an end to segregated seating. Restaurants, hotels, schools and churches in Bermuda followed soon after.
This year marks the 60th Anniversary of that monumental event. Today many of the members of the Progressive Group are hailed as national heroes, yet for decades they had to keep their identities anonymous for fear of undue social and financial repercussions.
Their commitment to improving racial relations and to achieving universal suffrage in Bermuda has left a positive, lasting imprint in our community. Even more notably, they did it by emphasising no violence and without the shedding of even a drop of blood.
The members were as follows: Dr Stanley Ratteray, Edouard and Rosalind Williams, Clifford Wade, Marva Phillips, Coleridge Williams, Rudy and Vera Commissiong, Clifford and Florenz Maxwell, Eugene Woods, Lancelot and Esme Swan, Dr Erskine Simmons, William Francis, William Walwyn and Gerald and Izola Harvey.
Note: The Progressive Group led the Seniors Train in the Bermuda Day Parade, represented by Vera Commissiong, Gerald & Izola Harvey, Florenz Maxwell, Dr. Erskine Simmons, and William Francis.