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Dr Fraser’s riot

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When the colonial legislative council in Kingstown sparked off a riot in St Vincent in October 1935, Adrian Fraser didn’t smell born yet; he had 10 more years to go before he breathed Barrouallie fresh air.

But that ‘RIOT’ has been on his mind for years now. He has researched it, interviewed it, entered into it, lifted up George ‘Daddy Mac’ McIntosh out of it, and on Thursday this week, he will show off what he has caught in his history net.{{more}}

He will present his book, entitled “The 1935 Riots in St Vincent: From Riots to Adult Suffrage.” His seven chapters fill 240 pages, with 50 of them being notes, bibliography and index. It is a book about how much a downtrodden people will stand for before they say “That ‘nough”. It is written for the moral and political education of the Vincentian citizen: worker, student, professional and scholar, and as a student of modern struggles myself, I am taking time to learn from our Professor Fraser’s pages.

As I thumb through the chapters of RIOT, it strikes me that the period 1935 to 1951 saw two significant eruptions, and Dr Fraser chronicles them well. There was the “street” riot of 1935 and then the “booth riot of 1951. One was a direct face-off between those who represented the oppressive colonial order and those standing for the colonized poor. That was the street riot. The booth riot took place in the polling booths in 1951, an indirect contention again between socio-economic forces that placed working people in a position of legitimate dignity.

THE STREET RIOT

Dr Fraser documents in chapter 2 the state of war in the central battleground: Parliament, prison and the commercial core of Kingstown. The two-day exchange of cuff, kick, lick, gunshot, insult and hardware were the outward signs of a deeper, longer injustice simmering for a century since colonial emancipation. Further cameos tell us what took place in Cane Garden, in Georgetown and Byera, in Campden Park-Chauncey. Lives were lost. Fraser reports as follows. “Six persons were killed during the riots, three of them being Adolphus Lovelace and Cornelius John of Kingstown and James Burnett of Camden Park.”(With 38 injured). “The other three, consisting of two women, Nesta Grant and Marie Ollivierre, and Conrade Clarke, died from wounds inflicted during the riots”.

The thing that sent sparks to blaze the people into riot was as old as government itself: raising taxes to run the country during difficult times. Fraser quotes Governor Grier as saying that St Vincent needed “to be able to budget for necessary developments and to build up rapidly reserves sinking Reserve funds for the colony.” It seemed that matches would sell at one cent a pack, instead of one cent for three packs. That was ‘fireworks’. But, of course, the matches were only the spark. Fraser shows us what was there before the matches struck and the street exploded.

THE BOOTH RIOT

Four chapters tell the story of the transition, managed somewhat by colonials at home and abroad, between street riot and booth riot. The 1951 general elections, the first one in which all adults had the right to vote, routed the old crown colony politicians and brought a new brand of anticolonial voices into the marketplace. Dr Fraser gives his summary of the situation in these words:

“Adult suffrage brought a broader constituency of voters onto the political scene, and this demanded a new style and approach. The union speakers appealed to the voters’ religious orientation with hymns and biblical references and, as in the case of Joshua, references to classical literature and ancient history. Adult suffrage had been achieved, so that when the Labour Party talked about reaffirming its policies, it seemed out of touch with the challenges that the new political climate presented”. RIOT, p184. The new political party, led by George Charles, named ‘The Eighth Army of Liberation’, though launched shortly before the elections, swept the polls, winning all eight seats. It led a polling booth riot. Fraser’s RIOT is a book to cherish and reread.

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