Barbados Aquatic Club in the old days: A good place for some…

An old friend sent us this photo of the Barbados Aquatic Club. We have no idea who took the photo or owns it, so if it’s your photo and there’s a problem please let us know.

There was a time when the Aquatic Club was one of those places like the Yacht Club where our own Auntie Moses was welcome to clean the toilets or work in the kitchen – but when it came to swimming, sailing or having a rum punch on the outlook, well that was something else. “Europeans Only” thank you, was the reality for far longer than many on this island care to admit. Even after independence it took a while to change the political and economic reality. In the 1970s worthwhile employment opportunities at the banks still listed “European Experience preferred” as a code phrase.

In truth fear was a catalyst during the 1960’s too. It wasn’t like everyone just decided to get together and sing “Kumbaya” one evening after independence. The white plantation class were more than a little worried about “things getting out of hand.” Some very prominent white folks moved to Australia at the time, and I truly hope they and their descendants are doing well.

But… after so many years of mixing who was or is “white” on this rock?

Now it is class division, not race…

…that maintains the curtain that kept Auntie Moses in the kitchen back when Frankie Sinatra hid in the walk-in cooler.

Oh, there are those who love to keep the racial divisions alive on this island of mixed breed mongrels. Owen Arthur is one. Liz Thompson is another, but there are many more prominent Bajans who have profited from race-baiting. Mostly BLP I think, but there are enough examples elsewhere and that’s true too.

So we bring you the photo of the Aquatic Club, and a few lines from another old friend at Oxford, who recounts how Grantley Adams could only drop off his white wife at the Aquatic Club – but was unwelcome to enter himself. Times must have been different for Mrs. Adams to attend when her husband was unwelcome. Very different times fuh sure!

Leisure spaces – including churches – were segregated. The large hotels, the haunts of white society, excluded black people (except as workers), and clubs such as the Yacht Club or the Aquatic Club, and certain cricket clubs, were exclusively for a white membership. Grantley Adams, a coloured, English educated lawyer – who later rose to prominence as the first black Prime Minister* of Barbados – had an English wife. 18 ‘At that time’ Neville recalled,

“She was a member of the Aquatic Club in Bay Street and Grantley was not a member, he was a black man, he wasn’t a member, but she had that privilege as a white woman to be a member of the Aquatic. And Grantley would carry her to the Aquatic Club, drop her there and turnaround and come back down the road [laughs]. Tell me when you’re ready and I’ll come back and pick you up when you go…He drop her there. That is your thing. You belong to that club. I’ll put you there, you come back when you’re ready to come, call me and I’ll come back and pick you up.”

PDF download: Memories of Race and the Formation of Nation: Barbados 1937-1967
Mary Chamberlain Oxford Brookes University


Filed under Barbados, Culture & Race Issues, Human Rights, Race

15 responses to “Barbados Aquatic Club in the old days: A good place for some…

  1. Could I please have the mailing address for Mary Chamberlain . I wish to refer her to a book I wrote, “ dealing with the same subject.

  2. just want to know

    You know some one need to speak to my husband about the Aquatic Club when he was a young lad in Barbados. Two children same family, sister fairer than him, sister allowed in the club because she looked white, he was not, too dark skinned. Barbados always had racism ingrained into their psychy . Go to the other islands don’t see any thing in relation to racism.

  3. killbeast

    “She was a member of the Aquatic Club in Bay Street and Grantley was not a member, he was a black man, he wasn’t a member, but she had that privilege as a white woman to be a member of the Aquatic. And Grantley would carry her to the Aquatic Club, drop her there and turnaround and come back down the road.”

    This is a clear example of white supremacy /racism.
    Grantley Adams was confronted with blantant racism from the members of the Yacht Club, but instead of holding his ground he retreated like a coward. Even though he was a lawyer, he didn’t challange the policies of this racist institution, because he was afraid of the whites ruling class in Barbados.
    Miss Adams was a member of the Yacht Club, and was well aware that the club denied entry to black people , including her husband , but she didn’t stand up for her husbands rights.
    Miss Adams actions demonstrated that she was not interested in breaking down the system of white supremacy racism that existed in Barbados at that time, instead she was happy with this system that keep whites at the top and blacks at the bottom.
    In 1937, Clement Payne fought the racist , oppresive policies of the white ruling class in Barbados head on , he didn’t run away like Mr Grantley Adams.
    Clement Payne held several public meeting in Barbados ,where he encouraged the poor to stand up and break free from the oppression of the white plantocracy. Clement Payne was viewed as a dangerous revolutionary by the white ruling class in Barbados ,his deportation from the island triggered the 1937 riots in Barbados.

  4. iWatchya

    Please note that poor whites where not allowed to join these clubs as well.

  5. This is a lovely photo, another thing I’ve always wanted to see in it’s glory days is the Farley Hill house. I used to wander around the ruins as a child imagining what kind of beautiful furnishings decorated it long before I was born.

  6. JforJerome

    For the sake of accuracy. Grace Adams was not English. She was a Bajan of mixed race. The italicized passage appears to be anecdotal and for this reason I would question its accuracy and veracity.
    All the same there is no doubt that there were plenty of whites-only clubs right up to and after Independence. This gradually changed in the 70’s and by the 80’s the elitist bastion that was the Royal Barbados Yacht Club threw open its doors to black professionals of high net worth and social standing.

  7. J. Payne

    @iWatchya. That’s an important fact too. Don’t forget the “Backra Johnny”, a term some say meant “Back-row Johnnys”. The poorer class of whites were not allowed to sit amongst their more affluent white counterparts within the front rows of the churches.

  8. Joy Davilar

    @killbeast, I thought the same thing, if the Adams’ just fell back and supported these places without extracting themselves or questioning their behaviour then what a set of louts and losers these 2 were. Just happy to prance around with the “club” types and didn’t give a rats a** about anyone, shameful!

  9. Karl Watson

    As in everything, the situation was more complex than it seems on the surface of a compartmentalized black and white scenario. In the early 1950’s and 60’s, the Yacht Club was definitely white with an emphasis on expatriates and upper and upper middle class Barbadian whites. Those with the wrong pedigree or background were blackballed. The Aquatic Club was mostly white or whitish (i.e. individuals with about a ten to twenty percent Afro admixture that everybody knew about, as genealogies are/were pretty well know for that class) middle class Barbadian with a sprinkling of more obvious i.e.darker mixed race individuals, but also of a middle class back ground. Working class whites were simply too poor to be admitted…it probably never occurred to them to think of applying for membership.
    From my personal experience and though we were Bayland poor, my family was not of the poorest, being blond and blue eyed did not save us from being run off the Yacht Club beach in those days. Yes, we “white” children were forbidden to walk on the Yacht Club beach. We would swim to the Aquatic Club with other friends and hold on to the steps like every one else. I almost lost an ear when one day, I made the mistake of stepping on the bridge and was unceremoniously “jacked up” and marched to the entrance to the club and thrown out. You shouldn’t do something like that to a child, but it was done to me. Memories of childhood. Yet I look back on my youth with a degree of fond nostalgia and not bitterness. Maybe since discrimination was such a part of life, I did not consciously question it. I remember the nights of waterpolo, when I played for Harrison College and the changing rooms were accessible to everyone..the Harbour Police, Seafarers as well as Tarpons or Snappers. In the game, black, white and brown mixed together and there was equality in who swam fastest or threw the ball with greatest accuracy. I remember the dances and the excitement of rock and roll and the twist and then the invasion of Jamaican ska and rock steady. Heady times.
    So as others have pointed out, in the simplistic equation of poor black and rich white…the fate of the poor whites is often omitted. Just because they do not fit into the standard/generalized schema of society, does not mean that we should ignore their trials and travails, and centuries of abuse, neglect and discrimination. I often wonder whether Rhianna, product of a black Guyanese mother and a poor white Barbadian father ever thinks of or knows anything of her poor white ancestry, their specific role in Barbadian history, their heritage…and if it has any meaning at all for her.

  10. Gilly

    Dr. Watson,
    Re.: Rihanna’s father. He is Black (light skinned Black).

    Another note: Is it possible to purchase 2 copies of your book, Barbados First? If yes, please let me know how I can.



  11. Pingback: Karl Watson: Does Rihanna’s poor white ancestry have any meaning for her? | Barbados Free Press

  12. WTF!

    Gilly, I think Dr.Watson is referring to Rihanna’s grandfather or greatgrandfather.

  13. Gilly

    WTF, You may be right; certainly not her father.

  14. yatinkiteasy

    I see the Trini owned Hotel that was the Aquatic Club, is now “closed for renovations”. I dont see any workers there, however. Shame if it suffers the same fate as some other hotels, such as Silver Sands, Sandy Bay, and many others.

  15. Mike

    As a black bajan who attended Harrison College in the 50’s and early 60’s, l must agree that the social structure is probably as complexed as any place on earth, Boundaries were always very clear and have now shifted from primarily colour to class. Needless to say, there still is an obvious colour and unfortunately cast segregation prevalent to this day. I challenge any Bajan to refute this, I speak with authority as my grandfather played an active role in the Clement Payne movement,