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