Africa Leaders Magazine

The Burma Road Riot -A Movement of Black Workers Against Wage Inequality

Burma Road Riot - African Leaders Magazine

On June 2, in the year 1942, the Burma Road Riot occurred as a frustrated black workforce took a stand against inequality. Nassau was in a state of emergency and the Riot Act was read.

Protests started when Bahamian workers became disgruntled because of the disparity in wages between themselves and American workers. They were building huge airfields for the US Army during World War II in Oakes and Windsor Fields. Bahamians were earning four shillings a day and Americans, eight. The local workers complained to their employer, Pleasantville Corp, and the company was willing to accede to their requests and pay them eight shillings, like their counterparts.

The problem was Bay Street Merchants and local contractors were upset at this decision. They felt it would “upset the economy” and “make niggers unmanageable”. The company was forced to renege on its agreement to increase wages, much to the pleasure of the white minority government. Attorney General Sir Eric Hallinan advised the black workers to “take it or leave it”. The reply was a resounding “leave it”, and he threatened to bring in foreign workers.

The Burma Road Riot -A Movement of Black Workers Against Wage Inequality- African Leaders Magazine

By Monday June 1, frustrations augmented to strike action. Several hundred workers armed with machetes and sticks marched to Bay Street from their Oakes Field base. Along the way, they passed through their Over-the-Hill neighborhoods to the government buildings at Public Square on Bay Street, and women and children joined them. Another group of demonstrators joined, marching down Bay Street from the west.

What was meant to be a peaceful but stern protest turned violent. In part, the police chief wielding his pistol frustrated some protestors. When one person crashed a Bay Street window, others followed suit. Even after disgruntled workers left, rioters and looters remained. From Bay Street to Grant’s Town, buildings were in shambles.

The Burma Road Riot -A Movement of Black Workers Against Wage Inequality- African Leaders Magazine

Four or five protesters died. Fire engines and ambulances were overturned and set aflame. The Grant’s Town Police Station was attacked.

 

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