As we marked the centenary of the birth of The Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow, our Father of Independence, we register our disappointment that the celebrations were nowhere near as grand as they should have been for the man who shaped the destiny of a sovereign nation.
Indeed, we can apply this disappointment to all ten of the people whom, after a couple of years’ debate, we labelled National Heroes in 1998.
During the official launch of National Heroes Day and the presentation of insignia to the two living heroes, and in the case of those who had passed on, their relatives or representatives of the organisations or places they were associated with, the then government embarked on a public relations campaign to educate Barbadians.
This campaign included a jingle and an album featuring John King (the current Minister of the Creative Economy, Culture and Sports), Edwin Yearwood, the Mighty Gabby (now the Most Honourable Dr Anthony Carter) and Emile Straker (now Sir Emile) and others who composed songs about some of the individual heroes. The Government Information Service published a booklet featuring the biographies of the honourees. A series of television and radio spots, which were updated several years later following the passing of one of the narrators, Alfred Pragnell, in 2004, was also done. In 1999, the former Trafalgar Square was renamed Heroes Square.
Yet, apart from displaying the artistic renditions of the National Heroes on the face of the Treasury Building every year, nothing else has been done, not even a plaque making reference to the Heroes. The statue of Admiral Horatio Nelson, long a subject of controversy, has stoically remained to this day.
Ultimately, the Ministry of Education distributed packages giving brief biographies and drawings of the National Heroes to the island’s primary schools, information was placed on a website, and the Government of the day said that each year for National Heroes Day it would seek to highlight an individual hero. This went on for a while, but ultimately faded into oblivion and to the best of our knowledge, never did cover each of them.
The celebrations began with the unveiling of a statue of The Right Excellent Sir Grantley Adams at Government Headquarters, which replaced a bust that was almost invisible at the same compound, followed as the years went on with statues of Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Frank Walcott and Errol Barrow. Karl Broodhagen’s Emancipation Statue at St. Barnabas was also officially renamed Bussa. The West Wing of Parliament was converted to a museum and a section of that facility included a gallery with information on the National Heroes.
Very little has been done to update some of this information that is now over two decades old. How much can younger Barbadians claim to really know about the National Heroes except what they learn in school? There is no textbook on them and their contributions as builders of Barbados.
Beyond that, the information on the museum on Parliament’s website is in definite need of an update since the newest visitor comments on it date back to 2014. Even if social media is more prevalent today, one cannot forget the original site since there are some parties who might still want to access information via that platform.
Now, realistically we cannot set up museums honouring each and every National Hero, but some of the younger ones (Barrow, Adams, Sir Hugh Springer and Sir Frank Walcott, and naturally, Sir Garfield Sobers, who is still among us) have relatives who ideally should be willing to share some further information about these people. The institutions which they either started or made significant contributions to are also still around and hopefully kept records dating back to their earliest days which would emphasise the true role these heroes played in their establishment.
In seeking further information on them, however, we must seek what is accurate instead of views clouded by emotional sentiments; for example, the true roles of Clement Payne and Bussa.
In all the furore lately about the pending Golden Square Freedom Park, does Probyn Street really resonate with Barbadians born well after 1937 as the place where Clement Payne held his meetings, which galvanised the working classes to fight for better living and working conditions, or just the location of the Central Fire Station and the place where the Silver Hill minibuses parked? Will the presence of the park change that? And will the area opposite the Parliament Buildings still be called Heroes Square if and when the Treasury Building is modified for commercial or residential use?
We are glad to see that work has finally started on rebuilding the house in which Errol Barrow was born in St. Lucy, but what has been the fate of his private residence, “Kampala”, near the long abandoned Four Seasons hotel project? Will Barrow’s childhood home become a full-fledged facility honouring Barrow’s life and times, or just a stop along the way of a road trip like the house Rihanna grew up in along the road renamed among much pomp and circumstance after her in 2017? Will it be restored then virtually forgotten as Tyrol Cot, the home of Sir Grantley Adams, has been of late?
Future generations who come along and see these ten people are in need of greater information on who they are, and what role they played as “Builders of Barbados,” to use the title of a book by the late historian, Sir Alexander Hoyos, which many of us would have read in secondary school.
So once again, the institutions in which they played a part, along with our colleges, have a role to play in seeking out that information and publishing it so we can have a greater respect for these outstanding Barbadians, and that the Errol Barrow Day and National Heroes Day bank holidays will be more than just another off day from work and school.