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  Sir Grantley Herbert Adams

 
Political legend, father of democracy, leader distinguished, visionary politician are but a few of the accolades used to describe Grantley Herbert Adams, first Premier of Barbados, and one of the Caribbean Region's most outstanding political leaders.  

The unprecedented accomplishments of Sir Grantley in the political liberation of Barbados, and advancing the cause of workers and the poor exploited masses, led his numerous supporters to perceive him as a messianic figure. The respect and reverence held for this great leader, often referred to as 'Moses" and "Messiah", lay in his unique ability to relate to and understand the needs of the ordinary folk in his country.  

On April 28, 1898, the course of Barbados history was charted with the birth of Grantley Herbert Adams to Fitzherbert Adams and the former Rosa Frances Turney. Born at Colliston Government Hill, St. Michael, he was the third of seven offspring of this union. He was educated at St. Giles School and Harrison College in Barbados.

Sir Grantley, as he was popularly known, excelled and won a scholarship in 1918 which afforded him the opportunity to attend Oxford University in England pursuing studies in Classics and Jurisprudence. Grantley Adams was admitted to the Bar at Grey's Inn and functioned as a Counsel of Her Majesty, the Queen of England. He returned to Barbados in 1925, and in 1929 the former Grace Thorne became Mrs. Grantley Adams. Following his father's path, their only child, Tom Adams, also entered the legal profession and was elected the second Prime Minister of Barbados.

Sir Grantley's ascendancy to political greatness was born out of his insatiable desire to transform the conditions of his people, particularly the poor masses and unrepresented labour. His unrelentless battle with the exploitative colonial establishment to guarantee and preserve the rights of Barbadians was met with resistance by the ruling plantocracy. This resistance was however no deterrent to this brilliant and articulate Caribbean leader. His prominence in Barbadian society as a highly respected legal professional, coupled with his exceptional advocacy and debating ability, provided the means for penetrating and persuading the existing colonial power structure to effect social and economic changes beneficial to the poor and disadvantaged. His election to the Barbados House of Assembly in 1934, and re-election in 1935 and 1936, was the springboard for the battle he waged on behalf of his people for better social conditions.  

The riots of 1937 in Barbados, in response to the colonialists deporting popular unionist Clement Payne, gave Sir Grantley the opportunity to advocate more strongly for reform. Chosen as the representative to report to the Secretary of State for the Colonies in England on the riots, he made clear the need for reform to alleviate the massive poverty and injustice in Barbadian society. The riots and ensuing protest reinforced the need for unity among workers and a unified political approach to addressing the society's problems. Out of this milieu, the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), formerly the Barbados Progressive League, was created on 31 March 1938.  

Sir Grantley's immense popularity and repute for providing strong political leadership and guidance may have been responsible for his election, in his absence, as the Party's first Vice-President. In 1939, he assumed the position of Party Leader. A major victory was recorded in 1940 when, under his leadership, the BLP secured five seats in the House of Assembly.  

Sir Grantley Adams' political life became closely intertwined with his involvement in the labour movement. He fought on both fronts, as a politician and lawyer and as a trade unionist, to bring about social and political transformation in the Barbados society and to redress the injustices faced by the working class. His fervour in representing the masses against the established colonial regime was extended to his work as a trade unionist and as President of the Barbados Workers' Union for thirteen years from 1941-1954.  

With his unique position as leader of the Barbados Labour Party and the Barbados Workers' Union, Sir Grantley was poised to head a formidable challenge to the ruling regime which the collaboration of those two organisations presented. The trade union activism of Sir Grantley and his cohorts, Barbadian national heroes, Sir Hugh Springer and Sir Frank Walcott, was catalytic for the workers' cause in Barbados with resultant improvement in the conditions of labour. The passing of the Barbados Workers' Compensation Act and the creation of a Wages Board and Labour Movement are attributed to the efforts of Sir Grantley and his peers, as is the introduction of minimum wage legislation, improved working conditions and benefits which were secured for various categories of workers, including plantation and industrial workers.  

As a key figure in Barbados' political landscape during the 1940s and 1950s, Sir Grantley is said to have "dethroned the plantocracy". In 1942, he was appointed a member of the Executive Committee which had attained full Cabinet status. He was called upon to present the names of four candidates for membership of the Executive Committee in 1946, a political development which facilitated the introduction of a semi-ministerial system of Government in Barbados. Among the numerous achievements, which can be credited to the political sojourn of the "Father of the Nation", was the introduction of Universal Adult Suffrage in 1951. Women were given the opportunity to vote as their male counterparts. The Governor-General, in 1954, appointed him the First Premier of Barbados heading a full ministerial government. The political manoeuvrings of Grantley Adams made possible the introduction of full internal self-government in 1958, setting Barbados on a glorious political path to independence from Britain.  

Barbados' current political stability and level of economic development has its underpinnings in the formidable foundation Adams managed to establish in his movement to secure social and economic development and political reform in the Island State. His leadership produced a diversified Barbados economy. The Barbados Development Board was established. There was significant reform and rehabilitation in the social sector, particularly in education, health and housing. Modernisation of the education system, introduction of a Teachers' Training Programme in the form of the Ediston Teachers' College in 1948, the construction of new housing schemes and roads are some of the hallmarks of his achievements as a political leader. Symbols of the high honour he was accorded still exist today in the nation he so loved. Barbados' international airport bears his name, the Grantley Adams International Airport, and his image appears on the highest currency note, the $100 bill.  

In recognition of his meritorious contribution to Barbados and the wider Caribbean region, Her Majesty, the Queen of England, knighted him in 1957. The Queen Elizabeth Hospital stands today as a monumental reminder of the signal contributions of a leader who was dedicated and committed to ensuring the wellbeing of his people and creating for them, better social and living conditions.  

Adams' association with the movement for a West Indies Federation may be aptly described as both pinnacle and pitfall of his political career. After many years of striving for the introduction of an independent Federal System of Government in the West Indies, it must have been a bitter-sweet victory to surrender his Premiership of Barbados to assume the position of the first (and only) Premier of the West Indies Federation from1958-1962. He had left behind an indelible mark on the social and political landscape of his nation and was enthused to navigate this early attempt at regionalism. In most of his career, his political activism and trade union involvement complemented each other and, as President of the Caribbean Labour Congress, Sir Grantley Adams was able to advocate successfully for support for Federation. The demise of the West Indies Federation in 1962, in large part, due to self-interest and insularity among participating territories, symbolised, in a way, an end to the dynamic political leadership of Grantley Adams. He returned in a more subdued role to the political scene in Barbados in 1962 and in 1966 became the first Leader of the Opposition in a newly independent Barbados after being re-elected to the House of Assembly. In 1970, at the age of 72, Sir Grantley Adams quietly stepped out of the public and political arena and slipped away to a higher service one year later in November 1971.  

Grantley Herbert Adams was, without a doubt, a charismatic Caribbean leader who fought doggedly against oppressive colonial dictates for the economic advancement and political liberation of the Barbadian masses. He had the distinction of achieving many "firsts" as a politician and as a trade unionist, charting the beginning of the labour movement and ministerial governance in Barbados, and the early attempts at political unity in the Caribbean. His quest for regional collaboration was not limited to the institution of politics but extended beyond to the labour movement as he sought successfully for a united front for labour unions in the region in the form of the Caribbean Labour Congress.  

Sir Grantley was as passionate about being Barbadian as he was of cricket. In Sealey's "Caribbean Leaders", it is said of Sir Grantley by one of his contemporaries, "My abiding impression of Grantley was that he was first and foremost immensely Barbados. I think all of his instincts, his prejudices...were Barbadian. Certainly his outlook on life was that of a Barbadian, nurtured in the soil and caring most about the Barbadian scene and the Barbadian people in a sort of personal way." A true West Indian, he loved cricket, inheriting his passion for the sport from his father. It is said that he loved talking cricket and never was to be interrupted. He was a founding member of the Barbados Cricket Association and Barbados Cricket League, representing his country as a wicket keeper.  

Such was the breadth and scope of his being - lawyer, politician, debater, social reformer, trade unionist, nation builder, champion of the masses, cricketer, but first and foremost, a Barbadian and a West Indian. And to the ordinary man, he was, in the words of Hazel Marshall's (2002) ballad to this hero, a veritable Bajan "Moses".  

 
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