No holiday for the fight against injustice

26 Dec

The fire is at hand. Let us organize.

Those were the words of Ulric McDonald Grant, a Barbadian union organizer, who in 1937 was sentenced to 10 years in prison for sedition.

Occasionally, Ebenezer devoted his holiday columns to sentimental musings. But quite often, he used them to remind people that the Scottsboro Boys were still in prison or that white Harlem merchants still failed to hire blacks to work in their stores. He devoted his Christmas Day column in 1937 to inveigh against the injustice visited upon Ulric Grant.

Noting that the case constituted the first time he’d felt ashamed of the “isle of my birth,”  Ebenezer asserted that Grant’s “crime” was that he gave a few speeches in which he vowed to continue to fight against the white planter class.

“What must have made Grant’s remarks all the more ‘seditious’ in the eyes of the law was that they were made following an island-wide disturbance arising out of labor conditions and capitalistic oppression under which the masses, Negroes almost in toto, have groaned for many years,” my father wrote.

He had harsh criticism for a number of players in this case, but curiously, he let the British off the hook.

Much of what is charged up to ‘the British’ is the work of a few West Indian-born and bred ninnies usurping their power in the only manner they know and usurping it badly, occasionally harmfully.

“The entire judicial setup in Barbados which had to do with the case of Grant is of local birth,” my father continued.  “Judge, attorney general, solicitor general and police constabulary. And we find Grant arrested, prosecuted, sentenced to 10 years in prison for an offense which amounted in the most to an attempt to disturb the peace —  an offense  to which a small fine generally meets the end of justice.”


My father expressed disappointment toward Grant supporters for failing to rally to Grant’s aid, but he speculated that many of them were probably swept up in wholesale arrests that were taking place or  “hiding from the accusing finger of this same judicial setup.”

He took aim at local attorneys who did not offer their expertise. to Grant, who faced a jury without legal counsel. “It was regrettable that the Negro lawyers of Barbados did not see ‘a cause’ in a fight for Grant’s exoneration.”

As to the judge in the case, whom he described as being “born of a small-town aristocracy and elevated to his present position by curry-favoring small-town cronies, he sees the right of the populace in a small-town way. The right of free speech was not included in his legal studies.”

On a more hopeful note, Ebenezer said that a West Indian Defense Committee had been formed in Harlem to provide financial assistance to the defense.

“The West Indian Defense Committee has quite a task before it,Ebenezer wrote.

The progress of the world and the right of free speech must be carried home to shortsighted colonials.

I found a brief legal note that indicated that Grant was released early, in February 1942 after the remission of his sentence.  But aside from a few letters to the editor in response to my father’s 1937 Christmas column, I haven’t found much on Grant.  I did find an article in the Barbados Advocate in  2016, in which a contemporary union leader lamented the fact that Grant and several other activists had never gotten due credit for their contributions to Barbados’ decolonization.

So as I celebrate Unity — the first principle of Kwanzaa — I will light a candle for Ulric Grant and all of those whose voices that have filled our diasporic chorus against injustice.













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