When Voices Rise
“When Voices Rise” Sculpture, City Hall, Hamilton
We are here at City Hall, Hamilton, and this sculpture is called, “When Voices Rise”. It was erected in July 2009, by artist Chesley Trott. It is based on the June, 15, 1959 Theatre Boycotts which put an end to Segregation in Bermuda.
Posters and flyers circulated throughout the Island by an anonymous group urging black Bermudians to boycott movie theatres to protest segregated seating policies.
The boycott, which got under way as Bermuda’s 350th anniversary celebrations were in full swing, was the brainchild of the Progressive Group, a group of young adults, most of them professionals and recent university graduates who had been meeting in secret at the Flatts home of Edouard and Rosalind Williams. Flyers gave June 15 as the start date of the boycott. It started slowly, but gathered steam and on June 23, the six theatres operated by Bermuda General Theatres had to close their doors because of a lack of business.
Activists Kingsley Tweed and Richard “Doc” Lynch had no connection with the Progressive Group. But they fired up the crowds who gathered outside the Island and Playhouse theatres in Hamilton with their speeches. Theatre owners were taken off guard. Bermuda General Theatres president James Pearman misread the mood of protestors, famously calling the boycott “a storm in a teacup”.
Parliamentarians debated its pros and cons. There were calls for the Progressive Group to come forward and negotiate with theatre owners, along with promises that a new theatre then under construction would have open seating when it opened.
Members of the Progressive Group refused to emerge from the shadows and black patrons and community leaders stood firm. They agreed to keep the group secret because they didn’t want their parents to suffer any type of consequences.
It took a mere two weeks for the boycott to achieve its purpose. On July 2, theatre owners announced the end of segregated seating. Days earlier, the hotels had announced an end to their policy of segregated seating in restaurants and nightclubs, though not in accommodation. It was, Dr. Eva Hodgson wrote years later, “the most significant social protest in Bermuda’s social and political development since emancipation”.
In 2019, was the 60th anniversary of the boycott, and the Progressive Group met together to commemorate at City Hall, the end of the 1959 Theatre Boycott in what was deemed as a the peaceful action of ordinary people. In 2002, their story received a wider airing in Errol Williams’ documentary , When Voices Rise. The members were: Dr. Stanley Ratteray, Edouard and Rosalind Williams, Clifford Wade, Marva Phillips, Coleridge Williams, Rudy and Vera Commissiong, Clifford and Florenz Maxwell, Eugene Woods, Esme and Lancelot Swan, Dr. Erskine Simmons, William Francis, William Walwyn and Gerald and Izola Harvey.