[This Day in History – January 21]
Errol Barrow Day
As secular dates go on the Barbadian calendar, January 21 is of significant national importance as it is the date chosen to commemorate the life and achievements of the Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow “Father of Barbados’ Independence.” But who exactly was Errol Walton Barrow and what were some of his more notable achievements as an individual and as leader of Barbados?
Barrow was born in Barbados in the parish of St. Lucy on January 21, 1920 to Reginald Barrow and his wife the former Ruth Alberta O’Neal. Barrow’s father once served as curate of the St. Lucy Parish Church and later Headmaster of the Alleyne School. In 1920, Reginald Barrow relocated to St. Croix at the request of the Bishop of that diocese. While there, he established a branch of the African Methodist Church after parting ways with the Anglican Church. In 1922, the Barrow family returned to Barbados.
The young Errol Barrow received his formative education at the Wesley Hall Boys’ School and later at Harrison College. His other ‘education’ came from mainly from two sources: interacting with his father who used his position as a priest to champion the cause of the poor, as well as the work of his uncle, Dr. Charles Duncan O’Neal one of Barbados’ most prominent social activists of the 1920s.
In 1939 Barrow won an island scholarship to attend Codrington College to study Classics, however it was the opportunity to serve in World War II that captured his attention. Barrow joined the Royal Air Force and progressed through the ranks eventually becoming a Flying Officer and personal navigator to Air Chief Marshall, Sir Sholto Douglas, during the allied occupation of Germany. After the war, Barrow worked in the Colonial Office where he served in a supervisory capacity in a training programme for ex-servicemen. These two career paths helped to hone Barrow’s skills and prepare for leadership. Barrow graduated from the University of London with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Industrial law, and shortly afterwards was called to the English Bar.
Barrow returned to Barbados in 1950 and joined the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), one of three political parties in the island at that time; the other two being the Electors’ Association and the Congress Party. In 1951 Barrow won a seat in the House of Assembly for the parish of St. George. Within a few short years however, Barrow, who had come under the socialist and anti-colonial thought of Harold Laski of the London School of Economics, grew weary of the ‘gradualism’ of Grantley Adams – the leader of the BLP. Eventually the ideological differences between Adams and Barrow created an irreconcilable rift between the two men which led to Barrow leaving the BLP and establishing the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) in 1955.
In the 1956 general elections Barrow lost his seat in St. George but he re-entered the House of Assembly in 1958 after winning the by-election for St. John. The absence of Grantley Adams from Barbados during his tenure as Prime Minister of the West Indies Federation, combined with a growing discontent with the labour movement, contributed to a DLP triumph in the 1961 general elections. During the period 1961-1975, Barrow oversaw numerous social, political and economic programmes which included: revising the voting age downward from 21 to 18, introducing free education to government-aided secondary schools and ushering in full independence on the November 30, 1966. Additionally, Barrow pursued numerous economic programmes such as the further development of Barbados’ tourist industry and manufacturing.
At the regional level, Barrow promoted greater regional integration paving the way for Barbados to play a crucial role in the creation of the Caribbean Free Trade Area (CARIFTA) in 1968. Internationally, Barrow will be remembered for laying out Barbados’ foreign policy in a 1966 address to the United Nations where he noted that ‘Barbados is a friend of all and a satellite of none’. Following a defeat by the Adams-led BLP in the 1976 general elections, Barrow remained out of office until the DLP victory at the polls in 1986. Errol Barrow’s return to power was, however, short-lived as he died in office on the June 1, 1987.
It was in 1989 that the ruling DLP took the decision to commemorate Barrow’s life by declaring his birthday a public holiday and designating it ‘Errol Barrow Day’. In 1998 Errol Walton Barrow was named among the ten National Heroes announced by Prime Minister Owen Arthur.