A West Indian Statesman and Social Reformer
Sir Grantley Herbert Adams, CMG, QC, was born in 1898 in St. Michael, Barbados.
Sir Grantley Adams is most notably a Barbadian and British West Indian statesman, founder of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) and the first Premier of Barbados. In fact, it is said that it was the political prowess of Sir Grantley Adams that set Barbados on the path to its Independence from Britain.
He was educated in Barbados at Harrison College, and in 1918 he won the Barbados Scholarship and left the island to undertake his undergraduate studies at Oxford University.
Did you know?
Sir Grantley Adams played one match of first-class cricket as a wicket-keeper for Barbados.
In 1929, Adams married Grace Thorne and had one child, J.M.G.M. Tom Adams, who later himself won the Barbados Scholarship, and also attended Oxford to become a lawyer.
Note: In 1976, following in his father’s political footsteps, Tom Adams was elected as Barbados’ second Prime Minister.
A Visionary Politician
Sir Grantley Adams is probably best known for ‘dethroning the plantocracy’ in Barbados, and he worked tirelessly to bring social and political transformation within Barbadian society.
He helped form the Barbados Progressive League, which became known as the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) in 1938. Adams was soon elected as BLP leader, a position he held until 1941.
The BLP emerged around the time of civil unrest in Barbados, sparked by the deportation order of fellow Barbadian activist and national hero, Clement Payne.
Payne shared Sir Grantley Adams passion to break free from the oppression of the ‘plantocracy’ in Barbados and encouraged the working masses to seek a better life. Seen as a dangerous revolutionary, he was given a deportation order, sparking riots island-wide.
The ever-present advocate for human rights and social justice, Adams (a young attorney at the time) fought for Payne’s return to Barbados.
Adams, aware of the sensitivity of the situation, then advised Payne not to dispute the deportation order. Hence, Clement Payne was deported to Trinidad and Tobago, and prohibited from entering Barbados again.
Adams’ Works Continue
Sir Grantley Adams was President of the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) from 1941 to 1954, an organization which fellow national hero Sir Hugh Worrell Springer formed.
In 1947, Adams was elected President of the Caribbean Labour Congress (Jamaica), which historically brought together the political Caribbean.
Grantley Adams was associated with various important pieces of legislation which set the stage for social change in Barbados:
— The Barbados Workmen’s Compensation Act
— Amendment to the Barbados Education Act
— Establishment of a Wages Board and Labour Department
— The ability of women to vote on equal terms with men
— Increase of old age pensions
— Improved working conditions for shop assistants
— Increases in the public service
— The Deep Water Harbour
— The Queen Elizabeth Hospital
The Father of Democracy
In his campaign against the elitist regime and in pursuit of true democracy, Sir Grantley Adams secured the introduction of Universal Adult Suffrage in 1951.
Then, in 1954, when full ministerial government was introduced in Barbados, Adams was elected first Premier.
Sir Grantley was also instrumental in the founding of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.
He then left the Government of Barbados to work on building the regional West Indies Federation, becoming its Prime Minister in 1958 and serving this role until 1962.
After the formal dissolution of the West Indies Federation in 1962, Sir Grantley returned home to Barbados.
In 1966, he was re-elected to the House of Assembly by the people of St. Joseph, and assumed the role of Leader of the Opposition (BLP).
In 1970, Adams was forced to resign from Parliament due to ailing health and he died in 1976 at age 73. He is buried in St. Michael, at the Anglican Cathedral Church of St. Michael.
Honors and Legacy
Sir Grantley Adams certainly earned his reputation as one of the region’s most outstanding political leaders and has been honoured accordingly.
In recognition of his contribution to Barbados and the wider Caribbean region, Her Majesty, the Queen of England, knighted Grantley Adams in 1957.
Barbados’ only airport, Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA), is named in honour of the former Premier and political activist, as is the secondary school in St. Joseph, the constituency he represented until he retired from politics.
His image also appears on the Barbados $100 bill, and there is a statue in his honour in front of the Government Headquarters in St. Michael.
He also ‘shares’ the ABC Highway, the main highway in Barbados opened in 1989, with two other famous Barbadian politicians, his son Tom Adams and Errol Barrow.
In 1998, by an act of Parliament, Adams was also publicly honoured by being named as one of the ten official National Heroes of Barbados for his significant contribution to the island’s history and development.
A tireless campaigner for social justice, Sir Grantley Adams was, in the words of Hazel Marshall’s (2002) ballad to this hero, the Bajan ‘Moses’, never to be forgotten.
By: Brett Callaghan
Last Updated: May 4th, 2017
Publisher: Totally Barbados