Movie theatres reopened with open seating after a two-week boycott that dealt a fatal blow to segregation in Bermuda.
The boycott, which was organised by members of the Progressive Group, began on June 15.
Many of its members were university graduates who had returned home after studying overseas and vowed to make much needed changes to their homeland.
They had been meeting regularly and in secret at the Flatts home of Rosalind and Edouard Williams.
They decided on a date for the start of the boycott and on the eve of Day One, working under cover of darkness, they blanketed the island with flyers that urged patrons to stay away from theatres.
Things started slowly, but gradually gathered momentum. The numbers of people who began mingling outside theatres in Hamilton increased; there were heated debates in Parliament—where blacks were in the minority—and promises that blacks would be able to sit anywhere they wanted when the new Rosebank Theatre was completed.
James Pearman, president of the company that owned the theatres, famously misread the social temperature—he described the boycott as “a storm in a teacup.”
Crucial to the boycott’s success were soapbox orators, among them Kingsley Tweed, Kenny Ebbin, Richard “Comrade” Lynch and Robert “Jungle Bunny” Smith, who delivered electrifying speeches outside the theatres.
Soon theatres were empty and owners were left with no choice but to close them. Victory came with a dramatic capitulation—owners announced that theatres would reopen on July 2, and that blacks would be able to sit anywhere they wanted. Hotels and restaurants followed suit. Members of the Progressive Group were Dr. Stanley Ratteray, Rosalind and Edouard Williams, Clifford Wade, Marva Phillips, Coleridge Williams, Rudolph and Vera Commissiong, Clifford and Florenz Maxwell, Eugene Woods, Esme and Lancelot Swan, Dr. Erskine Simmons, William Francis, William Walywn and Gerald and Izola Harvey.
2009 stamp commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Theatre Boycott.