The Right Excellent Clement Osbourne Payne
National Hero of Barbados
Born in Trinidad in 1904 to Barbadian Parents, Clement Payne was an advocate for the poor in his parent‘s homeland. A leader in the Labor Movement, he encouraged workers to come together to join the trade union. Even though Clement Payne was born in Trinidad, he made an important impact on the society of Barbados.
Early life and education
Payne was born in Trinidad in 1904 to Barbadian parents who moved back to Barbados when he was four years old. Payne attended Bay Street Boys' School, and subsequentlyworked for some years as a junior clerk. In 1927 he returned to Trinidad, where as an advocate of social justice he was involved with the growth of militant trade unionism.
In 1937 for four months Payne tried to bring the masses together to encourage them to seek a better life and break free from oppression. Public meetings were held in which Payne emphasized the rights of the people, encouraging them to stand up for themselves and insist on better conditions.
Viewed as a dangerous revolutionary that threatened the very nature of the planter class, Payne was kept under close observation by the authorities. In 1937, being privy to the labor disputes being held in Trinidad, he held meetings telling the Barbadian public of the developments in their sister isle and once again, encouraged them to stand up for themselves.
Payne was accused of falsifying a statement to the Harbour Authorities when he entered Barbados stating that his place of birth was Barbados instead of Trinidad. When the case was brought to trial, Payne pleased not guilty and the case was adjourned. However when it resumed he pleaded his own case and was found guilty. Ordered to pay 10 pounds sterling or spend three months in prison, he appealed this decision and was provided with moral and financial support from the working class.
On 22 July 1937, the night after his court appearance, Payne held a meeting and announced that he believed the Government had ulterior motives. He stated that he was going to go to Government House the following day to request an audience with the Governor. Payne and approximately 300 workers marched on that morning to the Governor’s residence. He and thirteen supporters were arrested and charged for refusing to disperse as an assembled mob when told to do so by police. Everyone present pleaded not guilty and all were granted bail with the exception of Clement Payne who was remanded into custody.
On 26 July 1937, Payne won his appeal against the conviction of making a false declaration regarding his birth place upon arrival in Barbados but was still ordered to leave the island. His supporters hired a young attorney by the name of Grantley Adams to represent him in this matter. Adams was aware of the possible physical danger to Payne and advised him not to dispute the deportation order. Clement Payne was deported and was not allowed to enter Barbados again the action of the authorities and Governor Mark Young incited the general public into frenzy.
While Payne abhorred violence and his slogan was that of “Educate, agitate but do not violate!” His supporters overcome by anger at the deportation order exploded into the streets in angry protest.
The riots continued for four days in various areas around the island. Armed with sticks and stones, the commercial district was damaged - cars were pushed into the sea or smashed, show windows were broken and it was chaos everywhere. Fourteen people died, forty seven were wounded and five hundred arrested. Millions of dollars in property was damaged.
A Commission of Inquiry was appointed by the British Government to investigate the situation in Barbados and other British West Indies colonies. The Commission determined that all of the claims/charges were to be sustained and it was decided that the reforms which Payne had suggested should be implemented. The first and foremost of which was the introduction of the trade unionism legislation!
Clement Payne collapsed while speaking at a political meeting in Trinidad on 7 April 1941 and passed away shortly after.
Clement Payne’s contribution to Barbados will never be forgotten and in 1989 The Clement Payne Cultural Center created. Here, this brave, forward thinking gentleman continues to have his work carried out by Barbadians who identify with the struggle of their ancestor’s history and wish to make a difference!