Joshua Gone Barbados, Still Big Sugar!  Will it ever end?

Eric Von Schmidt was a Fulbright Scholar who made his living as a graphic artist, illustrator and painter. He was also a musician who was a central figure at the 1960’s folk revival, Cambridge Massachusetts, where his musical knowledge and abilities influenced other musicians like Tom Rush and Bob Dylan. 

“Joshua Gone Barbados” was one of a number of songs he wrote after he and his family vacationed on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent in 1962.  

I actually prefer the Tom Rush version

The song is about the island’s unsuccessful sugar cane strike of 1962. This happened  a few weeks ahead of Eric’s arrival. History shows that his lyrics contained mostly accurate observations  but also included false rumors that spread all over the island at the time of the strike.  One rumor was that strikers were killed and the other was that Ebenezer Joshua had deserted the cause.

Joshua was born in KingstownSaint VincentBritish Windward Islands. He was an official of a trade union when he tried unsuccessfully to be elected to the Trinidad legislature.   Returning to Saint Vincent, Joshua entered politics, and was elected to the island’s assembly in 1951.  In 1952 he and his wife Ivy Joshua founded the People’s Political Party  as the political arm of the Federated Industrial Allied Workers Union, a trade union organization aimed at representing agricultural and shipyard workers. 

The platform included improving wages and working conditions and severing colonial ties with Great Britain.  By the 1950’s Joshua had become St. Vincent’s most well known advocate for the working class and by the 1960’s he ended up as the island’s Chief Minister. 

Someone wrote “St. Vincent in 1962 like many Caribbean islands had been swept up in the wave of nationalism inspired by the Cuban revolution.”  Really? Darlin you go out in the hot sun with a machete and cut sugarcane for 12 hours a day.  Pretty sure people just got tired of being treated like dogs. Try it for a day and get back to me. 

 At the same time the Caribbean’s economic engine of sugar production began to falter as prices fell. (The plot thickens!)

Stay with me!

In 1962 Joshua discontinued government subsidies for the sugar growers, leading the Mt Bentinck Sugar Cane Factory to close after years of financial mismanagement. 

Also, In 1962 two islands , Jamaica and Trinidad, withdrew from the federation.  In May 1962 the remaining island members were to hold a meeting in Barbados to discuss the federation’s future.  Joshua made the choice between staying at home to help with the strike or to travel to Barbados and continue to work toward the end of colonial rule. He chose to address the long-term challenge in Barbados. 

According to Wikipedia  a misunderstanding of this sequence of events and Vincentian history by American musician Eric von Schmidt became the basis for the song “Joshua Gone Barbados

 Joshua is recognized as the person most responsible for the rights and benefits accorded the working class and poor in modern St. Vincent: Increased wages, holidays with pay, protection from eviction, and protection against child labor.

 IDK Other people have reported other things that you are more than welcome to google.

Who knows?

The point, besides sharing some great music, is that Big Sugar as we call them still get what they want. They swarm the halls of Tallahassee every year making sure they get everything they need from politicians from both sides of isle. Screw the workers. Screw the environment. 

Now it’s 2021 and I just found this article from Mother Jones.

The High Human Cost of America’s Sugar Habit

“we came to realize the story wasn’t just about Lulu. It was about the 68,000-some Haitian cañeros still in the fields, and their living and working conditions, especially under the island’s biggest plantation holder: Central Romana. Owned in part by brothers Alfonso and Pepe Fanjul, Cuban exiles who are now billionaire Florida sugar barons, Central Romana sugarcane is cut by Haitians, crushed and poured as raw sugar into the holds of vessels, and shipped to the Fanjuls’ ASR Domino refinery in Baltimore harbor.”

This never ends.

Locally, we have our whole story of the Glades. I’m not talking about our farmers. (don’t start pickin on me!  We love our veggies but sugar is not a vegetable!)  I’m talking about the big corporations. 

Pioneer Park is a huge park where children go to play

Right now what goes on is sugar burning. When does it go on? When the wind is blowing from the east. That way only the people that live out in the glades are affected. It would never happen with the wind coming out of the west.  I went out there years ago and spoke with a mom whose young son had chronic bronchitis and she couldn’t afford to go to the doctor. 

I think Eric Von Schmidt saw the inhumanity of the entire situation. We can thank him for shining a light. Yes, Joshua got a bad rap but after all it was the 60s. Politicians were the enemy (hmmm has anything changed?) 

Maybe the events didn’t happen at that one particular time but they did happen, still do happen and politicians are at the center of the whole situation.

At at the end of the day  Eric was the one who shined a bright light on the actual issue of cane workers that continues to this day. 

It will continue until we have the political will to change things.

Joshua Gone Barbados

Cane standing in the fields

Getting old and red

Lot of misery in Georgetown

Three men lying dead

Joshua, head of the government

He said strike for better pay

Cane cutters are striking

Joshua gone away

Joshua gone Barbados

Staying in a big hotel

People on St. Vincent

They got many sad tales to tell

Sugar mill owner told the strikers

I don’t need you to cut my cane

Bring in another bunch of fellows

Strike be all in vain

Get a bunch of tough fellows

Bring ’em from Sion Hill

Bring ’em in a bus to Georgetown

Know somebody get killed

Sonny Child, the overseer

I swear he’s an ignorant man

Walking through the cane field

Pistol in his hand

But Joshua gone Barbados

Just like he don’t know

People on the island

They got no place to go

Police giving protection

New fellows cutting the cane

Strikers can’t do nothing

Strike be all in vain

And Sonny Child, he curse the strikers

Wave his pistol ’round

They’re beating Sonny with a cutlass

Beat him to the ground

There’s a lot of misery in Georgetown

You can hear the women bawl

Joshua gone Barbados

He don’t care at all

Cane standing in the fields

Getting old and red

Sonny Child in the hospital

Pistol on his bed

I wish I could go to England

Trinidad or Curacao

People on the island

They got no place to go

Joshua gone Barbados

Staying in a big hotel

People on St. Vincent

Got many sad tales to tell

Songwriters: Eric Von Schmidt

Is this really any different from what goes on today?

Make sure to read this and watch the documentary H2 Worker Documentary. Legal Slavery.

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