National Heroes: Clement Osbourne Payne

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 subsequently worked 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. If you visit the Parliament Museum in Bridgetown you can see the poster for the organised labour meeting on May 1st – internationally recognised Labour Day.

In Bridgetown, capital of Barbados, in 1937, Payne led black Barbadians to resist the white planter class with the slogan “Educate, agitate but do not violate”. He organized several public meetings and aroused the ire of the police and government. Payne was expelled from Barbados in July of that year on the basis that he had lied to enter the country. Payne was under the impression that he was a Barbadian citizen, not knowing that he was born in Trinidad to Barbadian parents. Authorities secreted Payne onto a boat in the early morning to Trinidad. After Payne was deported, four days of rioting ensued, during which stores were burned and looted and cars pushed into the sea. The police opened fire, killing 14 demonstrators and wounding 47. The rioting led to a Commission of Inquiry (the Moyne Commission) to investigate the situation in Barbados and other British West Indies colonies. The Moyne Commission determined that all of his charges against the island’s rulers were accurate. In its report, it insisted on reforms that Payne had proposed, including the introduction of trade union legislation.

Barbados Parliament Museum, Bridgetown
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