It’s the month of January, in which as a nation we celebrate the birthday of Errol Walton Barrow. This day, January 21st is a national holiday in Barbados. This holiday serves to celebrate and honour Barrow’s stellar contribution to the building of our island nation, Barbados. Today, Saturday January 21, 2023, we celebrate what would have been 103 years since his birth.
Errol Walton Barrow was born in the parish of St. Lucy, the son of Rev. Reginald Grant Barrow, an Anglican Clergyman, and his wife Ruth Albertha O’Neale. At this time, young Errol was the fourth child and second son born to the Barrows, a fifth child, a daughter, would complete this family.
Rev. Barrow served at the St. Lucy Parish Church from about 1915/1916 and due to his outspoken nature in tackling and speaking out against social issues, he was considered to be somewhat of a radical. This resulted in him being ostracized and ultimately reassigned in 1919 to a pulpit in the island of St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Errol was the product of a proud Barbadian middle-class family, who were very community oriented in perspective, a family who stood up for rights for all in the social order and very invested in the matters of life in colonial Barbados. As a matter of fact, both the paternal and maternal sides of his family were very aware of and against the social inequalities existing within the society. His maternal uncle, Charles Duncan O’Neal, attended the University of Edinburg. There he pursued a medical career, at a time when that was not the norm for Blacks. Like his family, O’Neale was extremely concerned about the state of affairs of Black Barbadians and after his studies he would return to Barbados, with the intention of making a difference. His vision was to find and institute ways to move Barbados forward by lifting Barbadians toward a better life, by improved living conditions, and earning capacity. His vision would be enacted by challenges to the status quo on the social and political scene.
Given his background, it is very easy to imagine him at the dining table or around the house as the adults discussed, argued, and commented on the topical issues of the day. No doubt, his world view and ideologies were formed and shaped through his interactions with the environment into which he was born.
With this background, Errol Barrow followed in the footsteps of his family members to make a difference, and when the King of England called for all able-bodied British subjects to represent their sovereignty in World War II, he answered the call.
Errol Barrow served in the Royal Air Force (RAF) for seven years, from December 21, 1940, to October 9, 1947 – age twenty to twenty-seven. He went into the RAF as an Aircraftman second class, the lowest position at the time, and rose through the ranks to become a Flying Officer and Navigator.
On leaving the RAF he read Economics and Industrial Law at the London School of Economics (LSE) and law at the Inns of Court. Looks like a man with a plan, preparing to execute that plan. He was now armed with the background and credentials that would equip him for the leadership role that laid ahead. Between the RAF and his educational pursuits, he spent ten years away from home, and returned to Barbados in November 1950, ready to serve.
On his return, he immediately stepped into the political arena, joining the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) under Grantley Adams, and running as the candidate for the St. George seat in the 1951 election. He was duly elected to the Barbados House of Assembly.
By 1955 though, Barrow had grown weary of what historians refer to as the ‘gradualist approach’ adopted by Grantley Adams, who was the President and leader of the Barbados Labour Party. As a result, Barrow, and other like-mined politicians like him, who thought that Adams was too slow in his approach, challenged Adams. They resolved that Adams could lead a greater push to implementing measures that would alleviate the poverty of the masses through social and political reform, and ultimately independence from British rule. This divergence in beliefs and leadership style caused a rift in the party, a battle of opposing ideological forces.
He would ultimately part ways with Grantley Adams and the BLP in 1954. This shift culminated in the withdrawal of members like Barrow himself, Frederick ‘Sleepy’ Smith, James ‘Cammie’ Tudor, TT Lewis, and others from the BLP. On the night of April 27, 1955, twenty-six people met at “Glenhurst” Lands End, giving birth to the ideas that would culminate in the formation of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP).
Errol Barrow would go on to fight against the prevailing status quo and under the banner of the newly formed Democratic Labour Party, he contested the 1956 General Election and lost his reelection bid for the St. George seat, while the party won four seats. Barrow was not undone though, and it was in a bi-election in the parish of St. John in 1958, that Errol Barrow was resoundingly returned to the House of Assembly. He held that seat until his death on June 1, 1987, representing the parish of St. John for twenty-nine years.
The winds of change would continue to blow across the political landscape of Barbados and during the 1961 General Elections, Errol Barrow and the DLP defeated the BLP, to solidify their position in the politics of Barbados, making a significant contribution toward changing the political and social terrain.
Errol Barrow would forge forward to lead Barbados into total self-governance as an independent nation, introducing many social programmes that would modernize the country. These measures would initiate significant changes that would usher in real change, as Barbados developed from a colony to a nation.