True But Brief History of the Friendly Societies and Development of Black Bermudian Communities after Emancipation: Black People Seek Pride and Power in a Post-Slavery and Post-Emancipation World, the Bermuda Experience.

Author:Bradshaw, Michael


This study shows how formerly enslaved persons developed and harnessed their own efforts (individually and mutually) to improve their station in life. People from 'different groups'- - - be this gender or religion or ethnic origin, etc- - - must learn to live together in a stable and agreeable relationship without overt or subliminal conflict. Unmanaged contact has brought us wars, enslavement, colonization, apartheid, and genocide at each time that the dominant party has responded with 'fear of the other'. When enslavement of Blacks ended during the 19th century the Whites ran the show--the politics; the economy; the religion; the language; the culture, etc. In this tenuous and stressful calm, the new 'allowances' to Blacks could be rescinded at a stroke. Most had been 'given freedom' by Emancipation from slavery or the Abolition of slavery rather than by such self-actualization such as armed revolt or maroonage. Blacks and Whites both share/assume/hear the worldview that Whites have fought for their rights to freedom and respect (which they then celebrate in national flags and symbols and patriotic songs that proclaim they 'always will be free'), while Blacks are passive recipients of freedom and status according to the generosity and liberalism of powerful Whites at the expense of 'average Whites'.

The fact that the victor 'writes the history books' is more than a cliche. It yields an 'incomplete history'. In the post-Abolition/post-Emancipation world the shallow recording of great events by great men ignores the study of the 'friendly society role and impact' in the interactions of Black and White sectors of the community. Throughout the region, the formerly enslaved populations had to choose a path forward. They could continue as the docile and repressed participants while 'the Apprenticeship process' or 'the Reconstruction period' would be used to prepare these 'childlike and naive dependents' for eventual full and equal membership in society. They could justifiably and vehemently and forcefully oppose limitations imposed on their proclaimed 'equality' with a consequent bloodbath and savagery on all sides. They could take a rejectionist and isolationist stance that would lead to an abdication of/isolation from social contact with Whites and a flight 'back to Africa' or to 'a reserve or similar Bantusan'.

All paths were followed to varying extents in various guises. But the story is not 'known' or shared or taught broadly of those self-governing and self-organizing bodies with a dedication to self-help and mutual help (the friendly societies) that arose everywhere among the Black masses. In the racist and demeaning social environment of the times any attempts by the formerly enslaved to assert competencies or claim promised rights were readily seen as presumptuous at least or even a threat to the social stability. The extreme privacy that was therefore necessary for the Black friendly societies to operate was confused with 'secrecy'. 'Friendly societies' have been confused with the Free Masons (a 'secret society movement' that advanced a White male elitist worldview). Masons did not have the very open public presence which was common among the friendly societies.

Friendly societies were gregarious. Masons have always been very secretive with secret meetings of powerful men, and they have long been feared. The Bermuda situation of 'freemasonry' is peculiar in that several White lodges have existed locally for generations but Blacks and the enslaved and the majority of Whites were not able to join. Bermuda had near equivalence of Black and White populations at Emancipation. The Caribbean jurisdictions typically had only minor percentages of Whites and large excesses of Blacks. Hence after Emancipation it would be natural for Blacks to gain access to all social organizations and to eventually come to dominate them. This inevitability was not so clear in Bermuda because the significant size of the White population would enable them to remain as a distinct and separate and powerful presence. Freemasonry therefore did not impact the Black Bermudian population as the friendly societies could. A deeper dive into the complexity of comparison between Freemasons and friendly societies in Bermuda is to be analysed at another time.

Friendly societies throughout the region are in serious numerical decline. They arose as early as the pre-Emancipation 1830's wherever sufficiently large concentrations of 'free' Blacks were found. Others appeared in the pre-Abolition 1860's with rapid growth in both the number of Orders and of the size of lodges. The lodge is the basic unit of the friendly society and refers to a support group of persons who met regularly in a specific location and agreed to follow certain procedures. The Order describes an aggregation of lodges which have shared beliefs and procedures which are, however, distinct from those identifying beliefs and procedures of another Order. Friendly societies trumpeted fraternity--the philosophy of the primacy of brotherhood/sisterhood as a basic tenet. Thus, friendly societies improve the lives of the members and promote harmonious interaction between all sectors of humanity by codified and managed 'individual and mass behaviour'.

The friendly society story in Bermuda is part of the 'oral history' passed from seniors to selected 'junior members' in some families and some communities that needs to be uncovered and recovered and studied and analysed to the great benefit of Black and White alike. The achievements of Black communities have often been built on the foundation/bulwark provided as a consequence of the unseen and unacknowledged contribution from the friendly societies. The stability and general absence of cataclysmic violence in the individual and mass interactions between Whites and Blacks was partly a consequence of the impacts of the friendly societies.

The story of the Bermuda friendly society movement is a case study of the friendly society movement and the benefits due to its operation in a post-emancipation and post-abolition world. Persons are invited to carry out pertinent research in other jurisdictions to further analyse the comparison that is suggested in the work. The relevance to understanding the social history of Bermuda is obviously explored, but there is extrapolation to a plausible importance of such study to other jurisdictions.

The Contextual World and the Bermuda Setting

Interactions of human groups as noted in European history have been primarily around power struggles and conflict within different sectors of a group identified by common occupation of a geographical space where the differences may be based on gender or religion or type of work or language or place of birth, etc. Management of these interactions has ranged from the strictly hierarchial manifestation of the 'Divine Rights of Kings' through to the idealistic equality and egality of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist Communism. Failure of management has yielded revolt and rebellion and purges within the group. Power struggles between different groups has given us the cross-border military exploitations; the distant adventures overseas to secure trade advantages and territorial conquests; and the anthropologically despicable events of chattel slavery and apartheid and genocide.

Acknowledging the common origin of human populations from the 'African cradle', the seemingly different populations of the world arose from successive migrations and then isolation/separation from the parental gene pool/populations. Internal European conflicts caused flight to new lands (the New World) and eventual occupation and colonization. Superior technology in the military-industrial-transport complex by White populations enabled subjugation then exploitation and enslavement of African populations with transport to the colonized lands of the Western Atlantic and the Caribbean basin. Whites fleeing 'homelands' for various reasons and Africans (Blacks) forcibly removed from their 'homelands' and shipped elsewhere both ended up as interacting groups in the New World.

This New World interaction began about 5 centuries ago and persisted for three hundred and fifty years. Racism was created by the European/White power wielders as a falsified validation for the exploitation of persons of colour (especially of Africans displaying 'darker features') in chattel slavery. This denied the right of an enslaved person or their progeny to be 'free'. The 'enslaved' were owned and used like tools or livestock or other soulless possessions in the world of chattel slavery. The theme was racist exploitation based on demonization of 'Blackness': elevation of Whiteness.

Enslaved Africans and their progeny had very dark skin colour with wooly hair texture and big lips and other supposed race identifiers along a continuum to sufficient similarity to blue eyed and blonde-haired Whites as to 'pass' for being 'White'. All who were not recognized as White are here termed as "Blacks'. A small fraction of Blacks in the New World were 'free'. They were not owned by slave masters, but the extent to which these 'free Blacks' enjoyed similar rights and status as did Whites varied widely with locales. Generally any rights/privileges were revocable by the local authorities without any hope of successful appeal to legal or religious advocacy. Such 'free Blacks' typically showed a non-contentious, low profile in the community. The enslaved succeeded in the unequal interaction and conflict by surviving.

Eventually a small cadre of enlightened persons seeking a more wholesome and progressive interaction...

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