We take this opportunity to introduce a brilliant and tireless educator from Red Tank, Edward Aston Gaskin, to highlight the richness of the cultural and intellectual legacy left by the Silver people of the Panama Canal Zone. The article is brought to you thanks to the work of Vivian Dottin, and you may find it as well as other very interesting articles at Afro-PanaVision.com.
“EDWARD ASTON GASKIN, was born on February 3, 1918, in the little Canal Zone town of Red Tank. He received his elementary and junior (up to the eighth grade) high school education at the Red Tank school. Quite early in life Gaskin manifested a very strong mind of his own and an unmistakable determination to think for himself rather than have the opinions of others carelessly forced upon him–a personal quality which proved quite invaluable in his adult contacts with people in many walks of life.
He quietly nurtured his ambition to further his education, carefully biding his time combing the atmosphere for opportunities. At the age of 17 his opportunity finally came when in 1935, the Division of Schools of the Panama Canal decided to open a Normal Training School in which to prepare teachers for future service in the so-called colored schools. Admission to this school was to be on the basis of competitive examinations and was open to all young people below the age of twenty-five, both on the Canal Zone and in the Republic of Panama. Young Gaskin’s decision to make a bid for admission was rewarded by his being selected among the forty highest scoring of several hundred competitors.
When the Normal School was formally inaugurated on January 21, 1935, Gaskin took his place among his fellow students under the tutelage of Alfred E. Osborne, and thus began a career that would see him rise from virtual obscurity to a position of enviable prominence in the isthmian community. Gaskin attributes his success in later life largely to the tremendous influence wielded upon him by Professor Osborne, for whom he expressed the greatest respect and admiration. While studying at Normal, he attended summer sessions in Education sponsored by the Panamanian Ministry of Education at the Liceo de Señoritas.
Graduating after three and-a-half years of intensive study at Normal, Mr. Gaskin received his initial appointment in 1938 as a teacher at the Gamboa School. Later in 1938, he was transferred to La Boca where he taught in the third grade until 1941 when he was reassigned to teach in the newly established ninth grade. From 1940 to 1945 he attended the newly organized University of Panama as a special student in the field of English.
Gaskin’s progress as a teacher was phenomenal. In 1944 he was transferred to Red Tank School to serve as assistant principal. Demonstrating remarkable flexibility and strength of character, Mr. Gaskin received the recognition and high approbation of his superiors and was quickly rewarded with promotion to the principal of the La Boca Elementary School during the reorganization period concurrent with the establishment of the Occupational High School.
Since the 1920 strike, canal administrators had effectively barred unionization of Silver workers. The graduates of La Boca Normal felt such anger and frustration of the inferior school system for the community that they formed the first post-1920 union in 1942, the CZ Colored Teachers Association, which would become the nucleus of Local 713 in 1946 when Gaskin was elected vice president.
Local 713 leaders tried to unify Panamanians of West Indian and Spanish origin. They also favored a militant, combative style and they cooperated with the Panamanian government’s efforts to press grievances against the U.S. They organized marches and protests and hit hard on the issue of racial segregation. They invited prominent politicians to address their rallies and often joined Panamanian labor federation marches. Some of the information used by the Panamanian government to attack canal policies obviously came from Local 713 files. This militancy frightened some older leaders of the West Indian community, who still remembered the ruthlessness of Canal management during the strike of 1920. In the end, however, militancy and perceived association with communism brought down Local 713. As a result, in early 1950 Governor Newcomer was able to kill off Local 713. A new union was set up in the canal, Local 900.”
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