The English Language Newspapers- The Annals of The Silver People’s History and Culture- Part I

Vintage images of the Old Biblioteca Nacional Courtesy of their website

Accustomed as I’ve been since my college days of spending hours pouring over ancient volumes, archives and records in the venerable libraries of New York City (The N.Y. City Public Library) and several other branches, I must say, going to peer into the pages of The Panama Tribune here in Panama was an experience. Upon telling the woman behind the circulation counter which newspaper I wanted to consult she invited me to take a seat in the periodical area and proceeded to hand me a pair of latex gloves and a dust mask.

Being married to a professional librarian I immediately took my seat and donned the unusual attire without asking any questions knowing perfectly well the why’s. The gloves were for protecting the extremely fragile pages of a newspaper collection that dates back more than 60 years, and the dust mask to protect me as well as the paper from the dust and spores that have accumulated over the years. The place was a bit stuffy and not equipped with the best of lighting but the Biblioteca Nacional, situated in Parque Omar in the middle of the San Francisco district, is entrusted with housing this precious jewel of journalism and they are doing the best they can with the resources they are given.

What I encountered as I poured over some of the editions in different years was indeed refreshing and enlightening. I felt as if I’d been beamed back to my favorite place in the whole world when I was 3 years old- my grandfather Seymour Green’s lap- as he read The Panama Tribune while he puffed away on his pipe. I would watch his countenance as he read the headlines, often emitting a “Tsk, tsk, tsk” when he would come across some provocative news item.

The Panama Tribune- The Leading Weekly Newspaper of Central America- All the News of Real Value,” -an outspoken example of the English language newspapers – reads the rather simply designed masthead. I started out with the years of the 30’s and 40’s, the years I lived with my grandfather in Colon, out of great curiosity as to what might have piqued his interest or provoked him to wrath.

The first story within the issue of July 28, 1946 was entitled Canal Zone Workers Must Sign ‘No Strike’ Pledge or Get No Pay: “All P.C. and Railroad employees will be required to sign affidavits that they will not engage in strikes against the United States Government- the Third Deficiency Appropriation Bill approved by President Truman.” Story #2 was entitled: Canal Administration Modifies Hospitalization Restrictions for Workers– “Governor McHaffey’s office at Balboa Heights announces that a relatively small percentage of new workers would be eligible for hospital privileges.”

In the Editorial section of the same issue, on page 8, a truly revealing editorial caught my eye which referred to a small booklet published by none other than Mr. George Westerman, who was also the paper’s Sports writer. The booklet entitled, “Toward a Better Understanding,” calls for a “harmonious and equal social life among the varied component groups in the population of the Isthmus of Panama.” It outlines the causes of what was being called “The West Indian Problem,” and he points out the “unjustified ill-will” which was mounting in Panama against Westindians and demands sharing of the blame on the part of the white citizens of the Zone and the Panamanian elites. He asks for “examples in human relationships for the realization of peace and goodwill among all races, creeds and colors.”

The booklet, may I add, was translated into Spanish by Gil Blas Tejeira, a native journalist and Deputy in the National Assembly. Many of our Spanish neighbors commented about this booklet and how much they liked this kind of Westindian writing.

This booklet by Westerman was published at an intensely volatile period in American race relations on the continent and The Panama Tribune, in particular, often carried the headlines and republished the stories of “negro lynchings” in the south. Story #2 in the Sunday, August 4, 1946 edition highlights this in an article entitled “Mob Violence Flares in South Against Negros- The Lynching of Two Negro Men and Two Women in Georgia.”

Lynchings were especially appalling to Sidney A.Young, the owner and editor of the newspaper, and he took every opportunity at his disposal of apprising the Westindian readers of the Tribune of this terrifying phenomenon so peculiar to the United States and how it had become a traditional and ingrained part of the American scene.

This story continues.

14 responses to “The English Language Newspapers- The Annals of The Silver People’s History and Culture- Part I

  1. Kyle and Svet Keeton

    “Lynchings were especially appalling to Sidney A.Young, the owner and editor of the newspaper, and he took every opportunity at his disposal of apprising the Westindian readers of the Tribune of this terrifying phenomenon so peculiar to the United States and how it had become a traditional and ingrained part of the American scene.”

    I never realized that it was an American way of dealing with things. Seems that as I grew up lynchings were part of life. Example: If a black man was seen with a white woman he was lynched. She would be left alone.

    I remember sitting on my Grandpas shoulders and watching a group of white men drag a black man down the street, tie a rope around his neck then hung him from the door frame of a big barn. I remember he told me not to say a word to Grandma. I also remember walking down the street after words with Grandpa and walking by an old black man who was crippled and blind. The man asked what happened? Grandpa said that a bad thing happened a real bad thing happened.

    Grandpa was a good man who was German. He had come to America to start a new life. He use to say that, Americans are mean!

    Back when I was little, Kansas City was a very prejudice cow town.


  2. Kyle,
    My God, man, that was some traumatic experience! I can only try to imagine what went on in your young head. I can also only begin to imagine the shock, grief and outrage of the Black man’s family and friends who probably had to find and cut down his tortured body. If this wasn’t a “reign of terror” I don’t know what is.

    In one of my early posts I was also shocked at the sight of the small children being made witness to the gruesome lynching of Rubin Stacey in the image.

    Thank you for sharing that episode in your life with us.

    C. Roberto Reid

  3. Anita Cumberbatch

    I always wondered why people observe atrocities and not do anything.
    Once I was in a restaurant and four Black men including the owner were accosting a Black gay man.They did not want him in their restaurant.

    I got up and told them to serve him. They were in a state of shock when I stood up firm and with the voice of authority repeated to them that they should serve the young man.
    They immediately turned around and one returned and served him. I refuse to sit back and witness any injustice against anyone because it would make me a participant. And I have too much power to be dragged into anything that I do not approve of.

    Anita Cumberbatch

  4. Anita,
    Your point is more than on the mark. For too long now the movers and shakers of the world play at being Gods and drag the whole of humanity into the atrocity of the useless waste of money and resources not to mention the useless slaughter of human life.

    Again, thank you for recognizing that we all, as citizens and human beings, have powers that we are really not using just as scientists have discovered that we don’t utilize half our brains.

    C. Roberto Reid

  5. Renaldo Manuel Ricketts

    Interesting reading some of early history of Panama,i saw many parallels as to what happned in this country and that is because the same people who practiced racism in Amerika were the same degerates in Panama. Every where they go they bring their step son called racism with them,it’s like their American Express they never leave home with out it. Not only did West Indians have to fight for equality on the CZ but in Panama it self. The sickness of racism was like a rancid weed that grew in abundance on every street corner in Panama.

    • Renaldo,

      West Indians did react to the racism cruelly practiced against them. We have many, many posts dealing with one aspect or the other of racism in Panama and the Panama Canal Zone in particular. One of our most visited articles is Growing Public Outcry Against Racism. Check it out and, again, make use of the search box.


  6. I have a question do you feel Black people in Panama in 2011 have been obsorbed into the main stream of Panamanian culture. If so can you support the argument, if not why have there not been more of an intergrated society in the absorbtion of Black West Indians.

    • Renaldo,

      I assume from your question that you haven’t read many posts on the subject as yet. You’ll get there. Just type in “assimilation” on the sidebar search box and you will get a series of post titles. Follow them up and read and you can formulate your own answer. In particular check out The Problem of Assimilation and Education. Happy reading!

  7. Renaldo Manuel Ricketts

    It’s a shame the history of the Silver People is not taught in any schools in Panama. This to me is tantamount to racism. I can’t find a stronger word to define this type neglect and to think the canal exist today because of the sacrifices of the Silver People. Does the assembly in Panama only deal with issues concerning their perks. I haven’t been in Panama since 1989 I left 3 months before the infamous invasion by the Fascist George Bush Sr. Which was totally uncalled for, we know how they solve problems, through bombing ,their first resort . They then proceed to install puppets on their behalf to continue their obtuse liaisons. We need to create a curriculum chronicling our history, and teach it ourselves. Create our own schools,why wait on “them” -people who’ve historically ostracized us. We must emulate the actions of the Marcus Garvy’s and Malcolm X ‘s and become self sufficient,waiting on “them” has not worked. Our strength lies in our unity,we need to wake up and smell reality.

  8. Renaldo Manuel Ricketts

    Did the Silver People ever march by the thousands and confronted the Panamanian or Amricant gov. in Panama,anything resembling marches in the US, demanding your human rights? These are the types of acts that gets international press. If you want exposure and wish to shame the spineless live under ,you march on them with placards and bullhorn,you must be confrontational and look the gift horse in the mouth and demand a fair share!

    • Señor Ricketts:
      We at the Silver People Chronicle utilize tactics which subscribe to the Laws of our Mother Land Panama. We know that outworn actions as the one you are suggesting are dangerous. Actions don’t necessarily have to involve marches and physical confrontation.
      Further, the international press was silent a mice on the infamous Invasion, events that caused the massacre of an unarmed civilian populace which transformed a country of peace loving citizens into gun toting thugs we have to deal with today in our Mother country of Panama.
      Please do not write suggesting power tacicts that are offensive and denote violence to us and to others. If you persist in obviously writing comments that we deem ofensive and that we do not agree with, we will ban you from our forum.

  9. Renaldo Manuel Ricketts

    The Silver People of Panama should bring their plight to the UN. The gov. isn’t going to wake up one day and hand you classes at the colleges in Panama.

  10. Renaldo Manuel Ricketts

    We need to take our plight directly to the UN, this country is about 50 yrs behind the US in social justice of regarding the Silver People. This is an abomination, a great miscarriage of justice, they obviously don’t care, this country is insensitive to the struggles of the Silver People. As the great Frederick Douglass said “power concedes nothing without demand”

    I feel the Silver People of Panama should take drastic measures in order to fur fill their goals. Development from my view point is stagnated and sitting on hold. This country doesn’t even acknowledge your existence and contributions but proudly takes bows around the world about the canal. This offensive posture should end soon.

    We need to mobilize and march, lets take the play book from the people around the world who’re fed up with business as usual. We need to put our words into action .Wake up and smell reality Silver People ,the time is now!

    • Mr. Ricketts:

      In regards to the UN, Panama as a country, has ratified and signed and agreed to every Human Rights convention and meeting and have a so-called Panamanian State Commision always present at the UN. However, no one knows of their presence because every five years they are secretly chosen.

      We here at the Silver People Heritage Foundation are currently making our first demands for the old Silver Cemeteries to be declared National Patrimonies which warrants an accompanying Law to be passed in the National Assembly. We are hoping that with this Law it will move to insure that more of our Intangible Cultural Heritage is safeguarded. That is the sole purpose of our work and not to start any movement like the ones in the U.S. A.

      You must read the UNESCO meeting in Paris of 2003 to understand the full meaning of our work. We are Panamanians and not Black Americans so please first know what some Panamanians have said before you quote others.

      We are concerned about our Silver History and Culture and hope to get the world to recognize our forefathers’ deeds as most important to the social and economic development of people the world over.