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.