A Tribute to Alfred E. Osborne

Alfred E. Osborne. Image thanks to Afropanavisions.com

Venerable Teacher Osborne, father of Alfred E. Osborne, left his Island home of Antigua, when his son Alfred E. was only three years of age. He arrived in Panama in the year of 1911 and most assuredly met my grandfather Mr. Joshua A. Reid, the Dispensary Director of Silver Paraiso Township. Mr. Reid had left his beloved Island of Jamaica in 1906 to get work on the construction of the “Big Ditch” which would later turn into the Panama Canal. The elder Teacher Osborne then labored at the segregated Canal Zone Silver Schools until he achieved the rank of Principal.

By 1913 when my paternal grandmother joined her husband, Teacher Osborne was a renowned principal in the Canal Zone Silver schools who, in turn, sent for his family including five-year-old Alfred who was promptly enrolled in the Silver elementary school.

Around1924 when young Alfred became of age to travel alone he would be shipped off to be educated in the U.S. to live with his uncle in Chicago, Illinois. In 1928, by now twenty, young Osborne was graduated from the Hyde Park High School, and then promptly entered the University of Chicago.

Alfred Osborne had finally fulfilled a dream of becoming a college man and studied very hard while working. In addition he studied all summer taking summer freshman courses that first year and was able to graduate in a little more than three years. Mr. Osborne’s major was Spanish Literature at a time the 1930’s when the U.S. educational had entered a new era and a new philosophy of the “new school movement” which moved away from the old “factory school” method which had dominated U.S. education. For Alfred Osborne the profession of teaching became his way to make a difference with the new school philosophy in Panama upon his return.

In 1932 he applied for a teaching position and was accepted in the Canal Zone Silver School system as a teacher. Despite his well known and influential father, Alfred Osborne was started in his teaching position at the lowest Silver Roll wage scale. He steadily moved up the wage scale and five years later he ended at the top of the Silver wage scale of his initial appointment. He then threatened to quit teaching all together since he was classified in the U.S. citizenship class and he was transferred to Gold Roll status.

These were times of intensified racial tension that would irreparably change the atmosphere in the Panama Canal Zone. Alfred E. Osborne, however, would gain advancement despite the times because of his high qualities as a teacher.

In 1935 he was appointed Principal and sole instructor of the La Boca Normal School. Using his unique Gold Roll status and privileges he would travel to the Unites States every year after enrolling in the Colombia University Teachers College near Harlem, the New York City Black segregated district. His summer vacations would be spent attending classes where he would earn a much deserved Master’s Degree in Education Administration.

The sole instructor of the first class at the La Boca Normal School he would be assisted by two associate teachers. The class ran from 1935 to summer of 1938 and had a class of thirty-seven student teachers, all under the age of twenty-five years of age. These individuals were Panamanian born Westindians who would eventually become recognized as leaders of the colored community of Panama. Coming from largely the second generation of the Silver People of Panama they would be in great part responsible for the rise to prominence of Teacher Osborne.

The curriculum for that class of 1938 was spearheaded by Teacher Osborne, and it would become a guide for the next generation of Silver Teachers of Panama. A well thought out guide to modern education the curriculum contained techniques and materials to use to preserve community and group identity. Although it would have no follow-up and dissemination in the colored community of Panama it would, nevertheless, seek to promote elements such as communal preservation and group identity. In retrospect, several of these elements attracted me to the responsibilities of teachers outlined in the aiding of children of the Diaspora in the years the Silver People would be on the move because of social and economic pressures.

The Venerable Alfred E. Osborne, with his curriculum guide, by now had provided the motivation to give the first-generation Westindian Panamanian blacks its impetus to rise to the challenge of the many stumbling blocks placed in their path to greatness by the Panama Canal Authorities. In the meantime the subversive tactics of the Canal administration would not deter the Westindian laborers from maintaining their historic qualities of efficient and loyal employees since their introduction in the region of the canal we see today in the mid 1800’s. It is still my opinion after much research on the matter of the Panamanian Westindian that we have remained a unique race of people. Other researchers have noted that the psychological racial laboratory that had been consciously set in motion during the period of 1840-1914 did not only study race but also the effects of the tropical climate and, above all, slavery.

Teacher Alfred E. Osborne had been the lofty thinker who envisioned what lay ahead as all around community insecurity in the regions controlled by the American Canal Zone, and this insecurity would overlap into the Panama of his time and up to, including and after reversion of the Canal and its Zone. It is a testimony to his foresight that this pressing insecurity is still evident even into the new 21st century.

We of the Silver People Heritage Foundation, foreseeing the value of the Silvermen and the Silver Peoples’ contribution of a worthy heritage to humanity are today taking up the vision of such luminaries as Teacher Alfred E. Osborne. With an acute sense of community we take up the torch and encourage all who can see the higher good of those historic personalities such as the senior and junior teachers Osborne and his seed group of student teachers. They are our incentive to excellence for us to follow and fight for the preservation of our cultural legacy as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. It will not only be a model for us the second and third generations to follow but the succeeding generations of Silver descendants, and for all of humanity to emulate as they learn more about our forefathers.

This story continues.

2 responses to “A Tribute to Alfred E. Osborne

  1. you don’t mention, that many may not realize, Normal was the only high school education available to silver people of the times since schooling ended at 9th grade… I have my father’s graduation ring buried somewhere among my mess and this posting makes me realize how unique such an item has become

  2. Ocho Gritos,

    Thank you very much for noting that. I hope many more people would bring these things up and fill in the story. Here at Silver People Chronicle we’ve only just begun to tell this story. Especially younger people- we’d like to hear from them- instead of listening to all the garbage that’s being cranked out these days.

    We hope you can supply us with your father’s name some day so we can honor him as one of the first to have graduated from Teacher Osborne’s (La Boca) Normal.

    Again, thanks and best regards.


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