by Lydia M. Reid
With a name like “The Red Tank Community Death Scheme” many of us today would probably have second thoughts or at least some partial misgivings about such an organization. But this Lodge or fraternal organization was just one of dozens that were formed by the Silver Roll people of the Panama Canal Zone to better survive the economic conditions of their life on the Isthmus.
As might be inferred from the association’s name they provided some kind of cushion of safety for their members and their families to be paid an amount of cash upon the death of the member and/or his loved one for burial costs. This is how the earlier groups of Silvermen and women could afford the beautiful grave monuments and wonderful ceremonies that attended their funerals.
This “Death Scheme,” however, also served another and probably more important purpose as a type of support network for the retiring workmen who, for the most part, would retire with only $25.00 a month until the year of 1950, in which this amount was increased after labor groups and the CIO exerted enormous pressure on the Canal Zone authorities to review their policies and the plight of ex “local rate employees” on the Disability Relief Roll of the Panama Canal was brought before the U.S. Congress.
Fraternal organizations such as this one in Red Tank would also disburse a sizable amount- say $130.00 to the retiring workman- especially to those returning to their native islands to resettle their homes as repatriates from the Panama Canal.
Check out this note published in the Tribune in 1950 for the Township of Red Tank:
The Red Tank Community Death Scheme announces paying benefits in the sum of $260.00 to Messrs. William Gooding and Samuel Blythe, natives of Barbados and Jamaica, B.W.I.; retired Canal workers who recently left the Isthmus for their native homes. Airmail letters containing postal money orders for $130.00 each, were mailed to their respective addresses last Monday.
Often the badly needed money was received with sincere expressions of gratitude as the repatriated workers often encountered high prices and unexpected expenses upon returning to their island homes from which they had been absent for decades. Another repatriate, William Gooding, from Barbados typified many of these retirees and he wrote back acknowledgments to the Red Tank Community Death Scheme of having received his payment which came in quite handy in his resettlement.
Since these organizations were run on totally voluntary contributions they were continually urging their membership to pay their dues on time since there was an ever present need for their governing committee to make payments to their departing or their deceased members. Since death and retirement loomed importantly in the lives of the Silver Roll workers these types of supporting organizations were sometimes the first and quickest form of relief. In my opinion they were wonderfully efficient and exhibited a great deal of integrity in all their dealings with their membership.
Later on we will continue the topic of the unique fraternal organizations or lodges that were formed in the Black Canal Zone.
This story continues.