Tag Archives: Silver Roll

Lloyd La Beach: A Hero Forever

Images: Top Lloyd La Beach 1948 Olympic Champion.
Byron La Beach and his wife Violet,
standing before his brother’s niche

Samuel La Beach and his wife, Nell
Bottom: Mr. Victor Lopez and Ricardo Sasso and his wife
holding a newspaper article highlighting
Lolyd La beach’s exploits.

I would never be able to tell the story of Lloyd La Beach were it not for a kid I grew up with in the neighborhood of Calidonia here in Panama City. The 1948 Summer Olympic Games would have passed us by just as other Olympic games of our childhood had as the Westindian community of Panama traversed through some of the worst times in our history as a community in the country of Panama. During this war and post-war period it was really a continuation of when we were still vilified in the economy of the country of Panama as “those people” whose presence was responsible for placing a burden on the country’s meager resources. Continue reading

The Silver Townships- La Boca, CZ – Part I

Image is a colorized photo of La Boca, CZ
circa 1914 in an expansion phase.
Special thanks to I.L. Maduro for the image.

La Boca, Canal Zone
has, as with many of the Silver Townships, a most fascinating history and is inescapably intertwined with the history of both the Panama Rail Road and the Panama Canal construction. We have discovered a wonderful article from of The Panama Canal Review, June 4, 1954, descriptively outlining the basic history of La Boca and its residents and we are happy to present it to our readers for the next few posts regarding La Boca. Of course, we do well to remember that the term “local rate,” wherever it appears, is synonymous with SilverRoll as the Silver workers were paid at “local rate” and not American rate. La Boca was a “local rate” community.

If a section of Panama Railroad track had not sunk six feet one morning in 1907 – “The Mouth” – might not be where it is today. The La Boca area might look like the environs of the two-step locks at Miraflores instead of what it is – one of the Canal Zone’s oldest local-rate towns.

The canal plan had called for two sets of locks, one at Pedro Miguel and the other near Sosa Hill. They were to have been separated by a large terminal lake, to be known as Sosa Lake. Not all the Canal’s top men – John F. Stevens, among them – approved the idea but had begun work on the damns for the lake.

After the section of track near La Boca sank suddenly and a trestle toppled, Chief Engineer George W. Goethals appointed a board to study lock sites. Eventually the locations were determined and La Boca returned to its former status of Pacific terminal for the Panama Railroad and the only Pacific port between Callao in Peru and Salina Cruz in Mexico where deep-draught vessels could unload at a wharf. It seems strange today to read that the transfer provided not only more stable foundations but also better protection from bombardment from the sea!

As far as its history goes, La Boca went through three phases. At La Boca the old trail from Panama City to the towns which are now considered to be in the “Interior” crossed the Rio Grande. The French Canal Company, as the Americans did later, used the valley of the Rio Grande as the southern end of their canal line. In 1881 they began to build shops at La Boca where their dredges could be assembled.

One historian reports that the French Company loaned enough money to the Panama Railroad for construction of a deep-water harbor and a 960-foot steel pier. This pier, which eliminated the old lighter system, is still standing although it has been much changed in appearance. Just as the Americans did later, the French planned for a double lock near La Boca.
When the French Company sold its interests to the United States in 1904 the buildings and wharves in La Boca were part of the properties transferred. No better description of this phase of La Boca can be found than the following, from the 1905 report of the Isthmian Canal Commission:

“The town is divided into two parts by the railroad tracks and yards. On one side all of the buildings are owned by the United States and on the other nearly all of the buildings were erected by private parties on land leased from the old French Company. All of the buildings in this town owned by the United States are being overhauled and repaired; several of the more dillapidated were destroyed and in their places have been erected two large and commodious barracks, one for the unmarried and one for the married employees working at this point.”

“Repairs on the old ones have reached such a point that it is proper to say that this portion of the town has been rebuilt and instead of being a dangerous plague-spot, the town has now become a model camp with houses in good repair, freshly painted, supplied with electric lights, a water system and good drainage. A good road of Telford pavement constructed by the Commission connects La Boca with the outskirts of Panama.”

This was written after two cases of bubonic plague had broken out at La Boca. The resultant quarantine disrupted the transportation system and called for stringent measures by sanitary authorities.

A special thanks to CZbratsfor providing this article.

The story of La Boca will continue.

1904 – The Gold and Silver Roll System

A 1904 Gold Dollar
Double Eagle, Liberty Head Design
Image thanks to www.wikipedia.com

By now you may be wondering at all my references to the Silver Roll and the Silver People. Established by the Canal authorities in 1904, the Gold and Silver Roll system, the imported version of “Jim Crow,” or the racially segregated system of the United States, became the foundation for Panama Canal Zone society and economy until it was phased out in the 1960’s. Continue reading

The First Diggers- The “Silver Roll”

Above we have an old “French Canal” image from 1886 of a West Indian excavation crew- Black diggers- in the Paso Obispo Cut. Image thanks to www.canalmuseum.com

The black employees or the “Silver Roll” labor force, as it was named from the beginning, constituted the bulk of the work force on the US Government’s Canal Zone and canal construction projects at any time in the history of those projects. In fact, it had been so since the inception of the works and into the creation of what would become known as the “Canal Zone” area of Panama. Continue reading

A Special Issue on the First Labor Day of the Silver People Chronicle: A Homage to the West Indian Silver Worker

image thanks to www.canalmuseum.com

The old and new Panama Canal Zone, and, in fact, the whole country of Panama, would have never come to be what it is today had it not been for the persevering attitude of the black Silver employees. Despite the hardships found by those young black men who first arrived in the area of the canal construction project, some of them as young as fourteen years old, they continued to persevere. Continue reading

A Mami’s Prayer

A West Indian washer woman washing clothes at a stream about 1909.

In Homage to West Indian Poetry on World Poetry Day

My Mamí was talking to me
What’s more, I think she was praying.
“Look you shirt! Bran’d new shirt,
an you keep it like this!

What happen this time?
No, don’t tell me, I know,
some Paña boy call you Chombo!”

The look she had on her face
made me answer:
“Well, that’s what allway happen,
I go to school with them an’…”
She did not make me finish
as she started the same old talk I call her prayer:

“Oh yes, you an you alone
goin’ fight the whole world ova’ a name?
An you such a smart boy!”
“Look, if I said it once
I say it a million times,
I don’t want you fighting,
fighting in the streets!
No, no not you!
You have to listen to me!”

“How it is that you goin live
long enough to become president of Panama?
You answer me that!”
“Look, son, them bad blows
will tell on you laita’, man.
If I was a smart boy like I know you are,
I will listen to my Mamí
instead of listening to some boy
calling you Chombo or anything else.”

“You keep your mind on this,
say it ova an ova,
‘I will become the first
Westindian president of Panama.’
You a Paña boy!
An the Lord has to work
in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.”

“I ask you now,
wha you think they call that president,
wha his name?”
“Arnulfo Arias!” I piped up an said.
“Yes, that one ‘Nulfo!’
Yes, what they call him
when they want to talk to him?”
“Mr. Presidente, I suppose?” I said
as I found myself still standing near her
as she gave me a lecture prayer I’d remember all my life.

“Well, yes! That is what
everybody has to call him.
That is what you is goin to be called,
Not Mr. Chombo President!
So, there you have it, then.
All those ladies you meet at Ancon Laundry
Will say to me “Mrs. Reid,
We hear your boy is president.”

I will be proud to have the Lord
take me home
as angels sing, “It is well,
It is well with my soul.”
“See, son, what I mean for you?
That would make me very happy.

Now you go inside an change
then look in my purse an take money enough
to go to Big Market fo’ me,
like a good boy.”