Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Aggie Bernard Feeds The Strikers

Women's History Month

There is no beauty but the beauty of action. (Morocco)

Aggie Bernard

Slavery suppose to end in 1838, but here was 1938 and Aggie Bernard still seeing de boss, di backra man, treat Black people like dem less than slave. People earning little or nothing and cannot feed dem children. Dem sick and cannot afford to go doctor. And backra still riding in him carriage and living in him big house. His children can go to high school and university, and poor man pickney can barely finish primary school. Maybe the girl or boy get to teacher’s college if dem pass them third Jamaica local exam. If dem do well, dem might become head teacher or police. Dem could turn preacher too, but not in any church where backra put him collection.

So black people as a whole have to cut cane same way like in slavery, or lift load at the wharf, or work as gardener in massa yard or maid in him house. Plenty men who want job get prison instead. Police lock them up for vagrancy which is de same as walking round looking for something to do because you can’t find work. And if police drape dem up by dem pants waist and dem protest, good and all police say them cuss bad word and charge them what money them don’t have for “indecent language”.

Aggie see all that and feel it to her heart. So she not really surprise when de cane workers in Frome rise up. Little after dat she see de wharf workers in Kingston join in and say enough is enough.

Alexander Bustamante and St William Grant come out and stand up for de workers. Busta was a brown man who live abroad for a time. Before de strike, most people didn’t know too much about him. St. William was a Black man and a Garveyite. He never hold back or look behind him when him talk about how Black people need to free themselves from slavery. Any time him talking on de street corner you want to see how crowd gather and clap him.

When the canefield workers buss out at Frome, St William busy up himself getting people to sign petition to try and make backra listen to dem before worse come. Like me granny used to say, “Stop quarrel before fight come.” Busta travel to Frome so him was de man on spot just in the canefields just like later on when the workers at the wharf go on strike.

Aggie follow up a lot of what going on round her. She notice dat when de police arrest Busta and St William Grant, Busta tell dem not to touch him and dem leave him alone. But dem tek dem club and beat St William to the ground. When police lock up de two of dem, Busta get bed to sleep on, and St William sleep on de cold concrete. No matter what, it look like colour still rule. Still and all, Aggie willing to support whoever can get backra to treat Black people like dem have flesh and blood.
So when she see the wharf workers on strike, Aggie stand up with them even though she was not a wharf worker. And on of the dockworker that she know name David McLaughlin say to her, “Empty bag cannot stand up, Miss Aggie. If people cannot get food, hungry belly might force dem to go back. Then backra will treat dem even worse. You can do anything for us?”

Aggie know if she take the workers’ side, good and all the backra missis that she work for would fire her. But she could see how the men dem mouth corner white. Yes, that is what she could do. Feed the men them while they on strike. She just have five shillings and six pence in the threadbag she keep in her bosom, but she remember how her granny could make a pot stretch. She get some bread, plus some coffee and sugar, and the men (especially David) glad for the food from her hand. . She never know where the next food coming from, but when other people see her feeding de workers, dem join in too. Who have food bring food, and who have money bring what dem have to buy food.

And the workers dem stand up to backra. Two weeks dem stay off work and leave the goods on the dock. Meantime. Busta tell backra nothing will go on till the workers get what money dem ask for. And Busta cousin Norman, a brown skin lawyer who talk nice, help out too. Is him get Busta out of prison.

And after two weeks the workers get an increase. And Busta form a union so backra couldn’t just do what him want to do and poor people have to suck it up. Aggie herself join Busta union. When Busta and him cousin Norman split up, she join Norman’s political party.

She also marry David and keep her own name.

When she die in 1980, she get an official funeral, and they bury her in the National Heroes Park.


Kristi Bernard said...

This is a very interesting post. I like the similarity of our last names.

Yvonne McCalla Sobers said...

Miss Aggie was a woman of courage, with a last name to be proud of, Kristi!

Kristi Bernard said...

My Grandmother was a caterer. She fed a lot of people too.

Yvonne McCalla Sobers said...

Thanks for sharing your memory of the generosity of spirit that also links your grandmother to Miss Aggie. Maybe we should think about emulating them, "catering" to the needs of others in a spirit of love. What do you think?

Kristi Bernard said...

I do it all the time. I give of myself to charities and children.

Yvonne McCalla Sobers said...

Bless you, Kristi, for keeping alive the traditions of our grandmothers. As an African proverb says, "I am, because we are; we are, because I am."


When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at