Sir Grantley Herbert Adams, CMG, QC was a Barbadian and British West Indian statesman. Adams was a founder of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), and he was named in 1998 as one of the National Heroes of Barbados.
The third child of seven, Grantley Adams was born at Collision, Government Hill, St. Michael, on April 28,1898, to Fitzherbert Adams, head teacher at St. Giles Elementary School in Barbados, and Rose Frances Neeturney. Fitzherbert was an amateur musician who instilled in his children his love for music.
Adams attended his father's school, St. Giles, and afterwards Harrison College in Barbados. In 1918 he was awarded the Barbados Scholarship to Oxford University where he studied law. He returned to Barbados in 1925 to practice law and begin a lifelong career in politics.
As a conservative political activist, Adams' support came from the plantation owners and merchant elite. He was editor of the leading planter journal, Agricultural Reporter. His views were in stark contrast to activist and writer Marcus Garvey's pro-worker black nationalism. However, Adams increasingly espoused measures that were designed to assist the working class, such as compulsory education for black children, abolition of child labor laws, and workers' right to form unions. In 1934, at the age of 36, Adams was elected member of the House of Assembly representing the area of St. Joseph. He quickly established a reputation as a masterful debater and continued his move from conservative thinker to social reformer. He was re-elected to this position in the 1935 and 1936 general elections.
A violent workers' revolt in 1937 was set off by the arrest, trial, and deportation of popular union leader Clement Payne. Even though Adams was not an advocate of Payne's radical worker views, he nevertheless served as Payne's counsel in the appeal trial and was able to overturn the conviction, although not before the British government expelled his client from Barbados. This led to more riots and political instability on the island. Adams was instrumental in the development of events that followed this violent period. He believed that the riots were a result of worsening social and economic conditions among the workers, and his view that liberal reforms could remedy social relations strengthened his leadership role. He went to England to meet with the colonial secretary and won further support for his positions. It is believed that this was an important point in his career, as he had the confidence and support of the highest ranking colonial officials, who thought he would be the right person to help reform colonial politics and help stave off the black nationalist followers of Marcus Garvey.
Adams served mainly as the primary spokesman for conservative blacks, but was also aware of the importance of middle- and working-class opinion. Shortly after his return to Barbados, he launched the Barbados Labour Party to "provide political expression for the island's law-abiding inhabitants" (Beckles 1990, 170). In 1940, the Labour Party now called the Barbados Progressive League won five seats in the House of Assembly, and in 1941 Adams became president of the newly formed Barbados Workers' Union, a post he held until 1954. During the 1940s there were a number of meaningful labor reforms attributed to his party leadership. Among them were the legalization of unions and the establishment of the Barbados Workmen's Compensation Act, as well as the landmark 1943 Representation of the People Bill that assured voting rights to all adults, including women. The 1951 elections secured Adams' leadership. His Barbados Labour Party won 60 percent of the vote and 16 seats in the House, while enjoying a high degree of autonomy from the British.
Adams also established the Barbados Labour Party and implemented one of the most significant constitutional reforms in Barbados the 1950 Representation of People Act which granted all adult citizens on the island the right to vote. His political success is attributed in part to his ability to satisfy the British colonial government while winning rights for the Barbadian people. A conservative thinker and a political moderate, Adams gradually became a more liberal reformer who believed that workers' grievances were bom of economic inequality, and that making legislative concessions to workers would be in the long-term interest of the merchants, plantation owners, and workers themselves.
As Barbados made progress toward complete autonomy, Adams, as president of the Caribbean Labour Congress, succeeded in establishing a ten-nation West Indies Federation, where he served as its first and only premier. This federation was a colonial government ruled by the governor general and the British government a fact that did not please Adams, whose real goal was to establish a more autonomous nation within the British Commonwealth. In addition to infighting among the membership, a number of federation members were more interested in gaining independence from Britain than in continuing as colonies. As a result, in 1958 the Federal Government of the West Indies was instituted and Adams' role as premier ended.
Throughout these years, Barbados had experienced great social and political changes, but not independence from colonial rule. After the formal dissolution of the West Indies Federation in 1962, Adams returned to local politics and was re-elected to the House of Assembly in 1966, the year of Barbados' independence. Considered the first leader of the opposition in newly independent Barbados, he served in the House until his retirement in 1970. He died on November 28,1971. Barbados' international airport is named after him, and his picture is engraved on the island's $100 notes.—G.C.
Sport & Clubs
From his father Adams acquired a zeal for books and cricket; as an avid cricket player, he was one of the founding members of the Barbados Cricket Association and the Barbados Cricket League.
Adams was married to Grace Thorne in 1929 at St. John's Church. Their only child, Tom, himself won the Barbados Scholarship and attended Oxford to become a lawyer. Tom Adams would later be elected as Barbados' second Prime Minister in 1976.