January 21, 1920
June 1, 1987
Errol Walton Barrow, Barbados's "Father of Independence," was born to Ruth and Reginald Barrow at St. Lucy, Barbados, on January 21, 1920. His formal education was at Wesley Hall Boys' School and later Harrison College, where he won the Island Scholarship in 1939. With the outbreak of World War II, Barrow abandoned plans for studies in theology in favor of military service in the British Royal Air Force, where he became navigator to the air chief marshal during the Allied occupation of Germany.
After the war Barrow worked briefly in the Colonial Office before pursuing studies at the University of London and the London School of Economics, where he came under the influence of the socialist intellectual Harold Laski, whose views influenced Barrow throughout his public career. In the meantime, Barrow married an American, Carolyn Plaskett, and the couple had two children, Lesley and David. In 1950 he was admitted to the bar in Britain before returning to Barbados, where his radical political views soon gained him membership in the Barbados Labour Party (BLP). He was elected as the senior member for St. George in the 1951 elections.
Barrow later broke with the BLP, amid rumors of an imminent "left-wing" takeover of that party, after which he helped to form the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) in 1955. He was defeated in the 1956 elections, but won a by-election to the constituency of St. John in 1958, which remained his political bailiwick until his death.
The DLP won the general elections of 1961. This placed Barrow at the center of the politics of Barbados and the Anglophone Caribbean for the next fifteen years. He was engaged in the most important national and regional developments of the Anglophone Caribbean during this period. He introduced free education from primary school to university. His aerial "discovery" of a fifty-acre parcel of land at Cave Hill while flying himself over Barbados in search of a site for the third campus of the University of the West Indies, is now part of the lore of that institution. Cave Hill is today the only campus with a view of the Caribbean Sea. Barrow lowered the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen and modernized Barbados's national electoral system. His governments also made important strides in the development of a National Health Service and social security system.
Perhaps most important, Barrow accelerated the process of independence for Barbados after the dissolution of the British West Indies Federation in 1962. After successfully challenging Barbados's colonial establishment, Barrow became the first prime minister of independent Barbados as a Westminster-model constitutional monarchy in the British Commonwealth on November 30, 1966. Later, Barrow pulled Barbados out of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Authority and issued the Barbados dollar instead.
During Barrow's tenure Barbados gained membership in both the United Nations and the Organization of American States. After the demise of the federation, Barrow was one of the original signatories of the treaty establishing the Caribbean Free Trade Area (CARIFTA) in 1968, an organization that later evolved into the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in 1973, where he also signed the Treaty of Charuaramas on Barbados's behalf on July 4, 1973. In 1972 he was among the leaders of the Anglophone Caribbean who established diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Barrow and the DLP lost the elections of 1976. He spent a decade in the political wilderness, during which he spent time in opposition politics and supervised the construction of the DLP headquarters. He also condemned the American invasion of Grenada in 1983. Barrow and the DLP returned to power in 1986, but after a year, his unexpected death brought an end to his political career.
Barrow was socialized in a family that placed strong emphasis on leadership and public service. In a public career lasting nearly four decades, Barrow and the DLP managed to seize control of the state apparatus in order to allocate its resources for the benefit of the greatest number of Barbadians. This is particularly evident in the areas of education, public housing, tourism development, industrialization, and the general physical infrastructure, which brought Barbados out of the obvious vestiges of its colonial past and irretrievably set it on the path of social development that the country enjoys today.
In recognition of Barrow's contribution to the development of modern Barbados, his likeness appears on the $50 banknotes. His birthday is now a national holiday in Barbados, and in 1998 he was declared a National Hero.
See also Barbados Labour Party
Allahar, Anton, ed. Caribbean Charisma: Reflections on Leadership, Legitimacy and Populist Politics. Kingston, Jamaica; Boulder, Col.; and London: Ian Randle Publishers, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2001.
Beckles, Hilary. A History of Barbados. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Beckles, Hilary, ed. For Love of Country: The National Heroes of Barbados. West Terrace, St. Michael, Barbados: Foundation Publishing, 2001.
Carmichael, Trevor, ed. Barbados: Thirty Years of Independence. Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 1996.
Haniff, Yussuff, ed. Speeches by Errol Barrow. London: Hansib Publishing, 1987.
Morgan, Peter. The Life and Times of Errol Barrow. Barbados, 1994.
c. m. jacobs (2005)