by John Angus Martin, A-Z of Grenada Heritage and Hasina Allen of the Grenada National Museum
On this day, 7 February 1974, Grenada celebrated the achievement of its Independence from the United Kingdom.
On 7 February 1974, Grenada became a sovereign nation, gaining independence from over 200 years of British colonial rule. Almost precisely 300 years after the island first became a French Crown colony in 1674 (the island was settled by the French in 1649), Grenada became the first of the Associated States to gain independence, becoming one of the smallest independent nations in the Western Hemisphere at the same time.
From the start of his tenure as Premier, Eric M Gairy (who had been an initiator for political change throughout the 1950s) consistently attempted to initiate discussions with Britain on independence for Grenada. According to the Associated Statehood Constitution, Grenada could either request independence or have it conferred by the British Parliament; Sir Eric desired the latter. In 1970 the British government agreed to consider the issue if Premier Gairy’s party, the Grenada United Labour Party (GULP), won an election where independence was the primary issue. Independence was referenced in the 1972 GULP manifesto, and the party’s overwhelming victory in the 1972 elections was accepted as a mandate from the people of Grenada to begin talks in London. After preliminary talks in October 1972, a Constitutional Conference was scheduled for May the following year.
Though initially supportive of Gairy’s quest for independence, Opposition Leader Herbert Blaize (of the Grenada National Party) later mounted opposition to it, protesting any move towards independence without a referendum. In an effort to prove that Gairy did not have a mandate, the GNP collected signatures which it claimed represented 46% of the electorate. As well as the GNP, opposition groups included the New Jewel Movement, labour unions and churches, who all argued that Gairy’s previous abuses of power and political corruption made him unfit to be the leader of an independent Grenada. Maurice Bishop later clarified his movement’s opposition to independence in an interview with a Cuban weekly magazine:
“Our position was that the people should participate in the whole political process leading to independence. We wanted the government to take the popular sectors into account in working out the Constitution and the principles on which the economic system of independent Grenada would be based. The government focus, however, was to take up this whole question directly and exclusively with the British authorities.”
Premier Gairy dismissed this opposition and the GNP’s call for a referendum, insisting that he already had the mandate from the public that he needed. In the face of mounting (and often violent) opposition at home, he continued the journey towards independence in the way he believed would procure results: in May 1973 Gairy went to the Constitutional Conference in London to argue and negotiate with the British government for Grenadian independence; Opposition representatives attended to argue against independence.
The Duffus Commission described Gairy’s commitment to political independence for Grenada:
“When he gave evidence about this matter, we were convinced that his ambitions in this direction were genuine and that the emotional fervor with which he spoke on the subject was a true reflection of his convictions and, in a way, an indication of the measure of determination which attended his endeavors to achieve that status for Grenada.”
Gairy’s “profound commitment” and relentless persistence triumphed. In December 1973 (perhaps motivated by the desire to rid itself of an economic and political burden), the British government decided to confer independence on Grenada, in spite of the civil unrest occurring on the island.
Under a state of emergency, Grenada bade a muted farewell to British rule. Independence was celebrated by candlelight over Fort George as the Union Jack was lowered and Grenada’s National Flag hoisted on the stroke of midnight. After many years fighting for his nation’s freedom from British rule, Premier Eric M. Gairy became the first Prime Minister of Grenada. At the independence celebrations Prime Minister Gairy declared:
“We are completely free, liberated [and] independent. In spite of a wicked, malicious, obstructive, destructive minority of noise-making self-publicists, God has heard our prayers. God has been merciful. God has triumphed.”
Sir Eric is hailed as the “Father of Independence” for his unwavering support in achieving Grenada’s Independence.
Photographs courtesy the Grenada National Museum Independence Collection.