Early Afro-Guyanese associations

Dear Editor,

Before the African Culture and Development Association (ACDA), there was the League of Coloured Peoples (LCP), who incidentally organised their first exhibition of art and craft (much like Wednesday 1st August) at what was then the British Guiana Cricket Club Ground, east of Queen’s College on Thomas Road – space on which ACDA is accommodated.

The LCP’s headquarters was located in Third Street, Alberttown; while another contemporary organisation, the Negro Progress Convention was centred at the south eastern corner of Charlotte and Wellington streets.

However, of much closer familiarity was the African Development Association (ADA), whose membership consisted of a group of artisans and small entrepreneurs (market vendors mostly) totalling about thirty. Its principal founder was one Ferdinand Christopher Archer, a tailor whose residence was in Middle Street, one houselot away from Carmichael Street (west). He in fact became the Secretary/Treasurer for life. It was in his tailor-shop home that a child first got engaged with photographs of Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, Ras Kassa, Marcus Garvey and the likes of such early inspirations.

Humble as their status in the society was at the time, individually and as a group, the Association somehow got recognised by the colonial government of the day, who approved a licence for the conduct of a lottery. It was called a ‘sweepstake’ in those days.

Their thriftiness earned sufficient money to purchase a plot of land (now empty) in Charlotte Street, Lacytown midway between Camp and Wellington streets, on the southern side. On it they erected a two storeyed building which was named the African Development Association’s Auditorium. It was 1945 when Aubrey P. Alleyne demitted his position as Deputy Principal of J.C. Luck’s Central High School to establish Washington High School in the Auditorium, with momentous fanfare – during an immediate post World War II period when several other high schools were being established for those boys and girls who could not gain entrance to the elite Queen’s College, Bishops’ High and St. Stanislaus College, of the day.

It was with Aubrey P. Alleyne that my tinsmith father who, as then president of the ADA, negotiated a scholarship for the undersigned to attend Washington High School. Sometime later, it became known as the British Guiana Education Trust under Principal Randolph E. Cheeks. The Guyana Education Trust is a successor organisation.

It was Aubrey P. Alleyne, who despite being hard of hearing, later became Speaker of the House in Parliament. He was my Latin Master.

It was a pioneering Jane Phillips-Gay (a member of the ADA who lived next door to the Auditorium) who became a member of Parliament.

In the meantime one of the earliest facilities for senior citizens was erected by the ADA. It was christened The Charity Home. It continues to thrive as the Archer’s Home, in D’Urban Street, just west of the corner where Vlissengen Road winds.

Ferdinand Archer was also a founder member of the Malteenoes Sports Club, whom I represented in local first class cricket during the 1950s. The spiritual connection with my godfather would seem to have persisted.

Interestingly, he and his group would seem to have continued to occupy the (apparent) empty lot in Charlotte Street, Lacytown which has survived the vicissitudes of any pretentious occupancy.

On the face of it, ACDA should have a claim.

Yours faithfully,

E.B. John

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