Early Beginnings of Silver Literature

Oldtimers at an intense game of checkers.

Oldtimers at an intense game of checkers.

The early writings amongst the Silver People of Panama could have started when correspondence was sent back home to the West Indies by, primarily, Westindian men who served that purpose during the mid 19th century and would continue to serve as message bearers for the working class Silver Men far into the early decades of the 20th century. We as researchers, however, would not get a glimpse of those writings until much later in our lives, although they were published in the newspapers of their times in Panama during the late 1930’s and up until the late 1950’s.

In the meantime as we “watch and pray” that our request unfolds giving us complete access to all records left by our Silver People on the former American Canal Zone, we are pleased and elated to have friends who were of the Gold Roll who are in sympathy with our plight and do not hesitate to send us anything they themselves come in contact with that sheds some light on the subject and the purpose of our studies.

Nevertheless, the reader should be aware that our interest in Panamanian Westindian Literature has never waned since our times of childish adulation.  As a child of only three years of age I recall listening to my maternal grandfather’s syntax and inflexions as he read the daily newspaper. On the other hand, I would also experience discouragement upon suddenly seeing my recently discovered words such as slaves, free slaves, etc. associated with the name Simon Bolivar all in the same pages of my composition notebook torn to shreds before my very eyes by a suddenly enraged Spanish school teacher who could not believe that a little Chombo student like me could write so eloquently about the Libertador of Latin America.

Later, during the 1950’s I would come to join the working class Black youths of the American South who were happy to have escaped into the freedom of the old “underground railroad” of the North. With them I would continue my first “Black American Studies” experience as they loaned and exchanged reading materials that were, for me, more than just reading matter to help me stay interested and alert on my graveyard shift at work. It would be in the utility closets, elevators and hallways of that world famous Cancer Hospital in New York City that we would have the most engaging discussions about Black authors and their writings.

During the highlight of my college days I, along with many young Blacks, got caught up in the wave of the Cultural Revolution, as we hungered for our own studies to fill the void we all felt deep in our souls. Compared to today’s Black college youth, however, we were the real “Renaissance Men and Women,” which Dr. Robert M. Franklin, President of Morehouse College, must have been referring to in his recent speech about “mystique,” soul and “Mythical bond” of April 21, 2009.

At any rate, the following letter is what one might classify as reminiscent of the old Panama Canal Zone. The linguistic nuances are representative of the way in which the people of the Silver Roll spoke and for me it is priceless.  But, I will leave it up to the reader to correct my enthusiasm.

From Ray:

I brought this one back from the old Canal Zone. The creator is unknown to me, but he/she sure did a good job. Those were the days:

Bed #3

Gorgas Hospital

Ancon, Canal Zone

Dear Mr. Safety Director

Pan Canal Company

While working in de vicinity of de Tivoli Hotel dismantling project, I had occasion, to be de linehandler for de loadin’ plataform. On de day

which is in question, de victim, which is I truly, was holding de rope for the plataform which was about 50 foots in the air by de rafters of de buildin.

My bwoy, was loadin de plataform wit old wood and nails an tings. Well when de plataform was jest about full up, and ready to come down, my bwoy say, “Ole it jest a second”, an he grab a big block of wood or sometin an tro it on de plataform. Now the plataform is heavier dan I.

All of a sudden, my boty is ascendin rapidly and de plataform wit de old wood an nails an tings, is comin down fast. Just as I holla “Ho Lord “!!, de plataform lash me on de head an de shoulda an back and knee as I pass by it. I keeps ascendin until my hand which is holdin de rope, pass tru de pulley.

Den I ears a big crash as de plataform hit the ground. I look down an sees de old wood an nails  an tings fallin an flyin off de plataform an all over de place; now I is heavier dan de plataform. My hand come out from de pulley an I is  ascendin rapidly. I look down an I sees  de plataform ascendin towaeds me.

Just before I could holla “Cheese an rice!”, de platform lash me on de knee; den it catch me between de legs an scrape up my front side an box me chin an head as I pass by it agains. I lash de ground in de prone position an luckily my head hit de ground first an brake de fall.

De rope fly out me hand an now de platform is heavier dan I. When I chance to look up I see de platform desendin towards me. Just before I could holla “Ras”!! De platform lash me head an brake in two piece jest lay dead an de odder one fly up soinnin and turnin an come down an lash me knee again twice.

I respectfully submits dat dis truth happenin to de best of my recollectin abilities.


Braithwait Brown

Line handler for de

Loadin platform

P.S. De doctor says I I can fine a co-signer fo de hospital bill, I can mabey works again next week, Monday. But I can only wirks on de left side, because dat is de way my neck is bend.

(I saw Braithway last week  at the parque de los olvidados and he was playing checkers on his left side.) Jenri

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