by Lydia M. Reid
By the late 1940’s Panama, particularly the terminal cities of Panama and Colon, had become a magnet for some of the most gifted writers of the Anglo-Caribbean. Many of these writers would have come from having exercised their writing abilities in newspapers and publications on the islands. Some arrived in Panama at a very young age like Sydney A. Young, who sought to channel his intellectual prowess into a viable writing career.
In any event, it was inevitable that such exceptional talent would find an outlet in the glaring need on the isthmus for news, literature and information in the English language aimed at the Westindian community; hence, the development of isthmian journalism. More often than not these talented journalists held down jobs on local dailies while sharing their talents with the Westindian owned weeklies.
Since the founding of James W. Humphries’ Colon Telegram in the early 1890’s many West Indian periodicals had appeared on the isthmus, served their purpose and perished. Each one of these publications had a four-fold purpose 1) present and interpret the news to their readers; 2) crusade on behalf of the rights of the Westindian community; 3) attempt to educate the masses of unlettered workers to a plane of moral, social and economic acceptance; 4) and inspire their readers with faith in the “democratic processes.”
Publications edited by West Indians, while devoting their pages almost exclusively to the achievements, problems, grievances, and aspirations of the black Westindians, never failed to give fair coverage and prominent display to the exploits of non-black groups and individuals. This practice had not necessarily been followed by the leading English-speaking local dailies which often set aside a page or section for “West Indian activities” or “News of the West Indian Community,” as in the case of The Panama American.
The display of the picture of a Negro of international repute on the front page of any of these dailies occurred for the first time with the visit of Joe Louis to Panama in 1947, and a story featuring a celebrated black usually found its way into the segregated section, or some inside page.
The two most influential of the newspapers published by West Indians were the weekly Workman and The Panama Tribune. The Workman, published by H. N. Waldron, a native of Barbados and former government printer in St. Lucia, came into being sometime after the construction period and lasted until the 1930’s. It championed the cause of the Westindians in Panama with great courage during the turbulent days preceding the 1920 strike on the Canal Zone and several years afterward. Lack of working capital and inadequate equipment curtailed its operation, however, and led to its closure.
Its place was taken over by The Panama Tribune which started in 1928 on the proverbial shoe-string and, for a while, led a precarious existence. There was, however, what was described as “an unmistakable core of realism and determination” in what founder-editor-publisher Sidney A. Young wrote and, as his editorials usually revealed the tone, temper and sentiments of the Westindian colony, The Tribune came to be recognized by officialdom in Panama and on the Canal Zone as the mouthpiece of the Westindians on the isthmus.
Editors of character and capacity in charge of sections or pages on local dailies dedicated to Westindians included Archdeacon Arthur F. Nightengale, B.D.M.B.E., and Albert E. Bell, who was employed on the editorial section of The Nation.
Other West Indian journalists of note were J. Pilgrim Wilkins, J.E.E. Mingo, B.P. Wynter, attorney A. Blanchfield Thompson, Elijah A. Hunter, W.C. King, I. Meyers, and Ernest J. Jamieson, ace reporter, columnist and Atlantic Side (Colon) Circulation Manager of The Nation. In the ranks of veteran correspondent were Cecil A. Coleman, C. Lio Walker, Conrad G. Wittingham, who was then attached to the office of the New York Office of The Pittsburgh Courier (one of the oldest and most prestigious of the Black American newspapers) and Edmund G. Headley, C. L. Nicholson-Nichols and Moses St. Louis Darling who contributed invaluably to the store of news gathering and reporting while they were associated with the mechanical staff of The Star and Herald.