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Letters from Isthmian Canal construction workers

SAMAAP (The Society of Friends of the West Indian Museum of Panama)
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/AA00016037/00001
 Material Information
Title: Letters from Isthmian Canal construction workers Contest solicitation, overview and entry requirements
Series Title: Isthmian Historical Society competition for the best true stories of life and work on the Isthmus of Panama during the construction of the Panama Canal
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Language: English
Spanish
Donor: Afro-Antillean Museum ( donor )
Publisher: Isthmian Historical Society
Place of Publication: Panama
 Subjects
Subjects / Keywords: Panama Canal
 Notes
Scope and Content: The Contest: In 1963, as the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal drew near, the Isthmian Historical Society decided to make a collection of stories of personal experiences of non-U.S. citizens during Construction Days by means of a contest. This contest was publicized in local newspapers, by notices in the food packages given to Disability Relief recipients, and in newspapers in the Caribbean area. The following letter was sent to a total of 15 newspapers in Jamaica, Barbados, British Honduras, Trinidad, Antigua, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, and Grenada: "The Isthmian Historical Society is trying to collect the personal experiences and viewpoints of those West Indians who served in the labor force that dug the Panama Canal. Very little has been written by them or about them. Soon it will be too late to obtain personal accounts. In the hope of making a permanent record of their experiences during the construction of the Canal, our Society is sponsoring a competition for the best true stories of life and work on the Isthmus of Panama during the construction years. It would be much appreciated if you would assist us in publicizing our competition. I am enclosing a separate sheet with the information for this." The information sheet: "The Isthmian Historical Society announces a competition for the-best true stories of life and work on the Isthmus of Panama during the construction of the Panama Canal. The competition is open to West Indians and other non-U.S. citizens who were on the Isthmus prior to 1915. Entries may be handwritten but must be legible. Anyone who is infirm may have his story written for him by someone else, but in this case it must be stated on the entry that it has been written for him in his own words by someone else. Give name, address, year arrived in Panama, where employed there, and type of work done. All entries must be in the mail by November 1, 1963. The winners will be announced in December. All entries become the property of the Isthmian Historical Society. First prize will be: $50 (U.S.); second prize: $30 (U.S.); third prize: $20 (U.S.)…” Brief notices of the contest were placed in several thousand food packages ("Food for Peace" packages have been distributed monthly by the Panama Canal Company-Canal Zone Government). These notices read: "Competition -- For West Indians & other non-U.S. citizens who worked on the Isthmus before 1915. For the best true stories of life & work on the Isthmus during the Canal construction there will be awarded prizes: 1st PRIZE: $50; … Give year arrived in Panama, kind of work & where, name & address. Write of interesting experiences & people, living & working conditions, etc… The Entries: The majority of the contest entries were handwritten. In some cases the handwriting was difficult to read. In making copies of the entries, it occasionally was necessary to omit an undecipherable word, leaving a blank space to indicate the omission. Although an effort was made to reproduce the letters exactly as they were written, it is probable that there are errors. However, they will detract little from what these Old Timers wanted to say. It should be remembered that these letters were written by individuals who labored on the Isthmus prior to 1915. They are no longer young. Some are handicapped by the infirmities of age: failing eyesight, unsteadv and arthritic hands that find it laborious to form words and sentences, and minds that know what they want to say but communicate it imperfectly. Generally, unfamiliar spellings need only to be sounded and their meaning becomes clear. In cases where the entrants wrote as they speak, there may be dropped "H"8s so that "has" is written "as". Other features of West Indian speech will be noted. As spoken language, there is no English more colorful. Mr. Albert Banister's interesting letter is a good example. The Society is most grateful for all the entries and we regret that there could not be a prize for everyone. Ruth C. Stuhl Competition Editor
 Record Information
Source Institution: Afro-Antillean Museum
Holding Location: Afro-Antillean Museum
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution.
Resource Identifier:
Classification:
System ID: AA00016037:00112

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/AA00016037/00001
 Material Information
Title: Letters from Isthmian Canal construction workers Contest solicitation, overview and entry requirements
Series Title: Isthmian Historical Society competition for the best true stories of life and work on the Isthmus of Panama during the construction of the Panama Canal
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Language: English
Spanish
Donor: Afro-Antillean Museum ( donor )
Publisher: Isthmian Historical Society
Place of Publication: Panama
 Subjects
Subjects / Keywords: Panama Canal
 Notes
Scope and Content: The Contest: In 1963, as the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal drew near, the Isthmian Historical Society decided to make a collection of stories of personal experiences of non-U.S. citizens during Construction Days by means of a contest. This contest was publicized in local newspapers, by notices in the food packages given to Disability Relief recipients, and in newspapers in the Caribbean area. The following letter was sent to a total of 15 newspapers in Jamaica, Barbados, British Honduras, Trinidad, Antigua, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, and Grenada: "The Isthmian Historical Society is trying to collect the personal experiences and viewpoints of those West Indians who served in the labor force that dug the Panama Canal. Very little has been written by them or about them. Soon it will be too late to obtain personal accounts. In the hope of making a permanent record of their experiences during the construction of the Canal, our Society is sponsoring a competition for the best true stories of life and work on the Isthmus of Panama during the construction years. It would be much appreciated if you would assist us in publicizing our competition. I am enclosing a separate sheet with the information for this." The information sheet: "The Isthmian Historical Society announces a competition for the-best true stories of life and work on the Isthmus of Panama during the construction of the Panama Canal. The competition is open to West Indians and other non-U.S. citizens who were on the Isthmus prior to 1915. Entries may be handwritten but must be legible. Anyone who is infirm may have his story written for him by someone else, but in this case it must be stated on the entry that it has been written for him in his own words by someone else. Give name, address, year arrived in Panama, where employed there, and type of work done. All entries must be in the mail by November 1, 1963. The winners will be announced in December. All entries become the property of the Isthmian Historical Society. First prize will be: $50 (U.S.); second prize: $30 (U.S.); third prize: $20 (U.S.)…” Brief notices of the contest were placed in several thousand food packages ("Food for Peace" packages have been distributed monthly by the Panama Canal Company-Canal Zone Government). These notices read: "Competition -- For West Indians & other non-U.S. citizens who worked on the Isthmus before 1915. For the best true stories of life & work on the Isthmus during the Canal construction there will be awarded prizes: 1st PRIZE: $50; … Give year arrived in Panama, kind of work & where, name & address. Write of interesting experiences & people, living & working conditions, etc… The Entries: The majority of the contest entries were handwritten. In some cases the handwriting was difficult to read. In making copies of the entries, it occasionally was necessary to omit an undecipherable word, leaving a blank space to indicate the omission. Although an effort was made to reproduce the letters exactly as they were written, it is probable that there are errors. However, they will detract little from what these Old Timers wanted to say. It should be remembered that these letters were written by individuals who labored on the Isthmus prior to 1915. They are no longer young. Some are handicapped by the infirmities of age: failing eyesight, unsteadv and arthritic hands that find it laborious to form words and sentences, and minds that know what they want to say but communicate it imperfectly. Generally, unfamiliar spellings need only to be sounded and their meaning becomes clear. In cases where the entrants wrote as they speak, there may be dropped "H"8s so that "has" is written "as". Other features of West Indian speech will be noted. As spoken language, there is no English more colorful. Mr. Albert Banister's interesting letter is a good example. The Society is most grateful for all the entries and we regret that there could not be a prize for everyone. Ruth C. Stuhl Competition Editor
 Record Information
Source Institution: Afro-Antillean Museum
Holding Location: Afro-Antillean Museum
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution.
Resource Identifier:
Classification:
System ID: AA00016037:00112

Full Text








White, Edward Adolphus; Eatafeta Parque Lefevre; Panama, R.P.



It was a vcry bright and sunny afternoon when I arrived in
Colon on the 28th day of April 1911. Just off the boat from
Jamaica, from the Parish of Westmoreland, I boarded the train
which took me to the little town of Hatachin, small, but
crowded. Life buzzed there like any big city. My memory is not
vety keen today, but I remember well the path leading up to the
little Zone, because I felt so strange and lonely as I. stood and
watched the children at play on the walk.

They seem to have been coming from school or were being
guided by a teacher, for the lady came up to me and asked if I
was a stranger. I replied, and also told her my name. She was
very friendly and told me too her name was Emma Monroe, and that
she was one of the teachers on the Zone.

As a young man of 20 years, she advised me how to take care
of myself, where to walk and how to choose my friends. There
were four of us strangers, and we lodged with an elderly man in
a little place called "Banana Walk."

On the morrow we rose early with the thought of seeking a
job. I personally was indeed lucky, as I obtained a position
that day in the Sanitary Dept., with Mr. Brown, the foreman. It
wasn't much of a job anyway, as they had more men than work; so,
within a few.weeks I was laid off, and right away was employed
by the Railroad Dept., whose foreman was Mr. Arthur, (whom we
used to call l0d Arthur) and the timekeeper was Walwin R.
Chambers.

The lonely feeling started to leave me, as these men
treated me like their own. Mr. Arthur, Mr. Chambers, and I were
so knitted together, Idlt as if I was their own son.

It was through their encouragement that I left the Railroad
Dept. and succeeded in getting a better position at the Gorgona
Foundry. I worked there until 1914 when I was again put off.
My stay at Gorgona was pleasant. Being young and agile, and willing
to work, I was well treated by every one I came in.contact with.
White and coloured sought me out. I was always ready and willing
to serve. I was away from my parents, my sisters and brothers,
but I did not feel the absence of them all, because I found
others who made me homely.











White, E. A. p.2


But the time came when I had to leave again and seek else-
where. So, I came up to lanama, iznd through recommendation got
a job at the Balboa Foundry. I worked there just as pleasant
until 1920 when the strike came on, and a lot of us were out of
work. I was not destined to be out of work for long. It was
only two months after when I was again employed at the Corozal
asylum. Reduction of force came in and I was off again, and
got a call to present myself at the Y.M.C.A. I was there for
almost two years when I was again reduced.

I then turned my nose to the Gorgas Hospital. I worked
there but did not like it. I sought a better position which I
obtained at the "Ancon Club House."

During those various changes, I also did a few months work
at Fort Amador in waiting at the Service Club. I worked at the
Ancon Club House for nearly two years again. My stay there was
hot pleasant. My co-workers and I did not get along nicely.
But my employer's treatment were encouraging.

Then, they transferred me to the Ancon Laundry where I
served for 27 years until my retirement in 1954.

At the time of my retirement, I felt I was still able and
strong to keep on working many more years. I was disappointed
and missed the going to work daily. I also missed the presence
of those I used to be with. My employers and my fellow-workers.
Not that my years of working there were all pleasant ones. No'
Some of the times I would wonder why do I stay ont But human
beings are the same all the world over. We would be happy one
day, and trouble-some the next. But in spite of all the indif-
ferences, we stood for each other.

The little bickcrin(-s did not alter our opinions of one
another, nor caused any dislike between us. Personally, I
missed all my folks, for we were a jolly lot at the Ancon
Laundry.

Naturally, I must end my story by saying my entire life's
work with the Panama Canal, starting from the age of 20 until
the ripe age of 63 were pleasant ones.

Today I am a very sick Ran, stricken with a stroke for
almost three years. But I am also a lucky man; for God has











White, E. A. p.3


provided me with a care-taker who cares me like a baby.

And all that you (ood people have done for us, and are still
doing, I am most grateful. The packages of food every month,
the Doctor's care, the Nurse's attendance, the medicines and the
kind patience with us 'who are so miserable at times with contin-
ual pains and complaints, and with the thought of trying to give
us a raise in our monthly salaries, how can I find words enough
to express my gratitude in any other way, but, by thanking
Almighty God for you all.

May God never cease to bless America, its Presidents, and
its people. -ay "He" strengthen you all, and keep you that you
will always be able to help us the poor ones, who have to depend
solely on the mercy of God, and the goodness of the American
People.
EDWARD A. WHITE
D.R. 7209