The beautiful island of Barbados in the Caribbean gained its independence from Britain in 1966 after several years of slavery and colonization. The island is mostly made up of generations of enslaved Africans kidnapped from the continent and forced to start new lives on the island.
Aside from its history of slavery and rebellion such as the Bussa’s Rebellion, and its luxury travel sites, the island is also known to have produced people who went on to make history. Samuel Jackman Prescod is one of them. Born out of wedlock in 1806 to Lydia Smith, a free colored woman, and William Prescod, a White wealthy landowner, Prescod was often discriminated against due to his appearance.
But the illegitimate son would grow up to make history as the first person of African descent to be elected to Barbados’ parliament in 1843 while catering to the needs of the underprivileged and fighting for social justice.
Believing that the pen is mightier than the sword, Prescod became a writer after pursuing his primary education at St. Mary’s School and getting trained as a joiner. As a writer, he risked his life to raise racial and labor issues that others were scared to talk about. Thanks to his writings in the print media, people on the island were empowered to speak up about their challenges.
At the same time, Prescod was being targeted by authorities for his write-ups criticizing the system. This was while he was the editor for the New Times before leaving to join The Liberal newspaper which was founded by poor Whites. The Liberal newspaper dealt with issues such as the abolition of slavery and social injustice while throwing its weight behind reforms that would help unite the masses including Black people against the powerful white plantocracy, according to one account. The Liberal would become one of the most popular journals in Barbados and throughout the West Indies.
By 1831, Prescod had successfully won the right for free colored people to exercise their right to vote. And when The Liberal ran into financial difficulties, Prescod, knowing the power of the media, bought the media house with Thomas Harris. But Prescod was later charged with criminal libel and jailed for eight days in 1840. That, however, made him more popular.
Three years later, that is on June 6, 1843, Prescod was elected as a member of the newest constituency, the City of Bridgetown. That made him the first non-White person to sit in the House of Assembly. Prescod formed a political party known as the Liberal Party with some members of the House of Assembly. For 25 years, the party fought for social justice and became known as the opposition.
All in all, Prescod fought for the rights of Black people while introducing educational programs that will make them aware of their rights to challenge the system. He also ensured that educational facilities were created for the children of former slaves. The legislator and politician further urged authorities to review clauses in the Police Act which, as stated by one account, “maintained unfair distinctions between white and colored people.”
Prescod retired from Parliament in 1860 to become judge of the assistant court of appeals. He retained that position until his death in 1871 at the age of 65. Apart from appearing on stamps, Prescod has also been on the 1973 Barbadian one-dollar note and on the twenty-dollar note.
Officials redesigned the twenty-dollar note three times — in 1985, 2000, and 2013. They still kept Prescod’s portrait. And the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic is also named in his honor thanks to his immense contribution to the common good of the Barbadian society.