"The Contract"

World War II brought to city-based Bahamians high levels of unemployment and poverty as the community’s seasonal tourism industry collapsed. By 1942 the prospect of a decline in the construction sector threatened workers with further hardship. Meanwhile, in the United States a shortage of labour gripped every sector of the economy as conscription and military service claimed men located across the country. There the need for people who would work on farms grew especially dire. Nineteen forty-three brought The Bahamas and the United States together in a mutually agreeable arrangement. To counter growing local distress, the Bahamas Government agreed to supply Bahamians to work on farms and in related industries when the United States Government, intent on maintaining food production, solicited farm workers from abroad. The agreement between the two governments came to be known in The Bahamas as “The Project” or as “The Contract” – the latter a term reflecting the fact that a formal contract would be signed by each farm worker who took part in the programme.

Under “The Contract”, from 1943 to 1965 an estimated 30,000 Bahamians, both men and women, migrated to the United States to work on short-term contracts. Initially Bahamians were assigned to pick oranges in Florida, but as the programme grew labourers traversed the United States, whether picking beans in Maryland or farming in New Jersey or working in agricultural packing and processing plants in New York. Often work was hard, carried out in challenging climates and conditions and calling for long hours of manual labour. Additionally, black Bahamian labourers who worked in the southern United States met with “Jim Crow” laws which prescribed racial segregation in public facilities. The Bahamian experience paralleled the African-American experience under “Jim Crow”: restaurants, restrooms, transport, schools, and other public facilities which were available to them were consistently inferior in quality, and racist attitudes and practices were commonplace. Nevertheless Bahamians seeking to better their circumstance welcomed the opportunity to work, with nearly 5,000 participating in the first year of the programme.

Economically and socially the migration of so many Bahamians to the United States to work on a temporary basis reshaped the community. Financially, many of the migrants benefitted from taking part in the programme. While each worker received a portion of his or her earned wages, another portion was placed in a savings fund, and yet another was sent home to family members. These savings enabled workers, the overwhelming majority of whom returned to The Bahamas, to finance homes, start businesses, and share money with family members who had remained in the islands. Socially, on the other hand, sometimes the programme disrupted family relations as a result of the absence of one or another spouse for extended periods of time. All told, “The Contract” would leave its mark on postwar Bahamian society for years to come.

Images

Bahamians on "The Contract" arriving in Florida

Bahamians on "The Contract" arriving in Florida

Source: Florida Historical Society View File Details Page

Food will Win the War

Food will Win the War

Source: Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection | Creator: Webb, photographer View File Details Page

A Cameraman's Dope Sheet from Fox Movietone News which describes a video segment featuring the Duke of Windsor inspecting Bahamian laborers at the Farm Security Administration camp in Swedesboro, New Jersey.

A Cameraman's Dope Sheet from Fox Movietone News which describes a video segment featuring the Duke of Windsor inspecting Bahamian laborers at the Farm Security Administration camp in Swedesboro, New Jersey.

Source: University of South Carolina. Moving Image Research Collections | Creator: Fox View File Details Page

Official Gazette Bahamas

Official Gazette Bahamas

Included within is a notice from the Labour Office announcing the distribution of family allowances to be paid to dependents of recruited contract workers. | Source: University of Florida | Creator: Official Gazette Bahamas View File Details Page

Documents passed through the Labour Office detailing Contract workers

Documents passed through the Labour Office detailing Contract workers

Source: Labour Office View File Details Page

Letter from Russel-Black & Company to J.F. Holloman, county agent in Hendersonville, North Carolina expressing thanks for Bahamian labour.

Letter from Russel-Black & Company to J.F. Holloman, county agent in Hendersonville, North Carolina expressing thanks for Bahamian labour.

Source: Records of the Office of Labor, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration View File Details Page

A War Foods Administration Memorandum from Mr. Mason Barr, Chief Interstate & Foreign Labor Branch to M.E. Hays, Regional Director discussing Bahamian Transported Agricultural Workers

A War Foods Administration Memorandum from Mr. Mason Barr, Chief Interstate & Foreign Labor Branch to M.E. Hays, Regional Director discussing Bahamian Transported Agricultural Workers

Source: Records of the Office of Labor, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration View File Details Page

Letter from Phillip G. Bruton, Brigadier General U.S. Army, Director of Labor to Herbert Woodside, Coolspring Farm Labor Supply Center, Office of Labor, War Foods Administration discussing Bahamian laborers referencing President Roosevelt.

Letter from Phillip G. Bruton, Brigadier General U.S. Army, Director of Labor to Herbert Woodside, Coolspring Farm Labor Supply Center, Office of Labor, War Foods Administration discussing Bahamian laborers referencing President Roosevelt.

Source: Records of the Office of Labor, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration View File Details Page

Brothers Calvin Bethel, Sr. (right) and Haddock Bethel (left) from South Palmetto Point, Eleuthera built businesses in Vero Beach, Florida after going on The Contract.

Brothers Calvin Bethel, Sr. (right) and Haddock Bethel (left) from South Palmetto Point, Eleuthera built businesses in Vero Beach, Florida after going on The Contract.

Source: "From Dat Time": The Oral & Public History Institute Archives View File Details Page

The 50th anniversary commemorative stamp produced by the government of The Bahamas

The 50th anniversary commemorative stamp produced by the government of The Bahamas

View File Details Page

Audio

Mrs. Remelda Bodie recalls her and her husband's time on The Contract which included working in Florida, Virginia, and having a baby at the camp.

Source: "From Dat Time": The Oral & Public History Institute Archive View File Details Page

Mr. William Mackey shares his experience on The Contract

Source: "From Dat Time": The Oral & Public History Institute Archives View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Jessica Dawson & Tracey Thompson, “"The Contract",” Ramble Bahamas, accessed November 15, 2018, http://ramblebahamas.org/items/show/12.
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