The Grenada Revolution Online

Maurice Rupert Bishop [1944-1983]

Maurice Bishop
Photo, Fedon Publishers

Maurice Rupert Bishop was the Prime Minister of Grenada from 15 March 1979 to 19 October 1983, the day when he was executed at Fort Rupert. At the same time, he was also Commander in Chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Grenada; Chairman of the Central Committee of the New Jewel Movement; Minister of Information, Defense and Interior of the People's Revolutionary Government of Grenada. He was known by the following nicknames: ‘Bish’, ‘Brother Bish’, ‘Comrade Leader’, ‘Morris’, and in a derogatory manner as ‘Maurice the Red,’ or ‘Bishop the Red.’

O'Shaughnessy reports that ‘Bish’ liked to play cards:

“Playing cards was one of his [Bishop's] favourite occupations. At one session he was playing his favourite game - Peach*. The score was being kept and Bishop's points were tallied under the initials PM.

‘Do you know what PM stands for?’ asked Bishop.
‘Prime Minister,’ his companions replied.
‘No,’ said Bishop laughing, ‘It means Peach Master!’”

‘Bish’ was 6’ 3" tall, an excellent speaker; a handsome man with recognized charismatic features of personality. His oratorical style was arresting with adept cadences of timing and silence. He would execute a gesture by raising his arm and moving it in a rhythm in keeping with his text. He would pronounce words with a particularity, causing them to ring singularly in the air. Humor was a mark of his way of derision for he would pull the audience into the absurdity of what he was mocking.

Maurice Bishop was known to be pragmatic in that he held that the results of an idea are the best criteria by which to judge its merit. He appeared not to be rigid about this for he kept creativity and hope alive in his vision. He was more a realist in terms of figuring how ideas would work out. He was articulate and warm with people.

Bishop's charisma and his democratic sensibilities, though, proved not to be a substitute for wielding authority and leadership.

Born on 29 May 1944 in [Dutch] Aruba, he moved to Grenada from Aruba in 1950 with his late Grenadian parents Rupert and Alimenta Bishop, along with his sisters Ann and Maureen. He attended his first school in Grenada when he was six years old, the Wesley Hall Primary School and in the next year passed on to St. George's Roman Catholic Primary School.

Presentation College - Old Building
2002, photo by Ann Elizabeth Wilder

Maurice Bishop went on scholarship (one of 4 government scholarship students) to the Roman Catholic Presentation Brothers' College in 1957. Presentation Boys College (PBC), as it is also known, includes an older section, as in the photograph above, where Bishop attended classes. He also studied in the newer and current building. At this secondary school, Bishop won the 1962 Principal's Gold medal for “outstanding academic and overall ability.”

Bernard Coard and Maurice Bishop did not attend the same secondary school. Bernard Coard went to Grenada Boys Secondary School [GBSS] and Maurice Bishop went to Presentation Boys College [PBC].

At Presentation he attained his Senior Cambridge and Higher School Certificates. He was President of the Students' Union, President of the Debating Society, foundation member and President of the Historical Society. Bishop was the editor of the school magazine at Presentation College called the ‘Student Voice.’. He received the 1962 Principal's Gold Medal at Presentation College.

He was co-founder in 1963, with Bernard Coard from the Grenada Boys Secondary School, of the Grenada Assembly of Youth After Truth. This organization was designed to enable the students of both institutions to address the important questions of the day. Maurice Bishop graduated from Presentation Brothers' College in 1962.

After secondary school graduation, for about nine months, Bishop and Coard continued the "Grenada Assembly of Youth After Truth" while Bishop was working at the Registry in Grenada. This organization's purpose was to attempt raising the consciousness of Grenadian youth, especially among and between the main secondary schools in St. George's - The Grenada Boys Secondary School (GBSS), Presentation Brothers' College (PBC), Convent and High School. The organization held meetings every other Friday in the Central Market Place of St. George's. They would speak in public of current events. According to Dujmovic' dissertation, Bishop talk in 1963 at a [Catholic] lay leader's meeting was on "The Catholic Viewpoint on Re-Armament."

"The Grenada Assembly of Youth After Truth" dissolved after nine months. Maurice Bishop left for Great Britain in December 1963 to study law, and Bernard Coard went to Brandeis University in the United States to study economics.

In 1963, at the age of 19, Maurice Bishop left the island to follow a legal career in London studying law at the Holborn College of Law, London University. He enrolled in post-graduate studies at King's College and also achieved a L.L.B. degree - University of London Gray's Inn, one of the four Inns of Court which admit students wishing to become barristers. Bishop became a barrister (lawyer) in 1966.

He was President of the West Indian Students Society at London University. Putting his law studies into practice, Bishop co-founded a legal aid clinic for the West Indian community in Notting Hill, London. He was also active, during the 1960s, in a group called the Standing Conference of West Indian Organizations and in the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (CARD) in the United Kingdom. CARD, a multi-racial organization, was formed in 1964. By 1969 CARD was breaking up over disputes about ideology and white participation. It is interesting to speculate whether or not Maurice Bishop knew Walter Rodney and attended a Malcolm X lecture during this period.

In 1966, he married a nurse, Angela Redhead, and that same year was called to the Bar in London but never completed his post graduate studies. By 1967, though, Bishop had accomplished the requirement for practicing law in Lincoln's Inn. His law studies were complete in 1969. Bishop worked in the civil service as a surtax examiner until 1970, He also involved himself with voluntary work with the Legal Aid Clinic in Notting Hill Gate.

During Bishop's time based in the United Kingdom, he traveled to Czechoslovakia and East Germany. Sandford & Vigilante state that Bishop read "Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and C.L.R. James" who Sandford & Vigilante note as "an influential Trinidadian Trotskyite." He was influenced by Julius Nyerere's "Arusha Declaration" issued in 1967 and the Tanzanian socialist leader's book "Ujamaa: Essays on Socialism" published in 1968 by Oxford University Press.

Having passed through Trinidad, Bishop was back in Grenada by February/March, 1970 after 7 years in England. He set up a private law practice. In Grenada, Bishop was associated with the Trinidadian National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) circa March - September 1970.

Caribbean left-wing movements began to contact and support each other. In Grenada on 10 May 1970, Bishop led a demonstration of favorable approval for the black-power uprising in Trinidad, including support for ‘Grenadian brothers’ on that neighboring island. He was inspired by the Black Power Movement and Black dignity.

During December 1970, a gathering called the 'Rat Island Black Power Conference' was held off St. Lucia. At the Rat Island conference, Bishop and Unison Whiteman met the late George Odlum of St. Lucia, Trevor Munroe of Jamaica, and other West Indian intellectuals. Out of the ‘Rat Island Conference’ came the group known as ‘Forum,’ closely aligned with the National Action Front (NAF) in Grenada.

Maurice Bishop, undated
Maurice Bishop, undated,
Photo courtesy of PERPET

Regional intellectuals from St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenada took on consolidation in a Caribbean association of political groups called ‘Forum.’ ‘Forum,’ active in Grenada in June-July 1970 had a newspaper of the same name. Forum primarily protested the policies of Eric Matthew Gairy and discussed issues of black nationalism. In Grenada, ‘Forum’ joined with ‘Cribou’ in 1971 to uphold International Solidarity Day, sponsored by the ‘Pan-African Secretariat’ in Guyana, and a ‘National Conference on the Rights of Black People’, a group protesting racism in Great Britain.

Barristers Maurice Bishop and Kenrick Radix, went to the defense of striking nurses from their legal office at Cockroach Alley, St. George's. The Nurses Strike occurred in November-December 1970, protesting conditions at St. George's General Hospital. The Forum group, along with nurses, school children, students, trade union officials, and members of the GNP, and other opposition groups, organized a large December protest. Bishop was arrested with about 30 others. They all were acquitted after a lengthy trial of seven months.

A secret conference held on Martinique in February 1972 [possibly delayed to 31 March - 3 April 1972] which Bishop helped organize. The conference was to set up a ‘new Caribbean society’ based on socialist principles. Its members discussed and strategized actions for liberation movements.

Maurice Bishop, Franklyn Harvey, Kenrick Radix and a few other urban professionals were the leaders of Movement for Assemblies of the People (MAP) from St. George's. Out of ‘Forum‘ grew Movement for the Advance of Community Effort (MACE) in 1972 and ‘MAP a few months later.’ Emerging shortly after elections of 1972, MAP people, primarily Bishop, Radix and Jacqueline Creft were interested in the philosophy of Julius Nyerere and Tanzanian socialism. MAP also claimed itself as a political organization, "which advocated the construction of popular institutions" centered in villages. The aim was to "allow for the regular democratic participation of the broad masses in the country's affairs."

In January of 1973, Maurice Bishop took the lead at La Sagesse in St. David's of the large gathering protesting the locked gates to the beach at Lord Bronlow's estate. Bishop was an early leader New Jewel Movement (NJM) leader in 11 March 1973 when MAP and JEWEL merged. He was Joint Coordinating Secretary of the NJM along with Unison Whiteman.

The publication of the NJM Party, the New Jewel, was issued weekly.

A major event in the escalation between Gairy forces and the New Jewel Movement was Bloody Sunday, 18 November 1973

A second major event in the escalation between Gairy forces and the New Jewel Movement was Bloody Monday, 21 January 1974

The afternoon before Independence Day celebrations of 6 February 1974, Maurice Bishop was charged with seeking to assassinate others The 60 or so police said they found, according to an official report, at his home supplies of "arms, ammunition, equipment for erecting [unclear], specially made dungaria (sic) uniforms, a blue-print to assassinate the Prime Minister at his Night Club and documents containing lists of names of guerilla camps and their members." Bishop spent Independence Day incarcerated and was released on bail 8 February. Soon after, Bishop made a trip to North America. Upon returning he went to Guyana, attending a meeting of the Regional Steering Committee of the 6th Pan African Congress held 26-29 March 1974.

Later in the year, on 4 October 1974, Bishop acted as legal counsel for Desmond 'Ras Kabinda' Trotter, accused with Roy Mason of the murder of a white American tourist earlier in the year. The trial was held 7 October 1974.

Bishop was a NJM Bureau member May of 1975. In October, Bishop addressed a seminar, titled "Fascism: A Caribbean Reality?" in Trinidad organized by the Oilfield Workers Trade Union. Bishop also represented the Nutmeg Board as solicitor in High Court. In November of that year, a NJM Political Bureau meeting formed a Grenada-Cuba Friendship Association. Bishop was one of the initial leaders. In 1976, Bishop was St. George's Popular Alliance elector to Parliament, representing St. George's South-East.

Maurice Bishop Election Poster

A first visit to Cuba for Bishop was in May of 1977. Bishop and Unison Whiteman, fellow Co-Ordinating Secretary of the NJM, were sponsored by the Cuban Institute of Friendship with People (ICAP). Bishop could carry on a conversation in Spanish. In the years before the coup d'etat travel to Cuba and studies related to Cuba and radical politics was a major theme, and included a Grenada/Cuban Friendship society. During 1978, the NJM published Exposure.

Maurice Bishop, George Louison and others
M. Bishop, G. Louison & others, Photo, The Resource Center

Maurice Bishop and Vincent Noel
Vincent Noel & Maurice Bishop, Photo, The Resource Center

‘Operation Apple’, the code name for the coup d'etat of March 13, 1979, marked the official beginning of a new government, based on years of preparation. Bishop became Prime Minister of Grenada on 15 March 1979, at 34 years of age. His oratorical dynamism and facility with words and phrases were vital skills for the mobilization of a nation. In a 25 March 25 rally, Maurice Bishop announced his own Ministry of Home Affairs, External Affairs, Security, Information and Culture, and Carriacou Affairs. He appointed Lyle Bullen to be Secretary for Carriacou Affairs, responsible to Minister Bishop.

During most of his Prime Ministership, Bishop's office was on promontory at St. George's, seen from any spot on the Carenage. The building, named Butler House, dated from 1943 and was formerly the Islander hotel. Butler House was demolished during the US intervention and the ruined walls stand to this day.

Bishop personally owned, according to Adkin, at least three houses at Parade, plus four apartments at the Quarantine Station. His official residence in Mount Wheldale was across the road from the home of Bernard and Phyllis Coard.

Two arguments exist about the political ideology of Maurice Bishop:

One argument runs that Bishop was going to replace restrictive measures of government control with ideals based on enabling the people decide - as in matters of a genuinely free press, free elections, a Constitution formed with input from the people.

The second argument runs that Coard was the man of strong-arm tactics and a rigid Marxist-Leninist. Bishop and his supporters stood in his way with their lax attitudes; therefore they were ultimately to be eliminated. One of the early times of note, before the infusion of hard Left political thought, was during a time Bishop was out of the country - July and much of September 1979, spending EC$12,912.38. Rumour was Bishop was not happy about the taking over of the Coke Factory and the closing down of the Torchlight newspaper, among other enacted decisions. Rumour speculated an overthrow of Bishop's leadership with Bernard Coard as the new leader. Bishop knew about these rumours.

There is little evidence in print that Maurice Bishop, who signed off on all orders, including detention orders as Minister of Internal Affairs, and major reports, differed much in his political ideology from the rest of the NJM, including the so-called ‘Coard faction’. The talk was in how political ideals were to be set in conrete, as it were.

Commander-in-Chief Maurice Bishop was a member of the Ministry of National Security along with Selwyn Strachan, Ewart Layne, Hudson Austin and the Minister of Security Liam James, who made arrest recommendations to Bishop and then carried them out after Bishop signed off on the order. Sometimes Bernard Coard would sign off on arrest and detainee orders.

One can read the Manifesto of the NJM of 1979 or Line of March (1) for the Party plus Line of March (2) for the Party plus Line of March (3) for the Party from 1982 to be informed of what Bishop believed.

Try to locate the book, titled Forward Ever! Three Years of the Grenada Revolution; speeches of Maurice Bishop. Included in this book is an interview by Grace Dana that appeared in the July 12, 1981, issue of the Cuban English-language GRANMA Weekly Review The interview is We'll Always Choose To Stand Up. Bishop speaks directly to difficult questions and challenges facing the government.

Maurice Bishop and Others
Maurice Bishop and Others, First International Conference in Solidarity with Grenada, held in Grenada,
23-25 November 1981 - Photo courtesy of PERPET

Bishop supported incarceration of detainees, the closing down of newspapers, and was commander of the massive militarization of the country. He was Commander-in-Chief during the ‘dark episodes’ like the death of Strachan Phillip, the rasta round-up and camp in Hope Vale, and the various excesses of the People's Revolutionary Army.

Nevertheless, even if the ideology between Coard and Bishop was exactly the same, the difference was narrow. Even if the difference was of degree, in that Bishop wanted grass-roots democracy and Coard wanted highly, centralized control, within the grand scheme of things, these differences are minor compared to the unfolding of events. Other—more ominous—forces of human nature were at play.

In Bishop's own handwriting - a notation on his official biography, he appeared to summarily itemize the principles for which he stood:

  1. Black Power - Nationalism
  2. Anti Imperialism/Non Alignment/Striving for genuine Pol & [unclear] Independence
  3. World Peace - Caribbean a Zone of Peace/Caribbean integration
  4. Struggle for Workers Rights
  5. Struggle for Women's Rights
  6. Fight against Racism - Southern Africa (CALD)
  7. Genuine democracy - Grass Roots structure for real participation & involvement of all the masses

NOTE: There is an curved arrow line originating between number 8 and 7 with the arrowhead pointing towards 2. Six is missing.

Maurice Bishop is survived by his two sisters Maureen and Anne, and his ex-wife Angela and their children: John born in 1971, and Nadi or Nadia born 1969. It is rumored he had a son with Jacqueline Creft who was executed at the same time as Bishop. The son Vladimir Lenin Creft was born December 1978 and died July/August 1994. He was murdered by other youths in a nightclub in Toronto at age 16.

A major event occurred 29 May 2009 honoring Maurice Bishop. The Point Salines International Airport [PSIA] was renamed the Maurice Bishop International Airport [MBIA]. Bishop spoke of the airport often. These speeches reflect his vision - Together We Shall Build Our Airport and The New Tourism.

A major, in-depth biography of Maurice Bishop is yet to be written and published. Such a book is past due.

*Peach is the name of a card game, known by many other names in the Pitch or All Fours, even Trinidadian All Fours genre. According to C.P. David "Peach (or Pedro) is played in the same way as All Fours, except some minor differences. In Peach the 5 (in the main suit) is the high (principal) card." Peach is in the "Seven-Up" card game family, which includes the game of "All Fives." A variation in this family is an "Auction Pitch" card game called "Set Back."

Maurice Bishop During Rally, circa 1981
Maurice Bishop Photo by Jim Rudin, Grenada

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