“No Yankee Rule for Us Negro British West Indians”: US Annexation Fears in the World War I-Era Caribbean

Thursday, January 5, 2017: 1:50 PM
Room 201 (Colorado Convention Center)
Reena N. Goldthree, Dartmouth College
In the book-length treatise Confederation of the British West Indies versus Annexation to the United States of America: A Political Discourse on the West Indies (1912), Jamaican Louis Meikle warned British West Indians about the imperial ambitions of the United States. Meikle, a physician and dentist who had worked in the US-controlled Canal Zone in Panama, argued that U.S. expansionists would not rest until Britain’s Caribbean colonies were part of a new U.S. overseas empire. “The acquisition of these tropical possession of Great Britain, by the hook or the crook, has been the dream of the people of the United States and the Washington Government for a score or more of years,” he warned.

Following the U.S. military interventions in Cuba and Puerto Rico in 1898, British West Indians carefully monitored the growing presence of the United States in the Caribbean, assessing the implications of U.S. imperialism for the region’s black and coloured majority. This paper examines how West Indians responded to recurring proposals—from both British and U.S. commentators—to annex Britain’s colonies in the Caribbean to the United States. Tracing the annexation debate using archival documents and reports from the circum-Caribbean black press, this paper reveals that West Indians of color adopted a firm anti-annexationist stance during the World War I era in response to U.S. domestic racial policies. While West Indian activists acknowledged that British rhetoric of a color-blind empire obscured widespread forms of discrimination against colonials of color, they insisted that Jim Crow segregation and the “lynch law” in the United States made annexation proposals utterly untenable. Furthermore, they countered U.S. annexation proposals by articulating political discourses that stressed the unity of peoples of African descent across the globe and a desire for representative government in the West Indies.