President Ronald Reagan — Republican, conservative and white — is not exactly popular among black Americans. But during the recognition of his 100th birthday, there was one group of black people celebrating. They live on the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada.
In the late 1970s, Grenadians had a regime change. A group of Marxists who called themselves the New Jewel Movement ousted Prime Minister Eric Gairy and declared Grenada a socialist state. A man named Maurice Bishop became the prime minister. Bernard Coard, Bishop’s close friend since high school, became deputy prime minister.
It took only four years for the communist duo to have a falling out. Coard’s faction placed Bishop under house arrest in October 1983. Bishop’s supporters raided the house and freed him. They proceeded to Fort Rupert, where Grenadian army units loyal to the Coard faction confronted them.
After a brief gun battle in which the Coard faction prevailed, Bishop, his mistress and several others were lined up against a wall and machine-gunned to death.
The Coard faction then imposed martial law and a dusk-to-dawn, shoot-to-kill curfew.
Teenage Grenadian “soldiers” patrolled the island carrying AK-47s. Convinced that American students attending the medical school in St. George’s were in danger, Reagan ordered American troops to invade the island. Within days the Coard faction would be ousted.
I received firsthand details about this business in August 2003, when DeWayne Wickham, the founder and director of the Institute for Advanced Journalism Studies, sent me and two other journalists to Grenada. Our mission was to write a detailed story about how Grenadians felt 20 years after the American invasion.
One of the people we talked to was newspaper publisher and editor Leslie Pierre. In 1981, the Bishop-Coard regime closed down Pierre’s newspaper, called The Torchlight. The editor had ruffled some feathers by printing a story sympathetic to Rastafarians critical of the New Jewel Movement. Not to be deterred, Pierre started another paper called The Grenadian Voice. The Bishop-Coard regime put him behind bars.
“I knew I wouldn’t get out unless the Americans invaded the island,” Pierre told us.
He and the other dissidents were freed immediately after the Coard faction was booted. Once he was freed, Pierre said Grenadians told him stories of how they invited American soldiers into their homes for meals. Others simply shouted “we love you” to American troops as they passed by.
The graffiti I saw on some walls in St. George’s might be gone now, but I remember it vividly.
Someone had spray-painted, “Thank God for U.S. and Caribbean heroes of freedom.” Next to it were the words, “Thank you, U.S.A., for liberating us.”
Reagan delivered an island of black people from the clutches of Marxist thugs. You can rest assured he is remembered in Grenada.