Old friends: From left Anna Wheal, Betty Kawaley, Elnora Sheppard and Ruth Cordy. Anna and Ruth were two involved in the plot to distribute leaflets encouraging a theatre boycott. *Photo supplied
Old friends: From left Anna Wheal, Betty Kawaley, Elnora Sheppard and Ruth Cordy. Anna and Ruth were two involved in the plot to distribute leaflets encouraging a theatre boycott. *Photo supplied
After 50 years of secrecy, 89-year-old Anna Wheal is breaking her silence on her involvement with the Theatre Boycott of 1959.

It is a secret she has never revealed to anyone - not even her husband.

In the early summer of 1959, when she was 39-years-old, Mrs. Wheal planned a reunion with some old University friends who had graduated together from Queen's University in 1939.

Mrs. Wheal, along with fellow Canadian Ruth Cordy, decided to visit their old classmate Betty Kawaley at her home in ­Bermuda.

Due to a lack of room at her house, Mrs. Kawaley put up her two friends at the home of Gerald and ­Izola Harvey.

The Harveys were two members of the Progressive Group who organized the Theatre Boycotts, which many attribute as the major event in ending racial segregation in Bermuda.

"Betty's political preference was with a group who were wanting a better government in Bermuda," said Mrs. Wheal, who's from Belleville, Ontario. "Betty explained to us that they needed a special copying machine that would print off material - flyers and leaflets - that they were giving out, and they needed our help to get that ­machine.

"None of them could have bought the machine as it would have caused suspicion. So, we were asked to go into a store and pretend we wanted to buy a duplicating machine for ourselves to take back to ­Canada.

We had fun

"We were supposedly looking for old, old machines (we would have attracted attention if we'd been looking for a new one) so we acted like we were visiting Bermuda from Canada and collected old "antique-y" copiers.

"Of course we didn't know that machine from any other machine but we stuck to our story and had fun doing it. We thought it was a great adventure!

"We looked at the machines, asked questions, and eventually went ahead and bought it."

Within hours of the purchase, posters and flyers circulated throughout the island by an anonymous group urging black Bermudians to boycott movie theatres to protest segregated seating policies.

The flyers gave June 15 as the start date of the boycott. It started slowly, but gathered steam and on June 23, the six theatres ­operated by Bermuda General Theatres had to close their doors because of a lack of business.

There were calls for the Progressive Group to come forward and negotiate with theatre owners, but members of the Progressive Group refused to emerge and black patrons stood firm.

It took a mere two weeks for the boycott to achieve its purpose and on July 2, theatre owners announced the end of segregated ­seating.

Days earlier, the hotels had announced an end to their policy of segregated seating in restaurants and nightclubs, though not in accommodation.

"It was a major step in their government," Mrs. Wheal said. "Bermuda is a small area and yet doing such a big thing that week in order to get the government they wanted.

"We thought it was just great to be involved.

"We never spoke about it to each other again. I never even told my husband. We were told it would be a good thing not to tell too many people."

Bermudian classmate Betty Kawaley said it wasn't until the release of the film When Voices Rise that "the truth came out."

"Over the years neither Ruth nor Anna ever breathed a word about the role they had played, under the direction of Gerald and Izola Harvey, in the events leading up to the historic theatre boycott," Mrs. Kawaley said. "It had, indeed, been a well-kept ­secret."

The 50th anniversary of the Theatre Boycotts will be celebrated tomorrow at 6:30pm at the south-western area of the City Hall Car Park with dancing, singing and poetry readings.