In 1949, the year the Leopards Club was founded, Bermuda was a racially divided island. Schools, churches and clubs
were either "black" or "white" institutions. Certainly those restaurants, hotels and movie theatres, which
were owned and operated-by whites, did not open their doors to black patrons. In the book, "Blacks in Bermuda - A Historical
Perspective" (1980), Frank Manning writes the following in the essay entitled "Black Clubs and Black Heritage":
"Voluntary associations have long been prominent features of Bermuda's social landscape. White organizations, philatelic
societies, literary and dramatic societies, historical societies, garden clubs, kennel clubs and the like. Traditionally these
associations were rigidly stratified, such that membership provided a good indication of pedigree and wealth. In recent years,
the traditional criteria for membership hasbeen superseded by political considerations - a shift that can tell us a great
deal about the social reshaping of the Bermudian power structure.
"On the black side of the wall of
segregation, the first secular organizations were the lodges. These arose shortly after the end of slavery and flourished
for the next century. Although often affiliated with European lodge confraternities, they were essentially comparable to friendly
societies of the Caribbean, the Susu of West Africa, and similar mutual aid associations found throughout the Third World.
The main purpose of the lodges was the sponsorship of beneficial programs; savings projects, gift clubs, credit unions, scholarships,
sickness and death insurance and various other economic and social services. A secondary purpose of the lodges was the running
of recreational activities, notable picnics, outings and musical productions.
"The black clubs acquired
these purposes, but in the reverse priority. The first was the Pembroke-Hamilton Club, now a century old and formerly known
as the "Negro Yacht Club" - a Reid Street version of the good life at Albuoy's Point. The Somerset and St. George's
Cricket Clubs were formed at the turn of the century, when a lodge-sponsored cricket rivalry commemorating Emancipation gradually
became too big for the lodges to promote. Taken over by the clubs, the came was transformed into Cup Match.
formation of black clubs continued in the twentieth century. The usual process was for neighbourhood cricket or soccer teams
to emerge and gradually expand themselves into clubs."
According to Manning, "the common pattern
was for the sports clubs to evolve further into 'workman's clubs', a term that only three clubs use in their official name
but that is also a broad categorical designation for black clubs that sponsor cricket and/or soccer. Manning adds that the
second pattern was for sports organizations to merge with workmen's clubs and the third pattern was for sports to remain organizationally
independent but to affiliate themselves socially with a workmen's club.
The above background
in the history of black clubs is intended to illustrate how the origin of the Leopards Club differs from other black clubs
in Bermuda. According to D.A. Brown, one of the past presidents of the Club, the Leopards Club differed from the other black
clubs in Bermuda because it never grew out of a sporting organization. Neither did the Leopards Club ever become affiliated
with either a football or cricket team as all other black (male) clubs in the island.
"There was the
Lions Club back then, but blacks were not allowed to become members", said D.A. Brown. "The founding members wanted
a similar type of club for those of us who worked in the hotels at that time and we wanted to be a charity club".Where
other black clubs became know for sports, the Leopards Club was known for its weekly radio programmes. Each Thursday, members
would meet for supper and various speakers were invited to the podium to speak to members and friends of the Leopards Club.
In addition to the many Bermudians who looked forward to the philosophical debate the accompanied these events, were the African-American
tourists who were guest at the various black-owned guest houses and hotels on the island. Often these tourists were guest
of the Leopards Club Plaza and the founding members of the Leopards Club. The Leopards Club continues to provide support to
the Orchid Charity Club.
Those five men and others first began meeting at the Cardinal Club. As more people became
interested in the club, meetings moved to the Imperial Hotel Building on Church Street and later to the Joell Building located
on the corner of Brunswick and Angel Street. In 1954, during their tenure in the Joell Building the membership purchased the
building that the club presently occupies. However, all members of the club initially did not agree to this purchase. Russell
Levi Pearman, an antique dealer and Realtor, wrote about the events that led to the final move from the Joell Building to
the present building called the Watson Homestead located to the south of the Joell Building." This attractive
piece of property was on the market and the price was made attractive to the Leopards Club", writes Pearman in a passage
he entitled "The Final Move". Although Pearman felt the price was attractive, many other members disagreed with
him questioned where the money to purchase property would come from, as the club was not financially sound at the time.
"We got a petition of 225 members (a required quorum by our Constitution) for a special general meeting to ask
members if they wished to purchase the property", continued Pearman. "The members decided to purchase the
Watson property". Although over two hundred members agreed to the purchase, several "influential intellects"
violently protested the idea and predicted that "the people down town" would take it back within six months. A heated
discussion ensued, the meeting broke up and the Executive resigned en-bloc."We knew that the Attorney General
could revoke our license if it was found that we didn't have a Committee to manage our affairs", continued Pearman. "At
this stage, the members coaxed to go back into the meeting and appoint and elect members to serve as officers of the club.
I was asked to take the Presidency and to help select a Management Committee. Of those officials resigning that night,
Ross L. Manders was the only one to accept office on the new committee".
Mr. Pearman and his committee went
ahead with the purchase, although they discovered that the club was 6,000 pounds in debt. However, with the financial support
and other assistance by people in the community, like Mr. Vincent Lee, who helped to draft plans to renovate the building,
Sir Howard Trott, who held a chattel mortgage on the club's furniture and others, the purchase and renovations to the building
were completed in short order.
In 1955, the Leopards Club purchased the property on the north side of
the club and made the necessary renovations for the Plaza Hotel, which was a successful guest house for many years. But
like many small, black-owned guest properties in Bermuda that catered to African American tourists, the Plaza met its
demise when the large hotels began to integrate and accept all people as guests.