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Silver Men: West Indian Labourers at the Panama Canal

Documentary heritage submitted by Barbados, Jamaica, Panama, Saint Lucia, United Kingdom and United States of America and recommended for inclusion in the Memory of the World Register in 2011.

© Museo del Canal Interoceanico de Panama Collection
Charles Muller Panama Postcard and Image Collection (Jamaican Labourers in the Culebra Cut, Canal Zone)

The documentary heritage concerning West Indians and their experience in and contribution to the Panama Canal represents one of the most significant movements of voluntary migration to emerge during the post emancipation period after 1838. These records document the movement of over one hundred thousand people to the Isthmus of Panama, the majority of whom never returned. The highly successful recruiting process set in motion by the Isthmian Commission was ultimately responsible, both directly and indirectly, for the extraordinary pattern of West Indian emigration to Panama to work on the Canal project and the efforts of the colonial governments to control and mitigate this phenomenon, the magnitude and scale of which had the potential to erode further the power of the British Empire.

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