The march to Majority Rule, Part III
By PHILIP C. GALANIS
History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future. - Robert Penn Warren
As we noted in parts I and II of this series, the march to Majority Rule in The Bahamas can be characterized by two words: sustained struggle.
On January 10, we quietly celebrated the first public holiday to commemorate the day that Majority Rule came to The Bahamas in 1967. It was a life-changing event that catapulted the lives of many thousands to unimaginable heights. Last week we reviewed three important milestones in the march to Majority Rule that helped to create the framework for the attainment of that achievement: the by-election of 1938, the Burma Road Riot of 1942, and the Contract beginning in 1943. This week and in the final week in January, we will continue to Consider This…what were some of the major milestones that contributed to the centuries-long march to Majority Rule?
The 1950s were decisively transformative on the march to Majority Rule. It was a decade that witnessed the formation of the PLP in 1953, the 1956 Resolution on Racial Discrimination in the House of Assembly and the 1958 General Strike.
The formation of the PLP
The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) was established in 1953, following an attempt by the Citizens’ Committee to actively address some of the rampant discriminatory practices by the white Nassau elite. The Citizens’ Committee, formed in December 1950 initially protested the government’s refusal to let Bahamians view three films: “No Way Out” (starring Bahamian actor Sidney Poitier), “Lost Boundaries” and “Pinky” all of which addressed societal injustices. Many of the members of the Citizens’ Committee, which was led by Maxwell Thompson, Cleveland Eneas, and A. E. Hutchinson and whose members included Jackson Burnside, Randol Fawkes, Gerald Cash, Kendal Isaacs, Marcus Bethel and other prominent personalities, suffered brutal discrimination and many of its members were deprived of the ability to earn a living by the Bay Street oligarchy as a result of their social activism.
In October, 1953 the PLP was formed by Henry Taylor (who would become the third Bahamian governor general in an Independent Bahamas from June 26, 1988 to January 1, 1992), William Cartwright and Cyril Stevenson with a platform that responded to the challenge by Rev. H. H. Brown that: “The Progressive Liberal Party hopes to show that your big man and your little man, your black, brown and white man of all classes, creed and religions in this country can combine and work together in supplying sound and successful political leadership which has been lacking in The Bahamas.”
The PLP made bold progressive promises for a more equitable social structure including equal opportunities for all Bahamians, better education, universal suffrage, stronger immigration policies, lower-cost housing and the development of agriculture and the Out Islands.
In the early days of the PLP, its members were subjected to abject ostracism and victimization by the white elite, including the loss of jobs and bank credit, as well as canceled contracts. In 1955, Lynden Pindling and Milo Butler emerged as the leaders of the party, appealing to the black masses to mobilize in advance of the general elections of 1956. The party also attracted Randol Fawkes, the founder of the Bahamas Federation of Labour in May 1955.
The general election of May 1956 was the first to be fought by an organized political party. The PLP won six seats in the House of Assembly, four in Nassau and two in Andros. That election significantly accelerated the march to Majority Rule. In March 1958 the white oligarchy formed themselves into the second organized political unit, the United Bahamian Party (UBP). The UBP would later disband and its members would join forces with the Free National Movement (FNM) in 1972.
The 1956 Resolution on Racial Discrimination in the House of Assembly
In the wake of rampant racial discrimination that prevented access for black people to hotels, movie theatres, restaurants, and other public places, H. M. Taylor, the chairman of the PLP, whose platform vowed to eliminate racial discrimination in the colony, tabled a number of questions to the leader of the government.
Moved by this and in light of his own disgust with racially motivated practices, in January 1956, Etienne Dupuch, the editor of the Nassau Tribune and a member of the House of Assembly for the eastern district, tabled an Anti-Discrimination Resolution in the House of Assembly. During his passionately eloquent speech on the resolution, the speaker of the House of Assembly ordered Dupuch to take his seat, threatening, if he refused to do so, that he would be removed from the chamber by the police. Dupuch responded: “You may call the whole Police Force, you may call the whole British Army…I will go to [jail] tonight, but I refuse to sit down, and I am ready to resign and go back to the people.” The speaker abruptly suspended the House proceedings.
Although the resolution was supported by H. M. Taylor, Bert Cambridge, Eugene Dupuch, C.R. Walker, Marcus Bethel, and Gerald Cash, it was referred to a select committee, effectively killing it. However, the following day, most of the Nassau hotels informed the public that they would open their doors to all, regardless of their race.
The 1958 General Strike
The General Strike began in January 1958 after several months of tension that arose because of the government’s plans to allow hotels and tour buses that were owned by the established white tour operators to provide transport for visitors to and from the airport, at the expense of predominantly black taxi drivers who made a large portion of their living transporting tourists between the new Windsor Field (Nassau International) Airport and downtown hotels. To allow the hotels and tour companies to supplant the taxi drivers would severely curtail the ability of black taxi drivers to earn a decent living.
The government learned that the taxi drivers would vehemently protest this arrangement when they blockaded the new airport on the day it opened. On that day, nearly 200 union taxi drivers stopped all business at the airport for 36 hours, showing their determination to protest the government’s plans. Negotiations on 20 points ensued between the union, represented by Lynden Pindling and Clifford Darling, the union’s president, and the government for the following eight weeks, but broke off after they could not agree on one final point.
On January 11, 1958 the taxi union voted for a general strike and the next day the General Strike commenced with the cessation of work at hotels, which was supported by hotel and construction workers, garbage collectors, bakers, airport porters and employees of the electricity corporation. The strike lasted until January 31 and prompted a visit to the colony by the secretary of state for the colonies who recommended constitutional and political and electoral reforms which were incorporated into the General Election Act of 1959. Following the General Strike, male suffrage was introduced for all males over 21 years of age and the company vote was abolished.
Undoubtedly, the General Strike accentuated the ability of effective reform that could be achieved by the peaceful mobilization of the black majority.
Next week, we will review the decade of the 1960s and discuss how the Women’s Suffrage Movement, the 1962 general elections and Black Tuesday culminated in the eventual attainment of Majority Rule with the general elections of 1967.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
January 20, 2014