Remarks by Fred Mitchell MP Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration On The 50th Anniversary Black Tuesday
discount cialis find times;”>Remarks by Fred Mitchell MP
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ambulance times;”> Tuesday 28th April 2015
On The 50th Anniversary Black Tuesday
Sir Clifford Darling, the former Governor General of The Bahamas, is a hero to me. He came from a humble settlement of Chesters, Acklins. That was remote place in The Bahamas when he was born 6th February 1922. He got an education at the local school up to the age of 14. That means he left school just after the 8th grade in today’s language. He was a school monitor for a period, then decided to seek his fortune and moved to Nassau.
History tells us that he headed the Bahamas Taxi Cab Union in the 1958 general strike. It also tells us that before he was a taxi driver, he was barber. The interesting question for me is what in his age with all that was against him: he was the wrong colour in an age where the humanity of African peoples was not accepted; he came from a remote part of the colony; he was not well connected; he was a humble taxi driver. He was from the wrong side of the tracks. What gave him the courage to take on the powerful bay Street oligarchy and in the end helped to bring it to its knees.
It is instructive today as we commemorate the event now known as Black Tuesday. This event was one of a number of mass mobilizing events by the then Opposition Progressive Liberal Party which galvanized a peoples struggle.
If you look at the pictures of the day, you will see thousands of people gathered in the public square on 27th April 1965 in a spontaneous yet planned called to action by the African majority of the day. You look at the determination on their faces as their leaders addressed them. You ask yourself the same question that dogs me in relation to Sir Clifford darling: what was it that gave them the courage to take on the established order of the day and to help bring it to its knees.
The answer must surely be that there was a deep recognition of their intrinsic worth. Dr. Martin Luther King puts it this way: not the colour of your skin but the content of your character. This is the great story of The Bahamas in the 20th century; the fight for African liberation and the right of self governance.
In the century before, the Haitian slaves broke free from France and paid a terrible price which broke their country well into the twentieth century. The debt which was extracted by the French government was billions of dollars and it left the country on its knees.
The Bahamas followed a different example to liberation, described by the late Dame Doris Johnson as The Quiet Revolution.
In her book, she set out a construct which I have largely adopted to convert the story of the fight for freedom in The Bahamas in the 20th century in a bite size, digestible story or narrative.
It begins with the Burma Road Riots of 1st and 2nd June 1942, the formation of the Citizens Committee of 1950 to reverse the ban on the showing of Sidney Poitier’s first film; the formation of the Progressive Liberal Party in 1953; the election of the first PLP MPs in 1956; the General Strike of 1958; the expansion of the House seats in 1960; the expansion of the franchise to women in 1962; Black Tuesday in 1965; Majority Rule in 1967 and finally independence in 1973.
When I say bite sized, I mean that if you are teaching this story to the children, it makes it easily comprehensible and a tale that can be told within 20 minutes.
Today it is Black Tuesday. The day came against the backdrop of the loss in 1962, when the United Bahamian Party won the election but lost the popular vote to the PLP by some 10,000 votes. The reason was that even though New Providence had the majority of the population, the out islands as they were then called had the majority of the seats.
This was clearly undemocratic. In order to redress this, a Constituencies Commission was created under the 1964 constitution which laid out a formula for how the seats were to be delineated. That formula still obtains in the constitution today. The whole point of the formulation was to ensure that the majority of seats reflected where the majority of the people lived.
The PLP did not support the Constituencies Commission report of 1965 because they said that there had been o registration campaign of voters sot eh question of the number of voters and following the constitutional remit that the seats must contain a more or less equal number of electors was not possible. Paul Adderley has argued that the constitution demanded not the number of registered voters but the number of voters entitled to vote.
The question was how the point to be demonstrated was. This was the age of Martin Luther King and civil disobedience in the United States. Effie Walkes who was a PLP councilor at the time recalls that the suggestion evolved that there should be a dramatic gesture, that of throwing the mace out of the window.
The research says that some PLP MHAs as they were then known were not told what was planned. Those excluded were Paul Adderley, Spurgeon Bethel and Orville Turnquest.
The late Sir Lynden Pindling says on the day itself the Party’s leaders were not sure what to expect. They were in fact surprised at the numbers of people some of whom who turned up out of curiosity on the day in question. He said he had butterflies in his stomach.
The crowd on the outside was marshaled by the late Cecil Wallace Whitfield amongst others. He was the Chairman of the Party at the time. Inside the debate moved forward. They say that Cecil Wallace Whitfield kept sending messages inside the House as to when the deed would be done. The stage was set when Milo butler opened the window over the square and inside Sir Lynden said of that the mace was the symbol of authority; the people are the authority; people are outside and so the mace belongs outside too. The Mace was tossed out of the eastern window in to the square below.
Then the Milo Butler threw the Speaker’s hour glass out of the window as well. This was the timing device used to limit Speakers to 15 minutes which Milo opposed.
The Leaders of the PLP led the party members outside with the UBP members and Randal Fawkes inside. They met outside and sat in the road. Famously, Sir Lynden recalled sitting next to the late Ena Hepburn in her white pants suit on Bay Street that day.
Sir Lynden says that when Black Tuesday was planned he was very conscious of what had happened in the 1942 Burma Road Riots. He said that they were young boys at the time in primary school and had heard that someone grabbed a bottle from a Coca Cola truck parked in Bay Street and smashed window and that is how the riot began. He said that the PLP was determined to learn from that lesson and not cause a riot. Instead when the police ordered them to move they moved to the Southern recreation ground for a rally and an address by their leaders.
The event was a shock on the system. Not since the 1958 General Strike riot troops been drawn up. Magistrate John Bailey stood on a post office van and read the riot act which would then allow the police to act to remove the demonstrators from the town. In the result, the protest was peaceful and there was no violence.
I later met John Bailey who said he remembered the day very well and he ended up being the magistrate to read the riot act because the otter Magistrates, all Bahamians had packed up and left their offices for the day. I later met Eugene Dupuch QC who was the Minister of Welfare I the UBP government. He said that PLP leaders were never prosecuted because ultimately the government accepted it as a political act and not a criminal one.
It is said that the name Black Tuesday was coined by Arthur Foulkes, former Governor General who is was then Editor of the Bahamian Times. I have not discovered why it was called that but the name has stuck
It set the stage for the 1967 general election when the PLP won the government for the first time and ushered in full democracy for our country.
The question is what is the lesson that we learn from the history of what we mark today. We learn that we must never forget. We learn also that each man or woman in this country has a right to the protections of a quiet enjoyment of his life and the ability to pursue his or her dreams in peace and equity.
We lean also that it is possible for men and women of modest means of every stripe, every creed to be able to rise up from their circumstances and become the rulers of the land. This is the great story of the PKLP and the social mobility which it ushered in with the coming of 1967 in majority rule.
Younger people can take solace in that fact. The legacy which is left to you is that the country is yours and you must own it and take up the mantle of leadership.
I have made the study of these events my life’s work. Much of this happened in the ear just before I was born and during the time I was a little boy, just forming my ideas about what I would be and what I would do. I have no doubt that there are little boys and girls looking on now as we work the stage and are setting their eyes toward the future. I would urge them to take up the mantle of peace, justice, equity and social mobility. I hope to bequeath to you the next generation country where the story of Sir Clifford Darling which I told at the start continues to be the story of the Bahamian people. It is the content of your character that counts and nothing else.