“WHO IS dis Smith fella…let’s pick him up!” bellowed an angry Loftus Roker in a Side Burns cartoon published in The Tribune on August 21, 1986.
Loftus Roker, then Immigration minister in the Pindling government, was notorious for his Haitian round-ups. In the cartoon, “Cowboy Roker” is drawn with a pistol at his side and a bandolier around his waist. He holds a telephone to his right ear as he shouts the “pick him up orders” while reading a letter from Amnesty International complaining that “Smith say yinna is mistreatin’ Haitians.”
In fact, in Mr Roker’s day, five Immigration officers did “invade” Fred Smith’s law office in Freeport to check on his status.
Recently, Mr Smith, in describing himself, said that he became a Bahamian citizen in 1973, which seemed to confirm the opinion of those who dismissed him as just a “paper Bahamian”. Rather than confirming him as a “paper Bahamian”, it confirmed the ignorance of many Bahamians, who today consider themselves the “true, true Bahamians”, forgetting that each and every one of us came to these islands in different centuries either by boat or by plane. Not one of us is indigenous to the Bahamas. Therefore, there is not one among us — regardless of race – who can claim original ownership of these islands, although a PLP Minister once took leave of his senses and declared from a public platform that “God gave this country to the PLP”.
In fact, if gaining Bahamian citizenship in 1973 is what created a “paper Bahamian”, then we are all “paper Bahamians” because it was in that year that we ceased being citizens of Great Britain and her colonies, and became citizens of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. This is what Mr Smith meant when he said he became a Bahamian citizen in 1973. In fact, that applies to all of us who claim to have been born in these islands.
On Friday night, a demonstration was arranged on Bay Street, among the demonstrators was a black Bahamian, wearing a white shirt on which was imprinted the image of a Klu Klux clansman carrying a burning cross with the words - BACON-KKK. In our photograph this Bahamian carries a large placard declaring that Fred Smith is a “Haitian Infidel!”
Now let’s examine this Fred Smith, “Haitian infidel”, and discover why he is such a passionate human rights advocate, and why many Bahamians are trying to disown him as fully one of them.
In fact, Fred Smith is more of a Bahamian than any one of us, because on his Bahamian father’s side he can trace his roots to an original Cherokee Indian who was one of the few to survive the Spanish purge after Columbus discovered these islands in 1492. A photograph of his great great grandmother shows a very beautiful Cherokee woman.
Fred Smith’s family has been in the Bahamas at least since 1648 – a year after King Charles 1 of England in the 23rd year of his reign granted to the company of Adventurers for plantation and cultivation the island of Eleuthera and “all the surrounding islands known as the Bahamas”.
Mr Smith’s family arrived in ships filled with Puritans and others seeking religious freedom from England. The indigenous population of Eleuthera was almost entirely decimated in the wake of the Spanish discovery. However, of the few who were left was a man whose last name was Sims — eventually the family added another “m” to turn the name into Simms. This first Sims was Fred Smith’s great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather. One hundred and fifty years later, his descendant William Simms had a daughter named Arabella Simms. She was Fred Smith’s great, great grandmother.
As the family grew and spread, they acquired such additional branches to the Simms tree as Smith, Knowles, Cartwright, Deal and Bowe. They were born in various islands, among them Exuma, Long Island, Eleuthera and New Providence.
Fred Smith’s father, born in Nicholls Town, Andros, was Frederick (Freddie) Charles Smith, Freddie’s older brother was Wilfred (Pemmy), who had a crawfish import-export business on Prince George Wharf, and their only sister, Mrs Mary Doris Stevenson, was an accomplished interior decorator, who operated “Interiors”.
Mary Doris’ husband, Carl, operated a venetian blind company in Twynam Avenue.
Among Mr Smith’s cousins still in Nassau are Lester and Leonard Smith. He even has second cousins in the PLP camp – former PLP MPs George and Philip Smith.
Fred Smith’s father, Freddie, operated a mailboat between Nassau and Gonaive Haiti, where he traded with Izaac Richards (Arabic name Ghiscian), and befriended his daughter, Julia Richards. Julia was born in Madaba, Jordan, the Christian capital for Middle East Catholics. Her father was a Bedoin and her mother Armenian. They married.
They had four children — Norma, Gladys, Joyce and after a few years Fred Smith, QC. The four children were born in Port-au-Prince and registered with the British consulate as citizens of Great Britain and her colonies. They became Bahamian citizens — as did all of us — on July 10, 1973. Although they lived in Haiti, they were frequent visitors to their home and family in Nassau.
But at an early age, Fred knew what discrimination and round-ups meant. He was eight years old when his father was summarily put on a plane and deported to The Bahamas by the dictatorial “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his evil Tonton Macoute. The Tonton Macoute was a paramilitary force answerable only to Papa Doc. They were authorised to commit systematic violence and human rights abuses to suppress political opposition. They were created after a failed coup d’état against Papa Doc in 1958.
“I recall us living in terror,” said Fred, “whispering at night clustered around candlelight so that the housekeepers could not hear us, frequent roadblocks during the day. Our home being invaded and torn apart by Tonton Macoutes and the Gendarme. My mother being seized and spirited away and disappearing in some dictatorial prison system where she could not be found for three days.”
He recalls his father hiding his mother and sisters in the mountains, while he and his father were barricaded in his father’s bedroom with “all sorts of shotguns and hunting guns while in the background they were tearing our house apart”.
The family returned to their home in the Bahamas in the 1960s, and established Eddie’s Department Store. Young Fred went to school at St Thomas More, Xavier’s, St Augustine’s and then off to school in England, eventually studying law and being called to the English Bar.
Not only is he a noted lawyer, but he is a fierce human rights activist, who having had his own experience, understands the plight of Haitians being rounded up in The Bahamas.
Mr Smith recognises that this country has a Haitian crisis that has to be solved. But he is determined to see that it is solved with humanity.
And to answer the question: Who is Fred Smith? He is a true Bahamian descended from the original stock, whose family has suffered human rights violations. He is now dedicated to making certain that those abuses are not continued in the Bahamas. He is also determined to see that the rights of Haitians are not abused during the exercise of determining their citizenship. And if abused, he will face the government in court on their behalf.