By Rev. Canon S. Sebastian Campbell
“Majority Rule was a singular moment of liberation for all of us. January 10, 1967 was and shall forever remain one of the truly transformative events not only in Bahamian history but in the development of the psyche of the Bahamian people.” (Prime Minister Perry Christie)
Majority Rule was a painful struggle, an attainment for which the majority of our people yearned even from the days of slavery. The emancipation of slavery took the shackles off the hands and feet of our foreparents but such shackles were fastened on their minds. They were indoctrinated to believe they had no worth and were completely incompetent in governing themselves. While, too, the whites were enslaved to the thought that the colour of their skins qualified them as superior beings. Majority rule would be a moment of liberation for both blacks and whites.
The slave revolt in 1830 led by a young, black, aggressive slave, Pompey, demonstrates the zeal of an enslaved people to be heard and respected. This predates emancipation in 1834. The masters were never interested in the psychological liberation of the slaves. They were to be forever tied down to the domineering oligarchy.
In 1953 a vehicle was built to directly affect psychological, political and social changes in the Bahamas though the instrument of Majority Rule. Ironically the Progressive Liberal Party was founded by the Malatto (Conchy Joe) race, to be that instrument of change. First there was William Cartwright who came forward with the original idea and he shares this with Cyril Stevenson and Henry Taylor. They formed an indestructible union determined to end white domination in the Bahamas. These founding fathers were sidelined by their own people and were thus the more energized to fight for the liberation of all.
There were many hurdles to overcome in this campaign. Equality for women, with the right to vote was a cause to be endorsed. The Women’s Suffrage Movement led the campaign and in July 1961 the enabling legislation was passed. Thus women voted for the first time in November 1962.
The PLP had to relentlessly campaign to have a strong voice in parliament. On June 8, 1956 six of its members were elected. Lynden Pindling became parliamentary leader. The others elected were Milo B. Butler, Cyril Stevenson, Sammie Isaacs, Clarence A. Bain and Randol Fawkes.
“One Man, one vote” had to become the norm at elections. Only a few men who owned land were qualified to vote in as many places as they owned property. Elections were spread over several days, thus allowing for wide spread corruption.
In New Providence where there was a majority of people had the least amount of seats. The boundaries were cut in favour of an Out Island seat majority where the whites had majority support. The PLP made a case to Allan Lennox Boyd, secretary of the colonies, in England. The one man, one vote, the abolition of the company vote, and the redistribution of seats, allowing for four additional seats in New Providence was achieved through this contract.
Two events proved to have a profound effect on the route to Majority Rule. There was the general strike in 1958, led by Randol Fawkes and Taxi Cab Union leader Clifford Darling. For nineteen days the country was paralyzed, “not a lick was hit…” it is said. It was a wake up call to the blacks as to the power it had when united. Then there was Black Tuesday, April 27th 1965, when leader of the opposition, Lynden Pindling threw the mace, symbol of the speaker’s authority through the window of the House of Assembly followed by the sand clock used to curb lengthy speech in debate, by Milo Butler. This later event caused a split in the PLP and gave birth to the ill-fated National Democratic Party formed by PLP parliamentarians Paul Adderley, Orville Turnquest and Spurgeon Bethel.
10 January 1967, the day of elections, paved the way for Majority Rule, that actually came into being on the 14 January. On the 10th, both PLP and UBP won 18 seats. Randol Fawkes of the labour (endorsed by the PLP) won a seat and a disgruntled UBP (A. R. Braynen) now gone independent won his seat in Harbour Island. Fawkes accepted the PLP’s offer to be Minister of Labour and Braynen took the offer of being speaker. This coalition thus brought about the first ever Majority Rule government in the Bahamas. This indeed was the greatest singular achievement by Bahamians. It was a moment of liberation. Blacks and whites are to be seen and accepted as equals in The Bahamas. For the first time Blacks won the right to govern and determine the destiny of The Bahamas. The whites were liberated from the belief that they had a God given right to govern because of the colour of their skin.
In October 2013 legislation was signed by the Governor General making January 10th Majority Rule Day a holiday and the second Monday in October National Heroes Day, a holiday.
Governor General, Sir Arthur Fawkes is quoted as saying, “When one objectively traces the evolution of human society in our country, there has never been a more consequential, a more fundamental, or a more transformative change than the attainment of Majority Rule.” May we today prove ourselves worthy of the blood, sweat and tears invested by our foreparents, the nation builders of this great country.