By Rev. Canon S. Sebastian Campbell
Tuesday, 10 January 1967: the magnitude of the era as a teenager had not yet caught up with me. However, I had some idea of the day’s events, although hardly an appreciation for what was going on. Huddled around the old radio, with the big battery with my mother and my big brother. Daddy was at the polling station as a campaign general for Henry Bowen. I couldn’t but help observe the excitement as names and numbers were being rattled off by Rusty Bethel on ZNS.
An 18/18 tie was itself a miracle for the Progressive Liberal Party that represented the hopes and aspirations of the majority, down trodden in the Bahamas. In an interview with the Bahamas Observer, next day, party leader Mr. L. O. Pindling attributed his party’s spectacular showing to “organisation, good candidates, red hot issues and complete unity within the PLP”.
January 10 actually culminated on Saturday, January 14. Fawkes had to be caught (the lone Labourite who had won in St. Barnabas). Fawkes informed members of the Bahamas Federation of Labour, on Thursday 12 January, at the House of Labour, that he had been courted by Sir Roland Symonette to assist the UBP to form the government. Such a move he said would have made him a traitor to the dreams and aspirations of the fore fathers of the nation. It would seem quite natural for Fawkes to have joined the PLP, but what was not so natural and is not appropriately celebrated is the alliance with Alvin Braynen, a white Bahamian, who accepted the position of speaker. Finding Braynen was a task, he represented Harbour Island and feared flying so sailing was the only mode off transport to which he availed himself.
“Mr. L. O. Pindling had not asked him to side with the PLP, but to be the speaker. He agreed to be speaker without conditions. He was 62 years old, at the time. “I am independent”, Mr. Braynen said. “I will remain independent as long as I live”.”
Ask the average young person (15 to 30 years), about Majority Rule. Ask them about the significance of 1967. More than 90 per cent will think you are speaking a foreign language. Not enough Bahamian history is being taught to our children and it seems as though the Ministry of Education could care less. Sir Winston Churchill once said, “A country which does not know its history does not know itself”. So who will bell the proverbial cat?
“The great significance of 1967”, wrote Sir Arthur Foulkes, “was that after years of struggle by many progressive persons and groups, the back of the old oligarchy was finally broken and real democracy came to the Bahamas. This was unique because many former colonies could boast of independence but not democracy, and older countries could hardly say exactly when they became democracies”.
Journalist, Fareed Zakaria argues in his book, “The Future of Freedom” that at the beginning of the 20th century not a single country had what we would today consider a democracy: A government created by elections in which every adult citizen could vote.
Great Britain wasn’t there, for women could not vote. The United States had not yet extended the franchise to women and the black minority was still brutally oppressed by the white majority.
January 1967 was our watershed for democracy. The majority supported the party that represented the majority. In 1967, Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad, countries in our region, were already independent. What would be your interpretation of this?
The principle architects of the quiet revolution of 1967 envisioned a Bahamas where all citizens would have the right to join the political party of choice, without fear of victimization, where membership in a particular party did not bestow special privileges and entitlements on any citizen and where the right to dissent would be sacrosanct.
The minority owning most of the wealth stays with us. Someone said, “In this society Bahamians find themselves in a contradiction from a socio economic point of view. We live in a society where the minority controls and dictates the lifestyle of the majority of the poor Bahamians. We live in a society where the rich gets richer and the poor remains poor”.
Racial discrimination was not given an instant fatal blow. In an interview with the Nassau Guardian that was held on January 11, 1967, Sir Lynden stressed that “The Progressive Liberal Party is for everyone. I hope the white population has realized this and have no fears” (Read the vision of Sir. Lynden Pindling) Kevin Evans writes, “Yet despite this reassurance from the newly-minted premier, two former cabinet ministers of the UBP government left the country after the devastating loss to the PLP, Sir Stafford Sands and Donald E. D’Albenas. Both couldn’t bear the thought of living in a country governed by negroes”. To build a one Bahamas, Blacks and Whites must believe that our destiny is inextricably tied together. We still have far to go.
The message to our children even after years of a black majority government, local commissioner of police, church leaders, governor general, permanent secretaries and so on, that January 10, 1967 must be a hallmark that shouts out: “All for one, one for all”. We must attract white Bahamians to go shoulder to shoulder with black Bahamians on the police force, the defense force, to take leadership in junkanoo, to do road work, to climb on garbage trucks and not to continue this attitude that certain positions are not for them.
Majority Rule is impotent unless all Bahamians, Blacks and Whites can live as equals. It is useless until we accept it as the day of empowerment for every single Bahamian in Cat Island and Inagua. As it stands now, it being a day of empowerment where the ideal of one Bahamas should find currency is still a distant dream. Today we still have no one Bahamas. A younger generation has to mentally unshackle us so that we can get there. At least the exodus has started.
1967 was a move towards mental liberation from a sleeping fishing village to a free, sovereign independent country. Leaders of that generation were radical. Majority Rule, Independence, were the most radical ideas since emancipation in 1834. Our present generation of leaders lack that fire. It must continue, reform is never finished, there is always more to do. It’s long overdue for the Bahamas to be engaged in the national debate as to becoming a republic. It’s time we abandon, albeit incrementally, the British Privy Council. Jamaica’s new Prime Minister, said in her inaugural address on 5th January 2012, “I love the Queen; she is a beautiful lady: But I think time come”. She promises to replace the Privy Council in London with the Trinidad – based Caribbean Court of Justice as Jamaica’s highest court of appeal. She promises to steer Jamaica to Republican status. Even now they swear allegiance only to the people of Jamaica. That’s the spirit we must capture. Former Prime Minister of Barbados, Owen Arthur, started this same debate at a national level in Barbados. Trinidad has already established itself in this radical vein. All these countries have their own national honours, thus decorating their people without accreditation from a foreign imperial government, that’s Mental liberation. That’s where Majority Rule must take us if it is to mean anything. It must be rescued from being seen only as history but become living history, challenging us to claim what we once said, “to the new frontier”.
It can be argued that Majority Rule, 1967 is one of the most important days in our history. Without it, independence would still be a distant dream. It was a quiet bloodless revolution. It was a victory for all Bahamians. We must rescue Majority Rule from being seen as a PLP only celebration. Please join me in this quest for future years.
It’s only because of this important political move in 1967 that Bahamian history is forever changed and must be forever changing.