George Smith speaks with Tribune reporters at the PLP convention. Photo: Terrel W. Carey/Tribune Staff
George A Smith addressed a special assembly of the Charles I Gibson Senior High School on the importance of Majority Rule last week . . .
In spite of the problems and challenges we face as a country, The Bahamas has a great future.
If anybody has doubts about that they should be here this morning. When I look at you I see in your faces the promise and pride of a great country where all your hopes and dreams could be realised.
When on January 10 we celebrated Majority Rule Day, we were not just enjoying another holiday. We were calling to mind what took place on that day 50 years ago. When the Bahamian people elected its first black government led by the Father of this nation, Lynden Pindling.
The election of January 10, 1967, was a defining and transformative moment in the history of The Bahamas, for the Bahamian spirit was finally unleashed. Doors which were closed to the majority of Bahamians could now be open. And they were. In the years that followed, black Bahamians swelled the ranks in all the professions. Black Bahamians could now work in banks and hold top jobs in those banks and in hotels and - yes - even attend some churches which previously excluded blacks.
The journey to Majority Rule was not easy. It was very long and fraught with many dangers, trials, abuse, separation, rebellion, revolts, violence, frustration and deaths. We paid a heavy price but had many successes.
And for those reasons we need to put the attainment of Majority Rule in its proper place in the history of The Bahamas.
The first inhabitants of these islands and cays were the Lucayan Indians, who came between the years 500 and 800. Their ancestors originally came to the Caribbean from South America. As you know the first Europeans landed on Guanahani, which was renamed San Salvador in 1492. They established their first settlement on Eleuthera in 1648 and the first Parliament at Nassau in 1729.
In 1502, the enslavement of the sons and daughters of mother Africa begun. Between 1640 and 1680 very large numbers were brought to the Caribbean. This was when the ancestors of the vast majority of Bahamians were brought to these islands against their will. Many died crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
The enslaved were taken to several of our islands, where they were sometimes denied food, clothing and shelter. They were subject to much abuse. When they objected to the inhuman treatment, they were hanged.
Deciding that they would not endure the treatment any more, they revolted. The first revolt took place in Abaco in 1787, followed by revolts in Cat Island, San Salvador, Eleuthera and my island home, Exuma, where the most serious slave revolts happened. The mastermind behind the revolts of 1829, 1833 and 1834 was Pompey, The Bahamas’ first national hero. They won their freedom in 1834, when slavery ended in the British colonies.
Our ancestors endured much during the slavery period; their children were born in a society which declared them at birth to be “chattel property”, without any human rights. It is from these brave folks that we are descended.
In our arduous march we were bolstered by the rebellious demonstration against unfair treatment of black workers at Windsor Field in 1942, the establishment of the Progressive Liberal Party in 1953, the Suffragette Movement for the right to vote for all Bahamian women, which began in 1948 and formalised in 1957 with women gaining the vote in time for the 1962 General Elections and the General Strike of 1958.
I have taken you on this journey down memory lane so that you would appreciate that we have come a long way and the road we trod had many pitfalls, but we overcame. Now it is left to you and your generation to rediscover what it is to be Bahamian; to conceive large and noble ideas; to articulate such thoughts and inspire others to share them. You should dream of a Bahamas that stands among the great countries, a Bahamas that gives each of you all the privileges and opportunities which should come to you in the land of your birth.
You are in this school named in honour of a great educator, Charles Gibson. Your teachers are well trained and ready to guide you in attaining a sound education. Martin Luther King Jr gave us an insight into what that should be when he said: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.”
As we move with confidence and purpose to bring peace, prosperity and unity to this land we love, I pray God’s blessings be with you.
George A Smith is a former Progressive Liberal Party minister