Symonette The Fnm's Washington

EDITOR, The Tribune.

EVEN though he has been dead since 1980, the name Sir Roland T Symonette is currently at the centre of the political furore which was created by the FNM’s decision to honour him as a national hero on Independence Day, along with Sir Lynden Pindling, Sir Milo B Butler and Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield. To PLPs such as chairman Fred Mitchell and Englerston MP Glenys Hanna-Martin, this latest political gesture by Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis borders on sacrilege. Sir Roland led the United Bahamian Party (UBP) during the tumultuous 1960s.

It is my understanding that the UBP was officially formed shortly after the formation of the PLP by William Cartwright, Sir Henry Taylor and Cyril Stevenson in 1953. Therefore, it was anachronistic of a writer in one of the major dailies to say that Symonette was elected to the House of Assembly in 1925 to the district of Shirlea as a standard bearer of the UBP. There was no UBP in 1925. Symonette served as MP for 52 years.

In 1964 after The Bahamas achieved internal self-government, Symonette became the country’s first premier. He retired from frontline politics in 1977. When it became apparent that the glory days of the Bay Street Boys were over, in terms of wielding political power after the events of Majority Rule in 1967, elements of the UBP joined the newly formed FNM in the early 1970s. To the best of my knowledge, there is no definitive biography on the life of Sir Roland. Hence the grave difficulty in separating fact from fiction regarding his life.

The PLP under Pindling did a yeoman’s job at portraying the UBP to the black Bahamian populace as the bogeyman, especially after the self imposed exile of Sir Stafford Sands in 1967, immediately following the election victory of the PLP in 1967. By airing Alex Haley’s Roots on ZNS TV13 during the lead up to general elections during the 1980s, the Pindling administration made sure this negative image of the UBP remained etched in the minds of the grassroots. The FNM has been far more accommodating to elements of the UBP than any other predominantly black political party.

For example, Sands’ image was placed on the Bahamian $10 banknote in 2000 by the Ingraham government, only to be removed by the Christie administration in 2005. The image was reinstated in 2010 by the Ingraham administration. The reason given for this controversial move was that Sands was the architect of the economic pillars of tourism and finance. In fact, Sands has been dubbed the Father of Tourism by some political observers. Symonette’s image is on the $50 banknote.

Symonette has taken a lot of flack due to him being a prominent member of the Bay Street Boys. To Mitchell and Hanna-Martin, Pop Symonette, as he was affectionately called, is guilty based on his association with the aforementioned group, which is routinely labeled racist by historians. The PLP chair has a laundry list of complaints against Sir Roland posted on his Facebook page.

According to Mitchell, Symonette opposed black majority rule, independence under the PLP, women suffrage, fairly drawn boundaries for constituencies, lowering the age of voters to 18 and labour and social reform. Interestingly, while charges of racism are often lodged against the UBP, I have yet to come across any accusation that Symonette was personally prejudiced against black Bahamians. Many black Bahamians are saying that Symonette was a generous philanthropist who helped hundreds of disadvantaged black Bahamians.

Granted, Symonette opposed the idea of The Bahamas obtaining independence from England in 1973. PLPs are also vehemently alleging that he supported the Abaco Independence Movement.

Whatever his reasons for opposing the Pindling administration’s quest for full autonomy from Great Britain, it should also be pointed out that Pindling himself opposed independence prior to him becoming premier.

Maybe his opposition was due to the UBP being in power at the time. In any event, Pop Symonette is viewed by many rank-and-file FNMs much the same way millions of African Americans and other ethnic minorities in the USA view George Washington. At the time of his death in 1799, Washington owned 123 of the reported 317 slaves at Mount Vernon. The Father of His Country and the first president of the United States became a slave owner at the tender age of 11, after the death of his father. There were allegations that General Washington utilised inhumane punishment against unruly slaves. I have never heard of any historian alleging that Washington was a racist. As a slaveholder, however, he was a typical 18th century white American.

Despite this information regarding Washington being in the public domain, he is still honoured by millions of African Americans as a founding father. He is one of the four faces on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. His image is on the $1 banknote. The US capital city is named after him. The state of Washington is named after him. The famous Washington Monument was built in his commemoration. George Washington University, Washington and Lee University, Washington and Jefferson College, Washington University, University of Washington, Washington State University, Washington College, Washington County Community College, Washington State Community College along with numerous high schools are all named in the the first US president’s honour.

To the best of my knowledge, black advocacy groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People and the Rev Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition have never opposed Washington being honoured. Maybe FNMs are viewing the Symonette debate from the vantage point of their African American counterparts.

While Symonette was flawed, he is still deserving of some recognition as a national hero, even if his contributions toward nation building was not as seminal as Pindling’s. I hold no brief for Minnis for recognising Symonette as a national hero. However, my only issue with Symonette and the Bay Street Boys is that they could have done far more in making high school and college education available to the black masses. I also take issue with them for failing to put in place much needed infrastructure in many of the Out Islands. Indeed, when Pindling became premier in 1967, many Bahamians lived in the Dark Ages without basic utilities. Symonette those could have done far more in this regard. Having said that, I agree with FNMs that Symonette should be afforded at the very least a modicum of national recognition for his contributions to The Bahamas.



Grand Bahama

July 12, 2018.


ThisIsOurs 2 years, 2 months ago

I read this article in amazement. And I don't have strong views on the issue one way or the other, though I sm leaning to not giving the honor. I'm just waiting for someone to give a substantive reason why a national honor was deserving

This article continues this illusion that people should be honored just because they were "there". This left me shell shocked, a very long article, equating Symonette to Washington, but not once did they list anything Symonette did other than being "there".

I expected a listing of some great exploits or some inspirational speeches to the nation at a time of peril, but no, the parallel to Washingtn was that he owned slaves. This is unbelievable. The bar is set do low in the Bahamas. Much the same way we laud Mother Pratt as the first female DPM. I acknowledge her contribution in sports but I don't believe she did anything to be honored in the position as DPM other than to not have been Brave Davis and zero threat to Perry Christie, that is not something to be honored for.

Being put on the $10 dollar note is not something to be honored for. We really need to separate notoriety from deserving of honor. Just because you are prominent does not mean you are honorable. Should Germany honor Hitler? Iraq Sadam Hussein? In the Bahamas I don't think we understand the difference between spotlight and substance. It's why we can look at the trappings surrounding drug dealers and Sebas and call them "successes".

If the sum total of the contribution is that he was there and he was generous, that's not deserving of a national "hero" honor. We could do the same for Ninety if that's the case. We really need to get past honoring/hiring/giving opportunities to people we "like" if we're to grow as a country


bobneville 2 years, 2 months ago

what you talking bout boy? my mother often said to us ,;if you dont know a man name ,call him mister.well you dont know pop, so shut up.you see pop gave me an ace one mourning i took an old boat to be fixed to his shipyard ,he came out of no where look the boat over then ask me who my people were, i told him,he knew my grandfather who he had done business with in the old days,he ask me who own this boat, i told him i did,he said to me ,son,only two kinds of people own boats ,a rich man and a jackass,he said you look like a smart boy ,get rid of this boat. i didnt, and in the next two years i spent more money on that boat,than a man with one wife and two black sweethearts.two years on the crazy hill and six months on probation.if i had only listen to pop


ThisIsOurs 2 years, 2 months ago

And "that's" why you think he should be a national hero? Because he was a nice man? You proved my point. The "national hero" is beyond just being generous, it's someone who fundamentally changed the country in a positive way. As I said I don't have a strong opinion either way BECAUSE I don't know him, I lean to not giving it because I haven't read anything yet that said he deserved it. I actually read this article to find out "why" he should get it and all they told me was Washington had slaves too. Should he be remembered as a part of our history, should people speak up for how nice he was to them despite a colour difference? absolutely, but the title"hero" has deep and profound implications that I haven't seen evidence of "yet". I'm open to hearing it

I grew up with a Mama who was beyond generous, in fact it made me quite angry that she would go so far as to help people I thought were not so kind to her. Do I believe my mother should be a national hero? Of course I do! That's my Mother. But realistically she was a very nice generous woman.

As to shutting up. No. It's a free country. You're free to ask and I'm free not to take your suggestion. Clearly you learned nothing from "Pop".


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