By Canon S Sebastian Campbell
Properly understood, Majority Rule marks a moment of liberation for all Bahamians and ought to be celebrated by all Bahamians in all times as the most transformative event in our nation’s history.
Blacks for the first time gained the right to govern themselves in a country predominantly black. The inferiority complex was being dismantled and challenged the notion that: “If you are white, you always right. Brown can hang around and black must stand back.”
It was equally a moment of liberation for the whites. It now became crystal clear that the colour of one’s skin did not give one the inherent right to govern and to have a superiority complex. It was a moment of liberation for all Bahamians, January 10, 1967, as it freed the national mindset to now realise that all men are created equal.
Prior to 1967, blacks were not allowed in some churches, or had to sit back in others. They were not allowed in some banks, such as the Royal Bank. Some theatres were used to them such as the Savoy on Bay Street. Dining in some restaurants was denied. There were schools such as Queen’s College and Government High which were for the privileged class. Because of the ‘property vote’, many blacks were disenfranchised; many owned no property. Women were out of the picture; they were not allowed to vote. Top jobs were reserved for whites such as permanent secretaries, commissioner of police, head of the Anglican Church, governor et cetera. It was the entrenched belief that black people could not govern. It was being generally advanced that a vote for blacks meant the country would go to hell as money would dry up. Majority Rule was to change all this.
Significant planks to Majority Rule:
In 1830, a young black slave named Pompey led a revolt on a slave plantation in Exuma. This revolt was sparked because of a sudden transfer of slaves from Exuma to the Cat Island plantations. Ultimately, he succeeded in this revolt. It was the first most significant uprising by the slaves; now they realised what power they had when united.
In 1834, slaves were granted freedom, but were not really free. They still had to work for their masters who indoctrinated them that they were “worthless, nobodies.” In reality they were still mentally enslaved. The chains were taken off their hands and put on their minds. Religion bloomed during this period, as blacks were given the freedom to build churches, used also as schools. Some of the churches springing up at this time include St Agnes (Grants Town), St James (Adelaide), St Mary’s (Old Bight Cat Island), Holy Trinity (Carmichael), St Stephen (Exuma). But white minority still held ultimate power and control.
Burma Road Riot
In 1942, it was a fight for job equality for workers. Foreign workers were given superior treatment to the local Bahamians. Their salary exceeded Bahamians’ by far. During work on the Windsor airport project, a majority of blacks dared to rise up against the status quo, even at the risk of life and limb.
The formation of the Progressive Liberal Party
In 1953, the idea first surfaced in the mind of William Cartwright, the Member of the House of Assembly for Cat Island. He shared the thought with Cyril Stevenson and Henry Taylor, thus giving birth to the first political party in the country. It is of note that these founding fathers were all Mulatto (white Bahamians) and never given their rightful honour in the annals of Bahamian history. The party was to be a vehicle of liberation, not only for blacks, but for the poor whites and all who were on the fringes of society. The whites initially saw no need for a political party as they were united in political and economic strength and were referred to as “the Bay Street Boys.” In its first platform, titled “A Challenge to be Met”, the PLP’s first challenge was to wrestle political power from this minority group.
Election to Parliament
In 1956, six PLPs were elected to Parliament in general elections. They were: Lynden Pindling, Milo B Butler, Cyril Stevenson, Sammie Isaacs, Clarence Bain and Randol Fawkes. They were to emerge as real champions for the dispossessed and laid the foundational work in the legislature for what was to come.
In 1958, the General Strike was led by Randol Fawkes and Clifford Darling. For 19 days no one worked. The country was paralysed. This strike gained momentum when one Saul Campbell was successful in galvanising the entire hotel industry to join forces. It was a crippling movement. It enhanced the realisation that black Bahamians had real strength when they joined forces.
From 1959 to 1961, this movement struggled for and earned the right for women to vote for the first time in the general elections on November 26, 1962.
On April 27, 1965, Lynden Pindling threw the mace, symbol of the Speaker’s authority, through the window of the House of Assembly. Milo B Butler followed by throwing the sand clock, used to curb long speeches in debates, through the same window. They were protesting the unfair boundaries in New Providence, which had the majority of people, yet the least amount of seats. The United Bahamian Party was strongest in the Out Islands, so they created most of the seats there. This corruption was brought painfully to light in the results of the 1962 elections, when the PLP won the majority of votes and the least amount of seats. The PLP took the protest to London and had four seats added to New Providence, which they won.
On January 10, 1967 a snap election called by the ruling UBP (the elections were not due until November of that year). They were helping to stop the momentum being gathered by the PLP. The country was shocked late that night when the results showed an equal number of seats (18/18) for the PLP and the UBP. This tie was broken when Alvin R Braynen, a white man who represented Harbour Island, accepted Pindling’s offer to be speaker of the House and Randol Fawkes, the lone Labour candidate to win, threw in his lot with the PLP and became the Minister of Labour. All this was officially sealed four days later when Pindling was sworn in as Premier and invited by the Governor to form the new government. For the first time in Bahamian history, blacks were afforded the noble opportunity to lead this country.
Rightfully so and most appropriate, Majority Rule Day was declared a public holiday signed into a law in a public setting at Government House in October 2013 by Governor General Arthur Foulkes and Prime Minister Perry Christie.
Now the challenge is, what does all of this mean to you and me today? How can we advance the dream?
With the Republic of the Bahamas, and therefore achieve the fullness of Independence. With a revision of our Constitution so as to swear allegiance only to our Bahamas and not to some foreign monarch. With the abolition of all vestiges of colonialism, including honours and official dress. With the attainment of ‘one Bahamas’, where there is equality in the development of all our island communities, where potable water, education, employment, et cetera, become a right for all Bahamians throughout the archipelago. With ongoing mental liberation and to have our own history taught in all our schools.