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Race and Class in the Colonial Bahamas, 1880-1960$

Gail Saunders

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780813062549

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813062549.001.0001

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The 1958 General Strike and Its Aftermath

The 1958 General Strike and Its Aftermath

8 The 1958 General Strike and Its Aftermath
Race and Class in the Colonial Bahamas, 1880-1960

Gail Saunders

University Press of Florida

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter 8 describes the dispute which led to the general strike of 1958. A government-appointed Airports Board, which controlled parking regulations at the airport, agreed on a “franchise” project whereby a local bus company and meter –taxi firm, owned by a British resident but controlled by Bay Street representatives, would be given franchises to convey passengers between the airport and hotels. Large areas of parking space would be allocated for franchise operators. This was resented by the Taxi-Cab Union (comprising black independent taxi-drivers and owners) as unfair competition by wealthy Bay Street merchants. The plan involved an increase in the seating capacity of hotel vehicles that would exclude the Taxi Cab Union. On the morning of 2 November 1957, when the new airport opened for traffic, the Taxi Cab Union led by Clifford Darling, blockaded all roads from the airport. The demonstration was supported by the PLP and the Bahamas Federation of Labour (BFL). Negotiations between the parties failed, and on Sunday, 12 January 1958, the general strike began. Hotels closed, racial tensions ran high, and troops were called in. By 21 January 1958, the tourist trade had come to a standstill, negatively affecting the local economy. An important milestone in the aftermath of the strike is British secretary of state Alan Lennox-Boyd’s visit to the Bahamas, which led to electoral reforms and improvements in education and medical services for all Bahamians, black and white, male and female. Chapter 8 also explores the Bahamas’ racially charged women’s suffrage movement, established in 1957, which had its origins in the emerging black middle class of Over-the Hill Nassau.

Keywords:   strike, Taxi Cab Union, Clifford Darling, Bahamas Federation of Labour, racial tension, electoral reform, reform, Alan Lennox-Boyd, suffrage, women

The 1942 riot had demonstrated the deep dissatisfaction of the masses with the status quo. Small improvements were passed, including trade union legislation, but it was defective and severely restricted membership in a union. Politically though, the PLP, the first successful party to be established in the Bahamas, was making progress. Buoyed by winning six seats in 1956, the party made demands for electoral reform and constitutional advances. Also using the Herald to spread their agenda, they lashed out against injustices in the society. Additionally, the PLP held rallies at which fiery speeches were delivered, sponsored public demonstrations in downtown Nassau while the House was in session, and debated furiously in that chamber. Frequent cables and a delegation of protest were also sent to the Colonial Office in London. Labor union matters resulting in confrontation and the general strike would give the PLP, to which many union members belonged, the opportunity to assist in forcing change.

Significant and guarded progress had been made on the race issue following the 1956 resolution. While “overt acts of social discrimination (in the late ’50s) had become rare,” subtle discriminatory practices persisted.1 Both in Nassau and the Out Islands, white communities sought to preserve their racial integrity by isolating themselves from brown and black people as much as possible. Private clubs, elite societies, and charitable organizations still practiced segregation, as did some business houses (including banks) and certain schools, especially the racially exclusive St. Andrews and to a lesser extent Queen’s College. Nonwhites were never promoted to certain top posts in the civil service. Mixed-race and black leaders felt indignant about the lingering discriminatory practices in Nassau, while the Colonial Office recognized that color and class were closely linked to economics: “As it happens (p.258) there are very few, if any coloured Bahamians who have the financial means to keep up with those who constitute the Colony’s ‘Upper set,’ and they are not likely to achieve the necessary riches if the ruling class has anything to do with it.”2

Racial tension was real during and following the 1958 general strike. Politics and labor unions converged. The PLP and the Taxi Cab Union, supported by many other unions, became the catalysts for the strike. H. M. Taylor was still leader of the party, but according to Arthur Hanna, a close friend and colleague, from 1956 Pindling saw himself as leader of the PLP.3

Randol Fawkes, also from Over-the-Hill, was a graduate of the Government High School. He trained locally as a lawyer under Thaddeus A. Toote, one of the early Bahamian black lawyers, and joined the PLP as well but was more aligned to the labour movement. Fawkes, like Tubal Uriah Butler in Trinidad, was obsessed with a sense of mission in seeking to bring more dignity to the black masses. Fawkes defended a mixed-race post office clerk who had been charged (he thought unfairly) with misappropriating money from the treasury. When an all-white jury brought in a guilty verdict, the clerk was sentenced to prison for thirteen years. Fawkes criticized the judge and appealed the verdict. This angered the legal establishment, and Fawkes’s enemies were pleased when Fawkes was found guilty of misconduct regarding a will, before Chief Justice Sir Oswald Bancroft, and was suspended from practicing at the Bahamian Bar for two years. Fawkes spent a self-imposed exile in New York. There he experienced the beginning of the civil rights movement and was inspired by a speech Emperor Haile Selassie delivered while visiting Harlem in July 1954 and by the singing of powerful black entertainer Paul Robeson. Fawkes returned home to Nassau determined “to overthrow the white oligarchy” and, like Moses, deliver his people.4 Both Pindling and Fawkes, members of the House of Assembly since 1956 for the south, were deeply influenced by the civil rights movement in the United States. They followed Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolence and met with him. Fawkes invited King, while on a private visit to the Bahamas, to speak to a capacity audience of members of the Bahamas Federation of Labour (BFL).

Fawkes sought to bring about change through the mobilization of the trade union movement. Establishing an employment agency, the first of its kind, he attracted workers from all fields; he organized them “into craft unions and successfully negotiated on their behalf for better working conditions.” Finally, under pressure from the Bay Street merchants and the government, who tried to “suppress the movement,” in 1942 Fawkes had established (p.259) the BFL, which was an affiliation of unions and members of individual trade unions divided into branches according to their trades. The Taxi Cab Union, although self-governing, was affiliated with and paid dues to the BFL.5 The membership of the Taxi Cab Union and the BFL was predominantly black and generally supported the PLP.

Clifford Darling, born in Acklins in the southern Bahamas, migrated to Nassau, where he would later become the president of the Taxi Cab Union. Earlier he had learned the electrical trade from his brother and trained as a barber. The 1942 riots left an indelible impression on Darling. Attracted by the opportunity to “get away from Nassau,” he volunteered for the Contract in the United States, beginning his sojourn in Florida. Legalized discrimination during work and free time was almost “intolerable.” Darling had grown up in Crooked Island, near his birthplace in Acklins, where there was no discrimination: “Racial prejudice was something I never encountered until the thirties when I came to Nassau to live.… At that time there was grave discrimination in Nassau.”6 On Darling’s return to Nassau in 1946, he was “committed to bringing about changes in the pattern of discrimination” in his homeland. Seeking financial independence, he decided to become a taxi driver and immediately joined the Bahamas Taxi Cab Union, then consisting of about forty-five members. The union was made up of drivers who owned their vehicles and technically worked for themselves. Colonial Office officials did not consider the Taxi Cab Union a trade union in the strict sense.7

In his memoirs Darling admitted that when he first began driving a taxi, he “did very little taxi work.” Most of his time was spent on his three-year crusade to “convince the taxi men that we had to break down racial discrimination in The Bahamas … so that we could become first class citizens in our own country.” He met some opposition, discovering that “some black people in The Bahamas were content to live with discrimination here. A lot of them did not want to rock the boat. They would say that the Lord would take care of it.” Gradually, however, Darling convinced them, and they in turn converted others to the idea. Gaining respect for Darling, the Taxi Cab Union members elected him as secretary of the union in 1949.8

Soon after his election, campaigning began for the general election of 1949. Darling described an incident that occurred during the campaign. Joseph Baker, a white lawyer and Bay Street merchant, was running for the southern district against two black candidates, Dr. C. R. Walker and Bert (p.260) Cambridge. Baker hired eight taxi drivers and offered to pay them eight pounds for transporting voters to the polls on election day. On hearing of this, Darling reminded them that Baker “did not respect black people” and that as black people they should not support him. Walker and Cambridge won by a landslide, while Baker lost his deposit. Apparently the taxi drivers also assisted the victorious candidates, angering Baker, who refused at first to pay them. Darling, after some harsh words had passed between them, persuaded Baker to reimburse the drivers.9

The Colonial Office was kept abreast of political and union developments. Traditionally it had been reluctant to interfere in local affairs in the colony. It avoided upsetting the Bay Street clique, which had brought sustained prosperity to the Bahamas through development of tourism. However, the fear of black anger and the growing militancy of the unions and the PLP, whose leaders were then considered left-wing extremists, would force Britain to reexamine its position on political developments in the Bahamas. A secret Bahamas Political Report of September 1954 sent to London contained unflattering information about individual members of the PLP and revealed the increasing attachment between the Taxi Cab Union and the new party.10

The original dispute that led to the general strike in January 1958 occurred on 2 November 1957. For some years there had been tension between the Taxi Cab Union and the operators of hotel and tour bus companies. Several hotels had been operating their own transportation to and from the airport, and tour companies began to follow the same pattern. The Taxi Cab Union complained that there was little business left for taxis, “be they Union or non-Union vehicles.”11 The official opening of the new airport at Windsor Field, more than eleven miles west of Nassau, was scheduled for 16 November 1957. The problem might perhaps have been resolved but for the discovery by the union of negotiations that begun between the Hotel Association and Meter Taxi Cab firm, owned by Edward Legatt, a British resident whose board included Bay Street representatives, and a local company operated by black Long Islander Dan Knowles. He had migrated to Nassau many years earlier and established the Dan Knowles Taxi, Livery and Bus Service. The intention was that the local bus company and taxi firm would be given “franchises” to convey passengers between the airport and the hotels. Such a scheme would have led to a “considerable increase of the seating capacity of hotel vehicles” and would probably have ended in a monopoly that excluded the Taxi Cab Union entirely.12

Government became involved in the dispute because the Airports Board controlled parking regulations at the airport. For the hotels to succeed in this (p.261) “franchise” project, the Airports Board had to allocate large areas of parking space for the franchise operators. The government realized that such a move would be unpopular with the Taxi Cab Union and that “a large body of opinion in Nassau resented what was alleged to be another move by wealthy Bay Street merchants to squeeze out the small operator.”13 On the other hand, the Airport Board could not agree that the Taxi Cab Union should have a monopoly on collecting passengers from the airport. The board decided that the system whereby the hotel buses and tour company cars were allowed to transport passengers from the Oakes Field airport (the original airport), should continue.

By 26 October 1957, the government learned that the Taxi Cab Union intended to make trouble on the day of the unofficial opening of Windsor Field on 2 November. According to Acting Governor K. M. Walmsley’s correspondence to the Colonial Office in London, a transport subcommittee of the Executive Council was convened, under the chairmanship of Attorney General L.A.W. Orr, to try to settle the dispute. The Taxi Cab Union was said to have been represented by Pindling and Darling, president of the union. The tour operators were represented by Knowles and Legatt, president of the Meter Taxi Cab firm. The attorney general persuaded the Hotel Association to agree that the hotels and their drivers would not increase total seating capacity of their vehicles beyond the level that had been established at Oakes Field. According to Walmsley’s account, Darling agreed with the compromise. Darling vehemently denied this and stated that not only did he not attend the meeting, which he dubbed fictitious; he said he had no knowledge of it.14 The government is supposed to have told Darling that a tally of the numbers of passengers traveling in hotel buses and taxis would be supplied to the union. However, the union was not satisfied. The lack of accurate statistics “as to the established share of traffic in the past” had caused the breakdown of previous negotiations.15

On the morning of 2 November when the new airport opened to traffic, the Taxi Cab Union decided to show their dissatisfaction, led by Darling, Nick Musgrove, Lochinvar Lockhart, Jimmy Shepherd, and Wilbert Moss. Nearly all the 193 union drivers arrived at the airport determined to force the withdrawal of hotel transportation. When the first batch of visitors arrived and tried to enter hotel transportation, the Taxi Cab Union drivers approached the vehicles and persuaded the passengers to travel by taxi. Darling stated, “We are here … to protect our interest—the small man’s interest against big monopolies and a few individuals who wish to destroy us.”16

According to the official account, with which Darling disagreed, the “attitude (p.262) of the drivers was surly and uncompromising,” and the chairman of the Airports Board temporarily refused to allow hotel transportation to operate. After checking with government officials, however, hotel vehicles were allowed, resulting in a blockade of all roads to and from the airport by the Taxi Cab Union drivers. Union drivers not only parked their cars “across the roads in groups of twenty”; they also locked the vehicles, effectively closing the roads. Encouraged by government workers, including those from customs, immigration and civil aviation, they defied police orders to move their vehicles. Junior police officers obviously sympathized with the demonstrators, who were also encouraged by PLP supporters.17

Frank Christie, chairman of the Airports Board, gave assurance that he and his members would “enter into discussions” with the union and that the hotels “would comply” with union demands. There would be an eight-week “cooling off period” when hotels would not send transport to the airport. Meanwhile, the transport subcommittee, under the attorney general, would attempt to obtain a permanent settlement.18 Only then would Darling agree to end the blockade by ordering “the taxi drivers to move their cars,” nearly thirty hours after the action began.19

Approximately thirty Taxi Cab Union drivers were charged in the Magistrate’s Court with obstruction and three with assault. Charges against Darling and Wilbert Moss, a senior member of the union, were dismissed. However, several of their colleagues, including Oswald Barnard, James Glinton, and Leon Bowe, were found guilty of obstruction and assault and were fined. In addition James Shepherd was found guilty of refusing to move his vehicle; Jerome Hutcheson was found guilty of obstruction and refusing to move; and James Pratt, a seventy-four-year-old driver, was found guilty of assault. However, none of those convicted were imprisoned. Darling opined: “Given the mood in the country at that time and the fact that such an overwhelming [black] majority of the public stood behind us, not to mention the sympathy we engendered from the other Unions, … I believe if Magistrate E. P. St. George had sentenced any of us to jail, there would have been a big uprising.”20 Race relations were worsening. Union members defended their actions when questioned by Solicitor General K.G.L. Isaacs. “The attitude of the men … was that they were protecting their livelihood in the best way they knew”—their “bread was at stake,” and they represented “people fighting for equal rights.”21

Many people, however, especially wealthy whites, “took a serious view of the incident at the airport,” and were fearful that it would negatively affect the tourist industry on which the “colony’s prosperity depends.” There had (p.263) been a “good deal of uncertainty and considerable tension before the cases came to trial.” Dupuch wrote: “The time has gone when any section of the community will be satisfied to accept the crumbs thrown from the master’s table.”22

Meetings were held between the government representatives, the Taxi Cab Union, the Hotel Association, and the tour companies during the same week as the incident. Pindling was legal advisor for the union. It seemed that an agreement had been reached in December. Nineteen of the twenty points put forward had been agreed upon. Tour companies were allowed to supply three vehicles each in transporting passengers from the airport and hotels. However, point twenty, the original bone of contention, still gave tour companies exclusive rights in transporting passengers from Nassau to the airport in cars of their own choice. Refusing to accept this, the union demanded a “first come, first served” system whereby the first drivers on the line would be assured of a fare. The tour operators and the Hotel Association refused to “budge from their position,” thus causing a breakdown of the negotiations.

The demonstration of the Taxi Cab Union won the support of the PLP and the Bahamas Federation of Labour. Assistance also came from a highly respected labor leader for Britain, Sir Vincent Tewson, and Martin Pounder, Caribbean representative for the Trade Union Congress, who both visited the Bahamas in early December 1957, giving advice to the Taxi Cab Union, the BFL, and PLP party leaders.23 Tewson held a press conference at the Royal Victoria, met with Governor Arthur, and spoke at a very well-attended meeting sponsored by the BFL at the Roman Catholic Benedict’s Hall. Darling observed that the hundreds of people who had come to hear Tewson spilled onto the priory grounds. Emphasis was placed on “the principles” of trade unionism and the avoidance of “irresponsible action at all costs.” Negotiation was key, and a strike should be a last resort.24

On 8 January Darling demanded and got the appointment of a three-man tribunal to attempt to break the deadlock. However, the Taxi Cab Union objected to all three proposed members: Leonard Knowles, who was retained by Dan Knowles Taxi and Bus Service in an action “pending in the Supreme Court against the Taxi Cab Union”; C. C. Richardson, who had acted as a mediator in a dispute between the union, the tour operators, and the Knowles company on previous occasions; and Brigadier Torrance, who was considered unfamiliar with local conditions.25 Their decisions, the union thought, would be biased in favor of the tour companies. The union’s request to have Fawkes as arbitrator failed as the tour companies objected, thus bringing negotiations to a standstill. Fawkes and Pindling subsequently met with the (p.264) governor, unsuccessfully attempting to persuade him to appoint an impartial commission to investigate the causes of the dispute.26 Darling then appealed to the BFL for “active assistance,” stating that “the situation is very grave indeed, as negotiations have completely broken down.”27

Fawkes called a meeting of the BFL and affiliate unions at their new headquarters located in the Bodie Building on Wulff Road on 11 January 1958. Also present were Pindling, Bain, Butler, and Rhodriquez. Darling records that at first, Fawkes “was adamantly opposed to taking strike action, preferring to continue to negotiate.” According to James Shepherd, secretary of the Taxi Cab Union, Fawkes thought the strike would be illegal because all the drivers were businessmen in their own right. Pindling informed the meeting that it was legal to strike. After being threatened by the Longshoremen’s Union, a powerful affiliate of the BFL, and his own officers that they were prepared to strike without him, Fawkes “reluctantly agreed” to take the strike vote, and the membership “overwhelmingly voted in favour of calling a General Strike to support the Bahamas Taxi Cab Union and to protest long-standing ingrained injustices to all workers of The Bahamas.” The PLP was at first ambivalent to the idea of the strike. Shepherd stated that Pindling backed it because he was the union’s legal adviser. He conferred with the PLP leader, Taylor, and Shepherd thought the “PLP took advantage of the strike for political purposes.”28

Darling stated that the Bahamas Federation of Labour “took it from there,” emphasizing, though, that “it was not Randol Fawkes who instigated the Strike.… It was without doubt, the Bahamas Taxi Cab Union that orchestrated and administered the General Strike.”29 A password was agreed. At 8:30 a.m. on Sunday 12 January, Pindling and Fawkes entered the Emerald Beach Hotel. Resting their right hands on the right shoulder of Saul Campbell, president of the Hotel Workers’ Branch Union, they whispered “Now!” This was repeated at other hotels throughout New Providence. By that evening all the major hotels were virtually closed, and the Taxi Cab Union had withdrawn all its taxis. The hotels tried to carry on with white staff and loyal black helpers, but tourists soon left the colony. By Wednesday 15 January, workers had not returned, and all hotels were closed. Additionally, many construction workers, bakers, garbage collectors, airport porters, employees of the Electricity Corporation, a number of employees at the Public Works Department, and some private employees had already stopped work. The general strike had begun.30 When Governor Arthur opened the legislature on Tuesday 14 January, there was a “demonstration” by a crowd of about 800 to 1,000. Arthur and the Bay Street politicians were booed (the first time a (p.265) governor of the Bahamas had been booed in public), while Fawkes, Pindling, and other members of the PLP were cheered on their arrival at the House. The governor described them as “extremist left wing political leaders.” Butler daringly walked through the public square and shouted to the crowd around the PLP members: “These are your representatives … get rid of white man rule in this country.”31 Arthur stated that “there was no violence.” However, after he left the legislature “the police had considerable difficulty in controlling the crowd and the Riot Squad Reserve was summoned, but did not have to be used.”32 The next morning McDermott, editor of the Nassau Guardian, commented indignantly in an editorial: “This is no labour dispute—and it never was; it is the carefully engineered outcome of all the race and class hatred that has been preached for years in this community. If the Government ever doubted that, the insult on Tuesday morning to the Queen’s representative should clear the thinking of all who still, officially, control the future of this Colony.”33

Following the opening of parliament, a mass prayer meeting was held at the Southern Recreation Grounds at 3:00 p.m. A handbill distributed to supporters explained the purpose of the meeting “for bread, for peace, for freedom.” Officials from the Taxi Cab Union, the BFL, and the PLP “addressed the crowd,” urging nonviolence. The details of the disagreement were explained to the crowd, as was the planned boycott of certain white-owned institutions—for example, the Capital, Nassau, and Meeres theaters, the entrances of which were being picketed to prevent patrons from entering and to ensure that no films could be shown. Most Bay Street businesses, fearing violence, had battened down their windows and doors. After the prayer meeting people wandered about in the southern district “almost aimlessly” but excitedly. Magistrate St. George ordered all bars closed “for an indefinite period.” Bay Street, however, was empty. Journalist Majorie Noble described the effect: “Over Bay Street today hung a death-like pall. The pall of vanished prosperity. The workers know it too.”34 In the Tribune on Tuesday 14 January, a “lover of Nassau” similarly expressed his apprehension regarding the strike. Acknowledging that strikes had occurred in England, he reminded Bahamians that their livelihood depended on the tourist trade: “No visitors, no money coming into the economy. It has taken many years to build up Nassau’s reputation as a place where people are kind, polite and contented.… Once that reputation has gone, who knows where they will prefer to go?”35

In the early hours of Wednesday 15 January 1958, when most residents were asleep, a company of the Royal Worcestershire Regiment previously stationed in Jamaica arrived in Nassau, wearing battle dress and helmets.

(p.266) They were heavily armed, some with 30 mm rifles with fixed bayonets, while others had automatic weapons. Arthur, fearing that the tense racial situation might descend into in violence, which Darling later admitted was a possibility, had alerted the commander of the Caribbean area and asked for a company of troops to be sent.36 The governor had also given instructions that the press was not to be given any information. Many press representatives were held hostage at the airport for over an hour.37

There was some interruption in the electrical supply at Prospect Ridge, tampering with high tension wires in Oakes Field, and unauthorized entry and tampering with circuit breakers at the Bernard Road switching station. Additionally, “a stick of dynamite” was found attached to an isolated switch on the golf course.38 Soldiers were stationed at strategic locations including the electrical department and the telecommunications offices. A government announcement was made the next morning explaining the rationale for the presence of the troops. Their purpose was for the protection of “life and property” and from “intimidation.”39 The visible presence of the troops, who patrolled downtown Nassau, its suburbs, and the entire island, gave the white Bay Street merchants confidence enough to reopen their shops and had a sobering effect on the populace generally. The Tribune reported that there was optimism that the Taxi Cab Union and the tour operators would “break the deadlock.”40

There were also outrageous rumors, including one printed in the Guardian stating that the “troops are here to slay the people.”41 A 2,200-ton antisubmarine frigate, H.M.S. Ulster, arrived a few days later with technicians to maintain essential services and public utilities and presumably to supply reinforcement if necessary.42 While most people felt more secure, as the strike wore on for a second week Darling stated that “feelings of hostility” began to “run very high.” Occasional dynamite incidents and attempts at sabotage of the electrical power continued. Hotel workers, collectors of garbage, and street sweepers, among others, were still on strike. Several small guesthouses were open for tourists who chose to stay.43 By 21 January, however, the tourist trade had ceased. At least 17,000 persons were without jobs because of the strike.

Some visitors and Bahamians expressed their feelings. Majorie Noble was critical of the strike leaders, accusing the taxi drivers of being selfish and pointing out that even if the strike ended soon, a great part of the Bahamas’ livelihood had disappeared. She also, much to Darling’s chagrin, characterized “the Bahamas Taxi-Union and its leaders as ignorant and naïve people who were manipulated by evil outside forces.”44 A letter writer with the pen (p.267) name “A sorry citizen” stated: “God made all, coloured and white, and put us in these ever beautiful islands. Why don’t we live as one, share with one another, and love one another.… He made us all, we are his children—brothers and sisters—but do we act that way? No. So don’t go around here with a stuck up nose—keeping on one side of the line. Remember THERE IS NO COLOUR LINE IN HEAVEN.”45

Comments, some critical, also came from nonwhite Bahamians. Audley Humes, for example, observed that when the Taxi Cab Union went on strike, “I thought they were fighting for point 20, but now I’m not quite sure.” Additionally, he strongly criticized Fawkes, accusing him of distracting the public “from the true root cause of the strike” in his “attempts to seize the opportunity to try to unionize the hotels and other businesses.” Humes continued: “In the first place, he [Fawkes] should never have ordered a general strike. If the hotel struck in sympathy with the Taxi Union, there goes our whole economic structure. What else is there to wreck? There are no guests in the hotels, no building going on.… The B.F.L. had no differences with government or the other enterprises on the island, yet their President called a general strike against them”46

Dupuch commented in the Tribune’s editorial of 16 January 1958 under the headline “Tension Slacks Off.” Describing Nassau as a “Ghost Town,” he anticipated that there should be a settlement soon. The strike had fanned racial animosities, which reached “fever” proportions. To Dupuch this was a pity as “coloured” Bahamians, usually “so gentle and kind,” were in an “ugly mood.” Indeed, as editor and proprietor of the Tribune he had warned the public following the 1942 riot but now bemoaned inaction: “Because the white people of this community have been so absorbed in making money that they have failed to realize that there are things in life—and especially in the field of human relations—that are more important than weighting their souls down with gold that can only drag us all down to hottest hell.”47 Castigating the wealthy whites for not addressing the known “injustices,” “unfairness,” and “deep spiritual wounds” suffered by the majority in the community, he opined that they had failed. Dupuch continued: “The tragedy of it all is that all this unnatural hatred has been produced by the greed and avarice of a few men in the community.” While this crisis would “pass,” he expected that “then you’ll forget again—and just go merrily on chasing ‘the pot of gold at the rainbow’s end’ until one day it will destroy you … and me too … and all of us.”48

Negotiations between the unions, tour companies, and government continued, as did the rallies at the Southern Recreation Ground and Windsor (p.268) Park on East Street and Wulff Road. Pickets that had been located in isolated areas, including George Street in the west, Mackey Street in the east, and five movie theatres, spread by 20 January to Bay Street. Some picketers were injured, being “knocked down” by cars. A white Bahamian, Emmett Pritchard—son of Asa Pritchard, the House speaker and proprietor of the John Bull store on Bay Street—was charged in the Magistrate’s Court “with causing harm, assault and negligent driving.” The case was adjourned to 31 January by Magistrate Maxwell Thompson. A number of picketers were charged with intimidation, but their cases were also adjourned.49 Racial tension was real, and Darling opined that Asa and Emmett Pritchard’s “feelings for the strikers were obvious.” Leaders of the strike became concerned for the safety of the picketers. Governor Arthur also took note, confidentially informing the secretary of state in London of the situation: “Picketing has been orderly but tension rose yesterday in consequence of violent demeanour of the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Pritchard and family, whose shop was picketed.”50 Racial hostilities and “deeply felt emotions” ran high as the strike continued into its second week.51

News of the strike was reported in the British, Canadian, and American press. The latter suggested that political issues were the real cause of the strike. The New York Times reported that “negroes have been demanding welfare legislation and modern laws. Efforts of the Governor and the British Colonial Office to obtain reforms have been blocked by a Legislature dominated by a small group of wealthy whites.”52 Press reaction embarrassed the British Embassy in Washington, where officials feared that supporting the Bahamas’ legislature would bring international ridicule. Colonial Attaché Douglas Williams, in a confidential letter to the Colonial Office, asked for advice on the official policy on the Bahamian situation. Williams stated that there was “interest in the events in Nassau throughout the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida,” where the merchants of Bay Street were “regarded as the biggest gang of pirates yet unhung.” The embassy’s official line was that while it had little sympathy with Bay Street group, it was difficult to intervene in their affairs. From the media’s point of view “this issue seems to be the hottest thing since Mau Mau.”53

Pressure on the Bahamian government and support for the unions came from American and international labor leaders, including those in other West Indian colonies, even though the Bahamas was not part of the West Indies Federation. Fawkes spoke to labor organizations in New York, whose leaders telegraphed the secretary of state, pledging support both moral and financial and urging the British government to establish democracy in the (p.269) Bahamas.54 Several foreign labor officials visited to offer advice and assistance, among them Ken Sterling, a black Jamaican, representing the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions; Wesley Wainwright of the National Worker’s Union in Jamaica; Thossy Kelly, president of the Jamaica National Workers Union; and Martin Pounder, Trade Union Congress representative for the Caribbean. Sterling also addressed the crowd at a rally, stating: “The Bahamas is too small for two worlds to exist. They have to realize that the Bahamas would have to belong to Bahamians, or perhaps, to nobody at all.” Pounder and Sterling were shocked to discover that the dispute that had given rise to the strike was not a trade dispute but a disagreement between two conflicting commercial interests. Despite this, however, they assisted in settling the strike, particularly Pounder.55

Support for the unions and PLP also came from other British Caribbean colonies. The Jamaican House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution condemning the “disgraceful and outmoded system and attitude” in the Bahamas and calling for the establishment of a royal commission of inquiry. Chief Minister of Jamaica Norman Manley cabled this information to the Colonial Office in London.56 As Hughes stated, the general strike cemented “relations between the PLP leaders and their West Indian counterparts.”57

After tough negotiations between the governor, the Taxi Cab Union, and the tour car operators, assisted by Pounder, Thossy Kelly, Pindling, Shepherd, Fawkes, and Darling, the general strike was called off on 29 January 1958. An agreement favorable to the Taxi Cab Union was reached. Several days before, employees of the electrical corporation resumed work and by Tuesday 28 January, all public health workers and two-thirds of the striking Public Works Department employees had returned to work. By 30 January there was a general resumption of work and a return to normal, although major hotels remained closed for a few days until tourist traffic resumed.58 The strike caused a severe setback in the tourist industry. At first recovery was slow, but it accelerated by the end of 1959. While all government employees were accepted back, not all hotel workers were reemployed.

Due to internal events, strong local public opinion, and sustained international criticism, Arthur pressed the Colonial Office to take urgent action in insisting on instituting reforms in the Bahamas.59 The governor personally deplored the colony’s constitution, seeing it as “morally indefensible” and a “hopeless anachronism.” In an earlier communication, while disagreeing with Bay Street’s request to keep the troops in the Bahamas indefinitely, Arthur was reluctant to see them go immediately, noting “the nervousness of (p.270) the white population and the slackness of the Police,” rather than the potential for a renewal of violence. However, he was afraid that if the Colonial Office pressed for constitutional change before any labor and political reforms were made, it might turn the Bahamas into “a little South Africa.”60 Arthur was convinced that the Bay Street politicians “should start getting their house in order in the eyes of the world,” and he wondered “how long should we back up Bay Street with British bayonets.”61 Rogers added that American opinion was also “critical” of the Bay Street group, “so there is nothing to be gained by Bay Street trying to play off the USA against the United Kingdom on this.”62 The troops remained in Nassau for two years.63

Arthur’s appeal to the Colonial Office, which probably embarrassed but deeply concerned the British government, finally brought results. In March 1958 it was announced that Alan Lennox-Boyd, secretary of state for the colonies, would visit the Bahamas in early April for a week to investigate the underlying causes of the strike and to make recommendations for the solution to the problem.64 Labour members of the British Parliament pressed for answers to problems in the Bahamas and in its outdated constitution.65 The British government could not reform the Bahamas’ antiquated constitution except by passing an act of Parliament, which it felt was extreme.66 However, it had to be seen to promote democracy, and Arthur persuaded his colleagues in London that something must be done to liberalize the Bahamas’ constitution. The governor recognized the reactionary mold of the Bay Street politicians who had by this time (March) formed themselves into the United Bahamian Party (UBP) led by Roland Symonette, whom he thought he might successfully sway. Stafford Sands, whom he recognized as the “dominant” and, in his opinion, “obdurate” leader, would be more difficult. In fact younger members of the UBP, according to Symonette’s son Robert, then deputy speaker of the Assembly, felt that change was needed.67 In the meantime, PLP leaders Taylor and Pindling had met with officials at the Colonial Office and offered sound suggestions for constitutional advance. A viable opposition to Bay Street was emerging. Recognizing the existing antagonism and acknowledging the successful tourist industry, the Colonial Office wished Bay Street to make the necessary reforms to avoid trouble and possible bloodshed in the future.

By the time of Lennox-Boyd’s visit, Arthur had brought together the Taxi Cab Union and tour companies to sign an agreement providing more equitable transportation to and from Nassau’s International Airport. This was significant as in the “public mind taxi drivers signified the ‘coloured under privileged’ majority and the Tour car operation, the white, politically (p.271) over-privileged, minority.”68 Arthur also promised that legislation would be passed allowing hotel and agricultural workers to unionize and that a labor department and a Bahamas transport authority would be established, which resulted in the passage of the Road Traffic Act 1958 relating to motor vehicles and public transportation and provided for the establishment of a Road Traffic Authority.69 The governor’s well-received speech over the local radio station, ZNS, on the night following his announcements, urged all parties to work together, forget the past, and look to the future. His attempt to introduce an Emergency Power Act during the following week, giving him overriding powers, was opposed by Bay Street politicians, who cherished their power and independence. Following the debate in the House of Assembly it was referred to a select committee, where it died.70

As Hughes has opined, the strike “brought Bahamian problems to the front pages of the world’s press for a day or two, and shook the Colonial Office off the fence it had straddled so long.” It also strengthened relations “between the PLP leaders and their West Indian counterparts,” as already noted. Pindling and Fawkes were able to garner some support for “their demand for a royal commission” from the chief minister of Jamaica and Jamaica’s House of Representatives, which adopted a resolution in support of an investigation into the strike.71 Eric Williams, chief minister of Trinidad and Tobago, sent a personal message of support.72 It was Lennox-Boyd’s visit to the Bahamas that accelerated change and had a significant impact on Bahamian constitutional and political development. The recommended reforms eased much of the tension that might have led to violence and ultimately resulted in the “Quiet Revolution”—the peaceful transition to majority rule. His presence was also significant in that no British representative of his stature had ever visited the Bahamas in a working capacity. During a week’s stay Lennox-Boyd met with leaders of the UBP and PLP and representatives from the BFL. He also visited several Out Islands, including Eleuthera, Crooked Island, Acklins, and Exuma.

After consulting with all the groups he informed the UBP that the British government was serious about reform and issued a warning that it was determined to support a majority opinion regardless of the House of Assembly’s makeup. If the Bahamian government failed to implement the proposed reforms, “no one is in doubt to the ultimate authority of the Imperial Parliament.”73 Lennox-Boyd reiterated the Colonial Office’s view that if the Bay Street men did not reform their constitution, they might end up with one they did not like. A year earlier in London, Arthur had discussed the matter of constitutional change with Roland Symonette and Stafford (p.272) Sands. The subject of British honors arose and might have served as an incentive for the two most powerful men in the House of Assembly, who were later knighted. They were able to coerce the House into supporting the suggested electoral changes.74

Lennox-Boyd’s intervention was an important milestone. The Colonial Office, besides demanding electoral changes, examined labor matters and also investigated educational, medical, and housing conditions and the cost of living. Two important Colonial Office–sponsored reports were produced, the Houghton Report on Education and the Hughes Report on Medical Services. The Houghton Report, critical of the inefficiency of the board system and political influence wielded on it, recommended that new comprehensive education legislation be enacted, an advisory council on education be appointed, and a sixth form be established at Government High School and perhaps at Queen’s College. The government-appointed Board of Education did not exercise any supervision over secondary schools. Government High was controlled by a Board of Governors, Queen’s College by the Methodist Synod, Xavier’s College and St. Augustine’s College by the Roman Catholic Church, St. John’s College by the Anglican Diocese, and the Bahamas Junior Academy by the Seventh-day Adventists. St. Andrew’s School, a limited company, was still racially segregated. A Teacher’s Training College established in 1950 was functioning in 1955. Because of a dearth of trained and efficient teachers, the college was temporarily closed in 1957.75

The Government High School, however, made considerable contributions to public service, especially the teaching profession and private enterprise. Six members of the 1957 House of Assembly were former pupils of the Government High School.76 According to a 1958 report, in terms of real facilities the Bahamas ranked third, well behind Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, but considerably ahead of Jamaica and Antigua. But the quality of teaching in Jamaica, Trinidad, and Barbados was much higher than in the Bahamas.77 Hughes’s report on medical services decried, among other problems, the lack of qualified doctors on most Out Islands. Healthwise though, the Bahamas compared favorably with the other larger Caribbean islands. In fact, in terms of the availability of medical resources, the Bahamas ranked among the best. Both reports, however, recommended sweeping reforms.78

Shocked by the first setback to tourism since the war, Bay Street, now formally constituted as the UBP, was jolted into accepting some long overdue changes, while at the same time redoubling its efforts to divide and discredit the opposition made up of the Taxi Cab Union, the PLP, and the Bahamas Federation of Labour. After some pressure and assistance from the British (p.273) and West Indian trade unionists and labor experts at the Colonial Office, the Bahamas’ House of Assembly passed the Trade Union and Industrial Conciliation Act in July 1958, which brought the Bahamas in line with Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados. Besides laying down rules for union organization and industrial action, the act set up a Labour Department headed by a chief industrial officer and a Labour Office responsible for all matters connected with workers’ wages, insurance, and welfare and family allotments as well as continuing to recruit and organize workers on the Contract—all under the authority of a Labour Board appointed by the governor.79

Significant electoral reforms were incorporated in the General Assembly Election Act of 1959. Limited adult suffrage was introduced, giving all males over twenty-one years of age the right to vote; the company vote was abolished, and the plural vote, which allowed one person to vote in every constituency, was limited to two. In order to bring the constituencies into line with the movement of population, four additional seats in New Providence were created (two in the south and two in the east), with provision to be made for by-elections as soon as possible. Lennox-Boyd, strongly influenced by his discussion with the PLP, made these latter recommendations in an attempt to redress the imbalance of representation between Nassau and the Out Islands. Lennox-Boyd and the governor may have been influenced by F. M. Collett’s observation a couple of years earlier: “A Bahamian Out-Island is very much a man’s world. The local men were definitely opposed to votes for women. They told me they did not think women were educated enough to vote. Secretly, I think, they feared that votes for women would mean less rum and cash handed out at election time. The white politicians were, I consider, opposed to votes for women as it would double their election expenses.”80 Neither saw the need or evidence of widespread demand for granting women the vote. Lennox-Boyd’s visit, however, highlighted the women’s suffrage movement that had existed since the early 1950s.

Women’s Suffrage Movement

As Marion Bethel argued, the suffrage movement in the Bahamas “had its origins in the emerging black middle-class of the Over-the Hill area of Nassau.”81 Bethel also noted that some Bahamian women, especially members of lodges, were aware of the enfranchisement of women in the English-speaking Caribbean, namely Jamaica (1944), Trinidad and Tobago (1946), and Barbados (1950).82 White, brown, and black middle-class women seemed to (p.274) have little interest in getting the vote. They focused on promoting charitable organizations and social work, which gave them the opportunity for public service and satisfied their sense of noblesse oblige. Two of the pioneers of the suffrage movement, Mary Ingraham and Mabel Walker, were exceptions. They were probably more informed about West Indian developments since their husbands, Rufus Ingraham and Dr. C. R. Walker, were members of the House of Assembly. As early as 1948 Bahamian women began calling for the right to vote. Three years later Mrs. Ingraham sponsored a petition imploring her representative in the House, Stafford Sands, who presented it although admitting he could not give it his support. The petition was referred to the Constitution Committee chaired by Sands, and there it died.83

In 1952 another petition drafted by the Daughters of the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World and other residents of New Providence was presented to the speaker of the House. Signatories of the petition included Mary N. Ingraham, Lillian Isaacs, Mabel Isaacs, Myrtle E. Wray, Effie Archer, Mamie Astwood, Jennie Smith, and 438 others. Later in the year the United Nations General Assembly adopted a Convention on the Political Rights of Women, which entitled women “to vote in all elections on equal terms with men without discrimination.”84 Obviously Bahamian women were aware of these developments. Sylvia Laramore, a Cat Islander, who had assisted in preparing the original petition, published letters in the Tribune during October 1954 demanding the passage of legislation on the enfranchisement of women.85

The Progressive Liberal Party’s establishment in 1953, and the election of six of its members in 1956, impacted the women’s movement. Two of its leading members, Eugenia Lockhart and Georgiana Symonette, were also members of the Women’s Branch of the PLP. They campaigned for the party in the 1956 election and were determined to gain the vote for women. It appears that the women’s suffrage movement was officially established in 1957. Mary Ingraham—whose husband was a candidate in the 1949 election and would align himself with the United Bahamian Party in 1958—was elected president in that year.86 Other officers included Georgiana Symonette as vice-president and Eugenia Lockhart as secretary. All three officers were mixed-race women identifying closely with the black community. The suffrage movement participants met in Dr. Walker’s Rhinehart Hotel on Baillou Hill Road in Grant’s Town. Other leading members were Mabel Walker and Althea Mortimer. Few white women supported the movement. Those who did included Veronica Higgs (wife of George V. E. Higgs), June Stevenson (wife of Cyril Stevenson), and Beryl Hanna (wife of Arthur D. Hanna); all (p.275) were of English origin, married to Bahamian men, and two of the men, Stevenson and Hanna, were nonwhites and PLP members.

In their struggle to obtain the vote for women, these women bombarded the House of Assembly with petitions demanding the franchise for women. Following the 1958 strike, Lennox-Boyd’s visit to the Bahamas resulted in the granting of full male adult suffrage. During his visit the suffragettes demonstrated on Bay Street with placards demanding the vote for women and were given an audience with Lennox-Boyd, only to be disappointed with his negative attitude regarding their request for the right to vote.

Doris Johnson, who returned to Nassau in 1958 after receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees (she would later obtain a doctorate from Columbia University), energized the suffrage movement, giving it the militancy that it needed. She mobilized the movement into a fighting force and was one of the founders of the National Council of Women, formed in September 1958 and “born out of a lecture given by Mary McLeod Bethune,” founder of Bethune-Cookman College in Florida. Dr. Johnson was not among the founders of the suffrage movement and some, including Eileen Dupuch, editor and publisher of the Tribune, think she “saw a political opportunity and grabbed it.”87 Leading suffragettes, including the founder and president Mary Ingraham, Georgina Symonette, Mabel Walker, and Eugenia Lockhart, also joined the council, which was an affiliate of the International Council of Women. Johnson, a former teacher in government schools, was a recipient of a Bahamas government scholarship that she lost as a result of her active participation in the suffrage movement. Johnson states that Stafford Sands, whom she dubbed the “boss of the UBP,” declared that “women would get the vote over his dead body.”88 She recognized two major problems: the difficulty of getting women to support the movement, especially those in the Out Islands, and the victimization of members of the movement by the UBP.89 Nonetheless, in 1958 the women’s suffrage movement, pressing for the enfranchisement of women, produced a new petition signed by more than 2,500 persons. Gerald Cash, member of the House, with the support of Milo Butler, presented the petition to the speaker and members of the House of Assembly on 1 December 1958.90

Early in 1959 Doris Johnson demanded an opportunity to address members of the House of Assembly in their chamber. Her request, which was debated by the House, was refused by the speaker, Robert Symonette, as she was in parliamentary language “a stranger.” To grant her permission to speak in the House would have established a precedent. Lynden Pindling presented a petition on Doris Johnson’s behalf. Randol Fawkes gave an eyewitness account (p.276) of what followed. According to his account, immediately following Symonette’s decision, six members of the UBP “bolted from their chairs and headed for the stairway where they were confronted by a group of angry straw vendors” and other militant supporters. In face of this demonstration, the members hurried back to their seats, and the speaker consented to allow Johnson to speak in mixed-race magistrate Maxwell Thompson’s court.91 Suffragettes demonstrated, carrying placards with the words: “No Nation Can Risk Higher Than the Status of Its Womanhood.” On 19 January 1959 Doris Johnson, dressed in black, delivered a forty-minute “impassioned plea” on behalf of 54,000 women, then more than half of the adult population of the Bahamas. Assuring members of the House that women had achieved leadership roles in many areas of society and had learned democratic techniques in various organizations, she expressed concern over the lack of representation of women on juries and boards, the incarceration of very young delinquent girls, and the failure to appoint females as commissioners and justices of the peace. Johnson stressed that in spite of their wide experience, women still suffered gross inequalities, and she demanded that women be given the vote. She likened the situation for women in the Bahamas to the American colonists before the War of Independence, who suffered taxation without representation. However “putting aside our grievances, we women raise our hearts and heads to loftier things: our willingness and readiness to participate as full citizens in the affairs of our country. We women are ready, willing and able. You must no longer deny us our rights.”92 Despite this moving and eloquent speech, nothing was done.

The very next day Mary Ingraham led a group of suffragettes and their supporters, including Symonette, Lockhart, Doris Johnson, Mildred Donaldson, Shirley Sands, Willamae Saunders, and Mary Stuart, to Government House to present a petition requesting the governor to insist that the law be changed, allowing women to vote.93 They received international support from British Labour Member of Parliament Eirene White, Conservative MP Joan Vickers, and Helen Tucker, president of the National Council of Women of Canada, all of whom visited Nassau.94

Kim Outten-Stubbs states that 1960 “proved to be a turning point for the Movement.” The six PLP members of the House “rallied” behind the movement, taking the women’s cause to Windsor Park, the Southern Recreation Grounds, and the Out Islands.95 Lynden Pindling, parliamentary leader of the party, presented a petition for the immediate franchise of women. Support also came from the lodges, especially the Elks organization, which had primarily black membership. The coming to power of the British Labour (p.277) Party, which promised its support, also was of significance. Encouraged by the growing local and international support, but disappointed with the lack of local governmental action, the women’s suffrage movement dispatched a delegation consisting of Doris Johnson, Eugenia Lockhart, and Henry Taylor, then chairman of the PLP, to London to seek help. There they met with Ian McLeod, secretary of state for the colonies, at a conference attended by female parliamentarians and supporters Eirene White and Joan Vickers. McLeod was optimistic that attitudes were changing and that new legislation would soon be passed.96

The suffragettes nevertheless continued to demonstrate. When the legislature opened in January 1961, representatives of the movement picketed on Bay Street. With pressure from all sides except the majority of white women, who did not publicly express their opinion, UBP members capitulated despite their fear that enfranchised women would increase the number of black and PLP voters. Almost immediately, a select committee was appointed and reported in favor of the vote for women, with effect from January 1963. Seven UBP members signed, but the PLP and independent members objected to the delay and refused to do so. Lynden Pindling then presented a petition demanding the immediate enfranchisement of women.97 Arthur Hanna also submitted a petition, requesting the amendment of the Election Act that would enable universal adult suffrage. The bill allowing women to vote was passed on 23 February 1961 and came into effect on 30 June 1962, and women voted for the first time in the 1962 election.98

The struggle for the vote for women was racially charged. Although according to Eileen Dupuch, UBP leader Sir Roland Symonette “was determined” to let Doris Johnson be heard, the majority of UBP members, representing the white community, had opposed the black and mixed-race membership of the suffragette movement and their sponsors, particularly the predominantly black Progressive Liberal Party.99 Aware that most women were black, they feared losing support. The Herald newspaper hammered away at white Bay Street. In October 1960 it made the PLP’s policies clear, declaring,

Make no mistake about it Bahamians. Our struggle was never more deeply defined. Regardless of what anyone may say, this struggle is white against black, and we did not produce the rules—they did.… The Negro majority is now engaged in a death battle with the white minority. Before any efforts can be made towards racial harmony in this country, we are going to have to destroy their vicious and twisted concept of racial superiority; bring them crumbling to the ashes of (p.278) defeat, smash their little harbours of arrogance and complacency.… Only then will we be able to start all over again—on terms that are truly equal—to build a decent society where racial divisions are of no consequence and where the colour of a man’s skin bears no relevance to his position in any segment of that society.… But the task cannot even begin until everything represented by the United Bahamian Party has been obliterated.100

Developments between 1960 and 1962

The 1960 by-election was fought in a racially charged atmosphere with resounding success for the PLP, which won all four seats. The Tribune and Guardian saw it as a “crushing vote of ‘no confidence’ in the ruling UBP.” The Guardian lamented that the prosperity brought by the UBP meant nothing to the majority of the population in New Providence, who “wish to be governed by their own kind … purely on the basis of racial affiliation.”101 An “unexpected windfall” contributed to PLP success. Cyril Stevenson printed a document in the Herald in October 1959, supposedly written by Peter Knaur, an American journalist working for the Guardian. Known as a propaganda advisor to the UBP, Knaur insulted the black population in an article that reflected the “idea of racial superiority.” It also stated “this is the white man’s society, and the Negro does not have the self-confidence to destroy it.” Knaur’s “Master Plan” revealed how the UBP could ingratiate itself among black people and win their support.102 The Tribune countered: “It reflected an attitude of mind that dies hard among a very small group of people in this community … an idea of racial superiority that has defeated every effort to weld our people into a solid unit of Bahamians.”103 But the Guardian in a front page editorial brazenly questioned: “Race hatred? You can search Peter Knaur’s writing—including his report—from end to end and you will find none.… ‘This is a white man’s society.’ Think carefully. Does anyone seriously think that it is not? Is it an African society? Anyone who says so is insulting the people of the Bahamas who for centuries have been British—in name, in language, in custom, education and culture. In everything, in fact, except origin.” The Guardian then sarcastically asked the Herald if it would advocate “that the streets of Nassau should echo to the beat of the tom-tom, or witness the primitive rites of voodoo and black magic?” It was sure that the Herald would not agree because the people of the Bahamas “have had centuries of civilization” and cannot be compared to “their brothers across the ocean who are for the most part only one generation removed from savagery.… (p.279) This is why Peter Knaur said ‘This is a white man’s society.’ But he meant it in a sociological, not racial, sense.”104 Dupuch, although he held no brief for the PLP, was critical of the Guardian’s disparaging remarks about Africa. The Guardian “retorted that the PLP was using African developments to catch votes while Ghana rushed towards dictatorship.”105

After the 1960 by-election Taylor, who won a seat, claimed that relations between Pindling and himself became strained, and Pindling’s attitude “changed completely.” In fact Pindling was taking control. Still chairman, Henry Taylor had been out of the House of Assembly for a term, while Pindling as parliamentary leader and Fawkes as union boss had gained mileage during the strike. Pindling actively assisted Fawkes in mobilizing the striking hotel workers and took an active part as legal advisor in the unions’ negotiations. Although Fawkes was still tremendously popular and was still the crowd’s hero, Pindling was increasingly wooing the same crowd. For a variety of reasons Fawkes’s political career waned after the strike. This was important for Pindling because the masses had considered him their Moses. Pindling and the PLP eventually eclipsed the Bahamas Federation of Labour, and he replaced Fawkes as the crowd’s hero.106

Part of the problem was race. While the Herald tried to continue its appeal to all Bahamians “regardless of race,” Taylor in an article asked the question: “Is the PLP a Negro Party?” He “concluded that it had to be because no whites had the courage to support it.” He admitted that racial exclusiveness had not been the intention of the PLP founders and that the plank “attacking Jim Crowism” had not been a part of the original and was inserted later. The plank condemned Jim Crow policies and pledged to eradicate such policies, promising anti-discrimination and anti-segregation legislation and that the party would strive to end discrimination in the Bahamas.107

PLP members of the House of Assembly and the Herald were very critical of any actions that discriminated against nonwhites. As Hughes demonstrated, since the 1956 resolution against racial discrimination, “overt acts of social discrimination had been rare.” But the PLP pounced on any hint of racism. When the majority in the House voted only £5,000 for drought relief at Andros but twice as much to assist wealthy white racehorse owners, and £120,000 to provide accommodation for British troops still stationed in Nassau, the Herald headlined the article: “‘Conchy Joe’ Representatives Vote to Feed Horses—Vote to Starve Negroes.” It reminded readers of Bay Street’s “inhumanity to man, of their hatred for Negroes and their treachery to their country.”108

Clarence Bain reminded Bay Street politicians or Conchy Joes that although (p.280) they did not “own slaves in the direct sense,” indirectly “they have had the way of life of these islands so manipulated that the Negroes worked and developed the wealth of the country while the Conchy Joes reaped the reward.” Hughes interpreted Bain’s remarks as an attack on the present leaders, hinting that they were “former white trash” or perhaps were of mixed parentage and had made their money recently, for example from bootlegging, and were not descendants of the “old slave owners.”109 At the same time, PLP leaders denied they were preaching “race hatred or were anti-white,” contending that “it is not our desire to bring the white race down; it is our desire to raise our people up.” They used race so that they could educate their “people” to respect their heritage and learn to support their own politically, as whites were “taught to support their own people.”110 Race relations, however, worsened. In January 1960 the English matron of the public hospital was assaulted in her “quarters.” The Tribune started a reward fund attempting to apprehend the culprit. Critical of the outcry the incident caused, the Herald wrote that if the victim had been a “coloured” woman, no such action would have taken place, concluding with: “When a coloured Bahamian is involved they couldn’t care less and they discuss it with a shrug by saying that it was probably her own fault.”111 The Guardian, however, touted the growing prosperity and the fact that the Bahamas was better off materially than the rest of the greater Caribbean and warned that the PLP’s campaign of race hatred would be to the disadvantage of the colored people they pretended “to champion.”112

Following the by-election held in May 1960 giving the PLP ten House members, the National General Council (NGC) of the PLP was enlarged, and according to Taylor, Pindling sponsored many of the aggressive newcomers, including London-trained lawyer Paul Adderley, chief laboratory technician Clement Maynard, locally trained lawyer Orville Turnquest, realtor Jeffrey Thompson, and bookkeeper Warren Levarity. Most of these men were dark-skinned and identified more readily with Pindling than with Taylor. Pindling’s influence with the new group was “exceptionally high.” Taylor accused him of “consciously or unconsciously building up a following to himself.” This eventually divided the council into “two camps.”113

The expanded NGC was changing. Among the new group were several militants, including Thompson, Levarity, journalist Arthur Foulkes, retired policeman Spurgeon Bethel, science graduate Sinclair Outten at the Telephone Company, and medical student Eugene Newry. In late 1958 or early 1959 they formed a pressure group, the National Committee for Positive Action (NCPA). According to Thompson, their purpose was to get rid of a (p.281) white minority government and to open up opportunities for all Bahamians. “We decided we would do whatever we considered necessary to accomplish that purpose.”114 The NCPA was determined to rid the PLP of the “old conservative guard.” Thompson and Turnquest confirmed that Taylor, Stevenson, and the original founders “would have been satisfied with a better deal for the majority black population, but perhaps were not [as] convinced as they were that blacks could run the affairs of the country.”115

It was surprising and perhaps naive, therefore, that Sir Raynor Arthur, in a speech to the Chamber of Commerce at the end of his three-year term as governor, denied that “there was any cause for racial feeling in the Bahamas, and warned against the emergent party system being allowed to divide on racial grounds.” He compared the PLP with the British Labour Party, “which based its appeal to the electorate on class hatred” and “has suddenly found itself out on a limb because class distinctions have disappeared and this appeal evokes no response from the public.”116

The racially charged political atmosphere that spilled over into social life intensified between the May 1960 by-elections and the general elections in November 1962. The new “intellectual” forces within the PLP, particularly the NCPA members, caused dissension within the party hierarchy as they worked to oust Chairman Taylor, who claimed he was verbally attacked and that racial slurs were cast against him. Gradually the NCPA members gained almost complete control of the council and introduced more aggressive campaign tactics. According to Taylor, “goon squads,” agitators, and loudmouth proponents of the PLP broke up UBP meetings. The Herald continued its racially focused propaganda, harking back to the insulting Knaur report—as earlier noted, in October 1960 it had stated that the “struggle is white against black.… The Negro majority is now engaged in a death battle with the white minority.”117

The UBP, on the other hand, appeared to have a change of heart. In 1961 members voted to open the Collins Wall, a symbol of racial separation, and supported the vote for women, for which pressure had been initiated by the PLP. A House Committee recommended that no public beaches be sold in the future, and in April 1962 the House of Assembly agreed to reduce its term from seven years to five. The PLP, skeptical of this about-face, pressed on with its propaganda, promising to “promote racial harmony by outlawing discrimination.”118 Like the UBP, it also promised an early constitutional conference and other positive changes in the fields of education, health, and social welfare.

From the beginning, however, the PLP had reservations about the Hawkesbill (p.282) Creek Agreement (1955) and the later supplementary agreement signed in 1960 between the Grand Bahama Port Authority, headed by Wallace Groves, and the Bahamas government, which gave the Port Authority much power and control over the governance of Freeport, including immigration, social services, and education.

The majority of workers lived outside the boundaries of Freeport proper. There developed a class and color divide, as nearly all those living in Freeport-Lucaya were wealthy or well-paid whites, many of them foreign, whereas workers living outside the boundaries were almost exclusively blacks. Some of the more skilled laborers and white collar workers employed by the Port Authority and living in the concession area, however, were American southerners and white Bahamians. They needed no encouragement to use their color to their advantage and to discriminate against nonwhites. American “rednecks” demonstrated their prejudice, calling all nonwhite manual workers “Haitians.” During the 1960s there developed a form of class and racial separation and a general tone reminiscent of South African apartheid. While Freeport grew into the “second city,” also dubbed the “Magic City”—with the growth of industrial plants like the BORCO oil refinery, the cement works established by U.S. Steel, and residential and tourist developments in the 1960s—slums developed behind the oil refinery and the chain of settlements farther west, including Eight Mile Rock.119

Despite the UBP’s actions, its racial propaganda machine was well oiled during the election campaign. It attacked PLP candidates as inexperienced and irresponsible and bragged of its success in tourism and the prosperity it brought to all Bahamians. It used the Guardian’s columns to counteract the PLP’s mention of being in slavery: “Take a drive through the most populous sections of New Providence, through areas where the PLP would have you believe that the Negro is kept in ‘slavery’ by white ‘masters.’ Did you ever see so many ‘slaves’ driving around in automobiles? … [Or] accomplish the construction of so many large modern buildings … [or] own businesses, from banks to garages to grocery stores.”120

A correspondent signing himself as “A coloured Carpenter” warned blacks and especially women that “we are all poor” and depend on the “white man for jobs … so if the PLP gets the majority of seats in the House of Assembly, you know that only they and their families will be taken care of.”121 The writer was obviously aware of the growing prosperity brought by tourism, banking, and the emergence of the Bahamas as a tax haven. However, the PLP was concerned about the increasing number of non-Bahamians hired to meet the demand for jobs created by these developments. The National (p.283) Committee for Positive Action established a new newspaper in August 1961, the Bahamian Times, edited by Arthur Foulkes, a journalist formerly with the Tribune. Foulkes and other NCPA members, wishing to take a different approach to that of the Herald, read voraciously, books about politics, economics, and African history. They used such knowledge to educate the masses about politics, economics, and African history, their loss of self-confidence, and their need to regain self-respect and to restore black dignity.122 They nevertheless continued the assault on racial discrimination, citing the example of qualified “Negroes … being passed over for the light skinned foreigner.”123 With the election imminent, both parties were on the attack. The PLP’s suggestion in the House of Assembly to abolish or reform the Legislative Council and “secure an Executive Council elected by the House” met with the negative comment from Deputy Speaker R. H. Symonette that the “PLP wanted the UBP to do the work now so that they could take over as dictators later.” He also accused the PLP of showing signs of Communism and “undermining authority and overthrowing the Constitution.”124 The PLP continued its attack when Stafford Sands stated that the government would seek “permanent residents” from Europe. The PLP warned that such a policy would “convert Nassau into a new Johannesburg and the colony into a new Kenya,” resulting in “Negro Bahamians,” if they were fortunate, getting “jobs as servants in homes of their white European masters.”125

That racial tension was intensifying in Nassau was illustrated by an incident when a nine-year-old black newspaper vendor was blocked by the twelve-year-old son of a white employee from reentering the air-conditioned shop where he had been selling papers. The paper vendor fell and injured his head, was treated at the hospital, and discharged. However, a rumor quickly spread that the younger boy had been killed, causing a crowd to gather outside the shop and the calling out of the riot squad. Milo Butler addressed those gathered. A letter writer later wrote that someone declared, “We need to get about a dozen white people and string them up.” Early that afternoon a letter was sent to the Tribune recommending that all British persons connected with the incident be deported.126

Both parties supported internal self-government. While the UBP pledged to promote good will between classes and races and equal opportunities for all, the PLP promised to encourage harmonious race relations and forbid discrimination. The PLP declared that it represented the majority of the Bahamian population. Milo Butler claimed: “We have been run by the UBP and their forefathers for 300 years and it is time we ran ourselves.… There are 88 per cent of the population who look like you and me and only 12 per (p.284) cent who look like the UBP people.… No rhyme or reason why people who look like that should go on ruling us.”127 Some violence occurred during the racially heated campaign. Both the Tribune and Guardian supported the UBP and blamed the violence on the “PLP goon squads.” The Herald used the “race card” again, once more evoking the Knaur report. The UBP and its supporters warned the public that the PLP were inexperienced and would destroy the Bahamas’ economy. Etienne Dupuch’s Tribune cautioned: “These people don’t want to come in to learn government—which is the biggest business in the world … they want to take over a happy and prosperous country with perhaps the most delicate economy in the world. In short—they want to experiment with your bread and butter.”128 When Eugene Dupuch commented that “the PLP had created a monster—that is, racism”—a PLP supporter designed a poster declaring: “Let the Monster Live, Good Lord.” Almost immediately his landlord of twenty years cancelled his tenancy.129

Such victimization was common as campaign rhetoric grew more vitriolic. Milo Butler was quoted as saying: “All these years these people have had their feet on our necks—now you have a chance to throw them off. 300 years ago our pride was ripped out of us slaves in a nasty manner. They beat us until we lost our pride and our language. Now if a man of the other race should kick you, you should kick back, and then you will know you have your pride back.”130

The 1962 general election held on 27 November was a devastating defeat for the PLP, dashing the hopes of optimistic members of the party. However, the party claimed that it had polled more total votes than the UBP and had lost because of the UBP’s stranglehold on the Out Islands, which had twenty-one seats to New Providence’s twelve. While the UBP won nineteen seats, the PLP secured eight, a loss of two seats. There were four pro-UBP independents, and two “idiosyncratic independents,” Alvin Braynen and Randol Fawkes.131 Of significance for the PLP was Pindling’s retention of his seat and Taylor’s defeat. This was the beginning of the end for Taylor. Relations between himself, Pindling, and the National General Council deteriorated. After a series of altercations with the NGC and in order to avoid further humiliation, at the party’s eighth convention in 1963 Taylor and Stevenson stood down from the chairmanship and secretaryship, respectively. Pindling was elected chairman as well as parliamentary leader, consolidating his position as the undisputed leader of the PLP with the blessing of the NGC and the NCPA, most of whom were his close friends and allies. Craton argues that the “response of the PLP was to turn itself unequivocally into the party (p.285) of the black majority, adopting the extreme rhetoric and tactics of the Black Power movement in the United States.”132

Expressing disappointment and “shock and surprise” at the PLP’s defeat, the pro-PLP Herald stated that it seemed much more work was needed to open “the eyes of a people kept so long in darkness that they are unwilling to emerge.”133 The main reason for the PLP’s setback was almost certainly fear of the consequences of black majority rule, shared not only by the white minority and nonwhite middle classes but by many blacks themselves, including the recently enfranchised women. This was the first election held under universal adult suffrage, a disappointment to the PLP, which had supported the women’s suffrage movement, but a relief to the members of the UBP. The latter had feared that the newly enfranchised women would stand by their opponents, who they believed benefited by the abolition in 1958 of the property, plural, and company vote. Obviously, lack of confidence in their fellow blacks (or as PLP pundits preferred to define it, lack of self-confidence or false consciousness and self-hatred) contributed to the defeat. Moreover, many Bahamians feared that the PLP was incapable of maintaining the stability and prosperity they were experiencing under the UBP.134 (p.286)


(2.) Policy Regarding Racial Discrimination in the Bahamas 1957–59, CO1031/2416.

(3.) Interview with Arthur D. Hanna, Nassau, 30 December 1996.

(5.) Interview with Sir Randol Fawkes, Nassau, 25 October 1991.

(7.) Ibid., 238–39.

(8.) Ibid., 68–69.

(9.) Ibid., 72–74.

(10.) Bahamas Political Report, September 1954, CO1031/1532/158–59.

(12.) Acting Governor to Lennox-Boyd, 6 November 1957, CO1031/2835.

(15.) Ibid., 230; Acting Governor to Lennox-Boyd, 6 November 1957, CO1031/2835.

(16.) Tribune, 2 November 1957.

(17.) Acting Governor to Lennox-Boyd, 5 November 1957, CO1031/2835; Darling, Sir Clifford Darling, 231.

(p.341) (18.) Acting Governor to Lennox-Boyd, 6 November 1957, CO1031/2835.

(20.) Ibid., 241.

(21.) Tribune, 29 November 1957.

(22.) Tribune, 30 November 1957.

(23.) Tribune, 3 December 1957; Nassau Guardian, 3 December 1957.

(25.) Ibid., 267–68.

(26.) Arthur to Lennox-Boyd, 28 January 1958, CO1031/2835/1–6.

(28.) Darling, Sir Clifford Darling, 269; Fawkes, The Faith That Moved the Mountain, 115–17; interview with James Shepherd by Tracey Thompson, 2 June 1982.

(30.) Profumo to Roland Robinson, 30 January 1958, CO1031/2835; Tribune, 13 January 1958; see also Arthur to Lennox-Boyd, 13 January 1958, CO1031/2835/152.

(31.) Darling, Sir Clifford Darling, 280–81; Arthur to Commander of the Caribbean Area No. 11, Repeated to Secretary of State, 14 January 1958, CO1031/2835.

(32.) Intelligence Report for the month of January 1958, 27 January 1958, CO1031/2835/3.

(33.) Nassau Guardian, 15 January 1958.

(34.) Nassau Guardian, 1 January 1958; Darling, Sir Clifford Darling, 284.

(35.) Tribune, 14 January 1958; Darling, Sir Clifford Darling, 285.

(36.) Interview with Sir Clifford Darling, 18 October 1991, Nassau.

(38.) Ibid., 286–87.

(39.) Nassau Guardian, 16 January 1958.

(40.) Tribune, 15 January 1958.

(41.) Nassau Guardian, 16 January 1958.

(42.) Arthur to Lennox-Boyd, 20 January 1958, CO1031/2835.

(44.) Nassau Guardian, 21 January 1958.

(45.) Ibid.

(46.) Tribune, 21 January 1958.

(47.) Tribune, 16 January 1958.

(48.) Ibid.

(49.) Tribune, 23 January 1958; Nassau Guardian, 23 January 1958.

(50.) Arthur to Lennox-Boyd, 22 January 1958, CO1031/2835/107.

(52.) New York Times, 14 January 1958.

(53.) Douglas Williams to John Stacpoole, Colonial Office, 29 January 1958, CO1031/2835/82. Mau Mau was a 1950s rebellion against colonial rule in Kenya.

(55.) John McPherson to Vincent Tewson, 11 February 1958, CO1031/2835; Intelligence Report, January 1958, CO1031/2835/3–6.

(59.) Lennox-Boyd to Arthur, 28 February 1958, CO1031/2950.

(60.) Raynor Arthur to Philip Rogers, 9 July 1957, CO1031/2472.

(61.) Arthur to Rogers, 10 February 1958, CO1031/2950.

(62.) Rogers to Arthur, 18 February 1958, CO1031/2950.

(63.) Office Memorandum, Rogers to Poynton, 28 October 1959, CO1031/2950.

(65.) Tribune, 18 February 1958.

(66.) J. McPherson to Charles Cunningham, 10 February 1958, CO1031/2232/236–37.

(67.) Interview with Robert H. Symonette, 4 May 1993.

(68.) Arthur to Lennox-Boyd, 6 February 1958, CO1031/2835.

(69.) Act 57 of 1958, Statute Law of the Bahamas, 1799–1965 (ed. Hone), 6:3069–141.

(70.) Votes of the House of Assembly, 14 January–18 September 1958, 113–14, ANG.

(72.) Tribune, 7 February 1958.

(73.) Tribune, 14 April 1958; see also Craton, History of the Bahamas, 274.

(74.) Alan Burns to Rogers, 4 November 1957, CO1031/2232/338–40.

(76.) A. Deans Peggs to Lennox-Boyd, 1 April 1957, CO1031/2198.

(77.) “A Comparison of the Level of Living in the Bahamas and Other Caribbean Islands,” preliminary report, December 1958, Economist Intelligence Unit, CO1031/2467.

(78.) Memorandum on points concerning the Bahamas made by Sir Charles Hambro, CO1031/2121; Craton, History of the Bahamas, 274.

(80.) F. M. Collett to Secretary of State, 16 May 1956, CO1031/2140, 96, cited in Craton, Pindling, 91.

(82.) In fact, some women in Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica got the vote in the 1920s. Professor Bridget Brereton, pers. comm., November 2012.

(86.) The story is told that when Rufus Ingraham lost his seat in the House of Assembly in 1949, he told his wife, Mary, that if women had the vote, he would have won his seat. Soon after that, she officially founded the Women’s Suffrage Movement.

(87.) Tribune, editorial, 22 November 2012.

(90.) Votes of the House of Assembly, 1 December 1958, ANG.

(92.) Ibid., 203–8.

(93.) Tribune, 22 November 2012.

(98.) Bahamas Acts, Election Act, 23 February 1961.

(99.) Tribune, 22 November 2012.

(100.) Nassau Herald, 10 October 1960.

(101.) Nassau Guardian, 25 May 1960; Tribune, 25 May 1960.

(102.) Nassau Herald, 10 October 1959.

(103.) Tribune, 14 October 1959.

(104.) Nassau Guardian, 16 October 1959.

(107.) Reprinted in the Nassau Herald, 27 February 1960; cited in C. Hughes, Race and Politics, 87–88.

(108.) C. Hughes, Race and Politics, 88; Nassau Herald, 28 June 1958.

(109.) Nassau Herald, 28 February 1959; Hughes, Race and Politics, 89.

(110.) Cited in Hughes, Race and Politics, 89; Nassau Herald, 23 May 1959.

(111.) Nassau Herald, 3 February 1960.

(112.) Nassau Guardian, 4 April 1960.

(114.) Interview with Jeffrey Thompson by Tracey Thompson, 18 December 1996; Interview with H.E. Sir Arthur Foulkes, 27 December 2000.

(115.) Interview with Jeffrey Thompson by Tracey Thompson, 18 December 1996; interview with Sir Orville Turnquest, 17 December 1996.

(116.) C. Hughes, Race and Politics, 93; Tribune, 10 June 1960.

(117.) Nassau Herald, 10 October 1960.

(120.) Cited in C. Hughes, Race and Politics, 102–3; Nassau Guardian, 31 October 1962.

(121.) Tribune, 25 November 1962.

(122.) Interview with Dr. Eugene Newry, 2 December 2000; interview with H.E. Sir Arthur Foulkes, 27 December 2000.

(123.) Cited in C. Hughes, Race and Politics, 95; Bahamian Times, January 1962.

(124.) C. Hughes, Race and Politics, 97; Tribune, 1 February 1962.

(125.) Nassau Herald, 25 April 1962.

(p.344) (126.) Tribune, 17 April 1962; see also Tribune, editorial, 15 December 1962.

(127.) Nassau Guardian, 31 October 1962.

(128.) Tribune, 24 November 1962.

(130.) Nassau Guardian, 31 October 1962.

(133.) Nassau Herald, 1 December 1962.

(134.) Tribune, 24 November 1962.