Celebrating the second emancipation: Majority Rule
Published: Oct 24, 2013
Note: This column and the next are dedicated to young Bahamians, white, black and other hues, of varied ethnic and national origin, straight and gay, male and female, and other identities of association or belief, who form a rainbow of possibilities for One Bahamas, who have benefitted from the promises of majority rule and independence, and whose privilege of citizenship is to help to extend these promises and to realize promises partly fulfilled or promises not yet met.
Following the heartbreak and dismay of the November 26, 1962 general election in which the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) won the majority of the popular vote, but lost the election, attaining far fewer seats than the United Bahamian Party (UBP) because of gross gerrymandering, key figures in the PLP nonetheless realized that the days of minority rule were numbered.
Having won the majority of the popular vote, the PLP intensified its program of nonviolent direct action and its efforts to heighten the political and social consciousness of the black majority and to defeat the economic and political misrule of a classic oligarchy wedded to white supremacy.
Through its major public communications organ, Bahamian Times, edited by Arthur A. Foulkes, the PLP increasingly and effectively countered the propaganda of the UBP, which had concocted insidious themes such as the party’s 1962 election propaganda aimed primarily at black women: “Vote PLP and starve”.
Just as the General Strike of 1958 heightened the political consciousness of black Bahamians, especially those living at New Providence, Black Tuesday, April 27, 1965, proved a pivotal moment in the struggle for majority rule, bolstering the opposition to the UBP and radicalizing the consciousness of many more Bahamians, now even more determined to effect political change.
That change, the denouement of a certain stage of the struggle, when the consciousness of the majority reached a historic apogee, arrived on January 10, 1967 when the Second Bahamian Emancipation was ushered in by the mass of Bahamians.
On the evening of the 10th the numbers trickled in from the various constituencies, cut along farcical boundaries largely unchanged from 1962. But this time, on that day, the PLP won not only the majority of the popular vote.
The party tied the UBP 18 to 18 in the number of seats in the House of Assembly, with Sir Randol Fawkes representing the Labour Party winning a seat as did independent candidate Sir Alvin Braynen.
More on the numbers needed to form a government momentarily. But this for now: The political arithmetic on the 10th meant that minority rule was effectively finished.
The masses immediately understood the new arithmetic and the new political calculus. Celebrations erupted that night as soon as the final results were tallied and despite the tie, which some revisionists putatively and incorrectly assumed and assume still to have been an inconclusive result.
Waves of celebrants marched from Over-the-Hill to Bay Street, flooding the precincts of the UBP’s political and economic power with songs and chants of freedom and choruses of appreciation for newfound empowerment.
Majestic sounds of cowbells and goat skin drums shook some of the oligarchy’s most hallowed grounds, announcing a new era for a mass of people locked out of economic and political power and historically allowed limited access to Bay Street where they were discriminated against and segregated into inferior status.
The celebrations were euphoric, spilling over into a new dawn. Throughout the night car horns trumpeted the victory. There were spontaneous rush-outs throughout Nassau with jubilant crowds gathering at various places such as the Taxi Cab Union complex on Wulff Road.
Now that the change had come, it was time to form a government. There is often the temptation to historical revisionism by some, for all manner of reasons. Yet the facts and reality of certain events often prove stubborn.
Sir Randol, a PLP ally, was part of the progressive movement, running with the full support of the PLP.
It was inconceivable that the firebrand, regarded as being even more radical than the PLP, would betray the movement and support the UBP. His expected support afforded the PLP a majority. The problem was that the party had to elect a speaker.
Had Sir Alvin supported the UBP, there would be a tie of 19 to 19, with another election almost inevitable, a contest in which the UBP would have been slaughtered, as they were in the 1968 general election subsequent to the death of PLP MP Uriah McPhee.
But it was widely known that Sir Alvin was not on good terms with the UBP and that the idea of becoming speaker of the House of Assembly was not unappealing to him. The story is told that when Sir Lynden telephoned Sir Alvin the conversation began:
Sir Lynden: “Mr. Speaker!”
Sir Alvin: “Yes, premier!”
Sir Alvin, who hailed from Current, Eleuthera, grasped the moment and sided with the majority, becoming the first speaker in a majority rule government.
While the formation or the christening of the new majority rule government took place a few days later, the new birth of freedom was ushered in on January 10, 1967.
That new birth of freedom of January 10 was a triumph of democracy, a day of celebration for all Bahamians.
Following the bitter loss of 1962, an election which many PLPs were convinced they would win, especially after women were newly enfranchised earlier that year, a group of men approached Sir Lynden about the party’s response to an election they felt that the UBP had stolen by massively outspending the PLP and through outrageously undemocratic means.
These men and others were not prepared to accept the defeat and the continued rule by a racist and greedy oligarchy determined to retain economic and political power by manipulation of the instruments of state and government.
One of the men who approached Sir Lynden was enraged by such a defeat and wanted, in the words of some, “to tear down the town”.
Having considered democratic politics ineffective and nonviolent action insufficient, there were those who wanted to immediately march on Bay Street and wreak mayhem.
To his everlasting credit, Sir Lynden, supported by his closest colleagues, quenched the rage and stopped what would have been a disaster for the country, the movement and the PLP. He intended for his party to triumph at the ballot box.
In a circular read to thousands of students on Majority Rule Day this year, Governor General Sir Arthur Foulkes, a key figure in the struggle, enthused: “On the 10th of January 1967 the will of the majority of Bahamians was freely expressed in a general election based on universal adult suffrage where all men and women of adult age, regardless of property qualifications could vote to determine who would govern them.”
The celebration of Majority Rule Day and the path to an official holiday has been characterized by fits and starts, and by the politicization of the history by some and the hostility and ambivalence of others, most of which has proven deeply disappointing and narrow-minded.
There is the need for a broader understanding of the struggle for and the attainment of majority rule, beyond certain partisan, racial and historically myopic mindsets.
Next week: Towards a shared understanding and celebration of Majority Rule Day.
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