Race relations in The Bahamas
Racial discrimination was prevalent throughout The Bahamas in the 1950s and 1960s. This vexing problem was especially acute in New Providence. Black Bahamians were treated as subhuman in this country. It appears as if the Bay Street clique did very little to alleviate the suffering of the black masses, who were mostly living in abject poverty.
In the 1940s and 1950s, very few black Bahamians had a high school education. The literacy rate was dismal. As I perused through the history books of Michael Craton and Dr. Gail Saunders, I was simply astonished at how poor black Bahamians were, especially those who lived in the Out Islands. It appears as if those who say that our agriculture industry was flourishing in the 1940s and 1950s are guilty of over-exaggerating the facts. The fact of the matter is that many Out Islanders were always in danger of starving to death. The so-called bustling agricultural industry was virtually nonexistent in many of the Out Islands.
It appears as if the plight of black Bahamians was not a major concern of the Bay Street Boys and most well-to-do white Bahamians. Yet not every white Bahamian toed the party line, however. One such white Bahamian who challenged racial discrimination in The Bahamas was Sir Etienne Dupuch, the former editor of The Tribune.
Sir Etienne felt bad about what black people were going through in this country. The former Tribune editor was one of the first white parliamentarians to move a resolution in the House of Assembly to end racial discrimination in public places in this country.
This move by Sir Etienne catapulted him to superstardom among black Bahamians. The original members of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), however, chided Sir Etienne for not going far enough. According to several historians, the early members of the PLP also gained popularity and political mileage among the black masses by jumping onto Sir Etienne’s bandwagon. They had used Sir Etienne’s initiative to score political brownie points with black Bahamians. In fact, on the very night (it was January 23, 1956) that he gave notice of a resolution to “revolutionize the entire social and economic structure of The Bahamas,” a group of PLP leaders was seen rallying crowds around them (The Tribune Story).
Like Sir Etienne, the early leaders of the PLP had also called for the ending of racial discrimination. It is important to emphasize, however, that it was Sir Etienne who began the arduous process of tearing down the walls of racial discrimination in The Bahamas in the House of Assembly, not Sir Lynden, Sir Milo B. Butler or any other PLP MP. Sir Lynden and the PLP simply built upon the foundation that was laid by Sir Etienne. Bahamians need to know this. Somehow we often have this mindset that all white Bahamians were a part of the racist system which degraded our black forebears. This is simply untrue. Moreover, we must also bear in mind that many white Bahamians lived in squalor. These people also catch eternal hell under the Bay Street regime.
When the PLP was formed in 1953, it was viewed favorably by Sir Etienne. However, this was not to last. One of the founders of the PLP, Cyril Stevenson, began attacking the editor of The Tribune through his own newspaper, The Herald. The First World War veteran and member of the Order of The British Empire faced a two-pronged attack from the PLP and the old guard. Sir Etienne considered the PLP to be too extreme for the country.
Regrettably, many in this country are ignorant of the tremendous sacrifices that Sir Etienne made on behalf of black Bahamians. We have conveniently forgotten that his Tribune newspaper was systematically targeted by the white establishment. There was a time when The Nassau Guardian was owned and managed by members of the Bay Street Boys. These people did everything possible to destroy Sir Etienne and his newspaper. He had served as editor of The Tribune for 53 years, from 1919 to 1972.
Perhaps one of Sir Etienne’s greatest disappointments was the fact that his Bahamas Democratic League (BDL) received so little support in the 1956 general election from the very people he had fought so hard for. The old guard hated Sir Etienne because he called a spade a spade. He was the moral conscience of this nation and the champion of the black masses. He always fought for those who were taken advantage of by the old guard. As I read through his autobiography, “The Tribune Story”, I am simply amazed at how courageous and brutally honest he was. His memoir should be required reading in every high school in this country. It gives significant information on what went on in this country during the 1940s and 1950s by one of the most important figures in Bahamian history.
It continues to amaze me that no major thoroughfare or school in New Providence, or The Bahamas for that matter, has been named after him. It astounds me that we have airports, housing subdivisions, government buildings and schools named after persons whose contributions pale in comparison to Sir Etienne’s. Yet, absolutely nothing has been named after the late editor of The Tribune. This is wrong. Whatever our views of Sir Etienne are, this much is clear, he is one of the greatest Bahamians to have ever lived. It would be criminal for this nation to forget or ignore his many contributions to this nation.
– Kevin Evans