A day of faith and courage
The 49th anniversary of Black Tuesday passed quietly yesterday.
Though important in the march toward Majority Rule, the date April 27, 1965 is rarely discussed or acknowledged by the masses these days.
Today, we are far removed from those times when great men and women displayed a level of courage that is unmatched by anyone currently on the national political stage.
Perhaps the times demanded this kind of fearlessness from ordinary people who shared a vision for a better Bahamas.
The date bears remembering.
We should not allow it to fade from our collective consciousness.
We should tell our children and their children about the day that Opposition Leader Lynden Pindling tossed the mace — the symbol of the speaker’s authority — through a window of the House of Assembly.
We should tell them what this meant, and we, ourselves, should pay homage to those who went before; those who bravely fought against a cruel system of injustice and oppression in these islands.
Many who witnessed the historic moment are no longer with us.
Some nation builders who are on in age remember that day now only in dim flashes.
Others, like Governor General Sir Arthur Foulkes, are able to recall Black Tuesday with great detail and clarity — as if it were yesterday.
At 36, he was editor of the Bahamian Times newspaper, and was sitting at the press table as the contentious debate over constituency boundaries took place.
The opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) took grave exception to how those boundaries were being drawn.
A demonstration had been organized to protest against the United Bahamian Party’s (UBP) Boundaries Commission Report, which was issued on February 4, 1965.
The Nassau Guardian reported on April 28, 1965 that tension mounted throughout New Providence on April 27 “as leaders of the opposition party touched off one of the biggest demonstrations since the 1942 riot”.
“We always argued that the boundaries were unfairly drawn,” recalled Sir Arthur in an interview with National Review.
The PLP had decided that something dramatic had to be done — something beyond demonstrating.
“They kept calling the people out from time to time and demonstrating and nothing happened,” Sir Arthur said.
“We thought that something had to be done. It was decided that Pindling would throw the mace out of the window. It was decided that the party would boycott the House if the UBP didn’t agree to change it (the unfair electoral system) and, also, the third thing was that a mission would be undertaken to the United Nations to address the committee of 24…the committee on decolonization.
“All three things were done.”
The Nassau Guardian reported that the atmosphere inside the House was tense at around 10:30 a.m. on April when members began to take their places.
The gallery was packed as the customary prayers were said.
A motion was made that the House resolve itself into a committee of the whole to continue the discussion.
After amendments proposed by the opposition were defeated, Lynden Pindling rose.
As he spoke, he lifted up the mace from the two pegs upon which it rested before the speaker.
“This,” he said, “is the symbol of authority — and the authority on this island belongs to the people, and the people are outside.”
He motioned to the people in the crowd outside, who had been singing and shouting throughout the three hours of sitting.
“The people are outside,” Pindling continued, “and so this mace belongs outside too.”
Pindling then flung the mace through the open window behind him.
Both windows behind the PLP members had been opened.
As Pindling dramatically flung the yard-long golden mace through the window, PLP MP Milo Butler threw out the four quarter-hour glasses which he had snatched from the speaker’s desk. The glasses are used for timing speakers.
“The reaction of the House was one of astonished silence,” The Nassau Guardian reported the following day.
“Mr. Pindling and the rest of his party walked out of the House in a group. Persons in the public gallery followed with cries of PLP, PLP!”
As the speaker attempted to restore order to the House and continue business, Randol Fawkes, the labor leader, shouted, “You cannot legally continue business without the mace”.
The MP continued to shout similar statements while clerks of the House attempted to recover the mace.
Two policemen then arrived at the chamber’s door with the top half of the mace — the globe and crown — in their hands.
It had been broken into two pieces by the fall to the square and was badly dented.
The halves were placed before the speaker, who then ordered the House into a committee of the whole. Deputy Speaker A. R. Braynen took the chair.
The premier, Sir Roland Symonette, moved a resolution that the draft order that had fueled the contention be agreed to. The resolution was approved by the members of the House.
While the opposition failed in getting the UBP to change the Boundaries Report, Black Tuesday was a victory.
“It was one of those events in our political history, nothing was achieved on that day, because the boundaries went through just as they were presented in the House, but all these things were demonstrations building up to majority rule, going back to the general strike,” Sir Arthur said.
“These events are examples of a movement, really, and Black Tuesday was one of those high points in the movement.”
Of this period, Randol Fawkes remarked in his memoir “The Faith That Moved The Mountain”, “The Bahamian masses were no longer content with leaders who used them only as pawns in their games of chess.
“They wanted to possess the promised land now, and any leader who had first put his hand to the plough and later turned back because of the storms of vicissitudes of life was not fit for the kingdom.”
Sir Arthur remembered attending the PLP council meeting when the plan to carry out the dramatic Black Tuesday act evolved.
“It was interesting,” he told The Nassau Guardian. “Everybody got the impression that Sir Lynden was a little reluctant to do this, to take this step (to throw out the mace), and some felt that Sir Milo half way felt that Sir Lynden wouldn’t do it so that he, Sir Milo, would do it.
“Interestingly enough, when the PLP contingent walked into the House and took their seats on the eastern side, Sir Milo went and opened the window on that side in preparation for this. But we knew that. We saw what was happening. Speaker Bobby Symonette, who was quite an astute politician, seemed not to get the hint that something was going to happen.”
Sir Arthur remembers that the mood in the square was “very tense”.
“And it had to be handled well, otherwise it could have gotten out of hand because people were angry,” he said.
“I think both the police and Sir Lynden handled that day very well indeed because I remember the officer saying to Sir Lynden ‘you’ve made your point, now I suggest you move them out’.
“The Riot Squad was already drawn up in front of [the statue of queen] Victoria and Sir Lynden got up on top of the van, the post office van, I think it was, addressed the crowd and we marched back to Southern Recreation Grounds.”
Pindling himself would later report that the action had been “completely premeditated”.
As recounted by Michael Craton in his book “Pindling: The Life and Times of the First Prime Minister of The Bahamas”, Pindling said while giving a vivid account in 1998: “I can’t remember whether it was Cecil [Wallace-Whitfield] or Loftus [Roker] who said we need to do something dramatic that will certainly attract everybody’s attention and focus. The idea of the mace came out of that.”
Craton wrote that besides its galvanic impact throughout The Bahamas, the mace incident received widespread notice in the international press, bringing attention to the fragile state of parliamentary democracy in the colony.
The PLP’s mission to the United Nations took place in August 1965.
It turned out to be “one of the first great personal triumphs of Lynden Pindling”, Craton wrote.
“This was an especially bold notion because the Committee [on Decolonization] was the most anti-colonialist of all sections of the UN, with a majority of its members seeing its main function as the promotion of independence for all remaining colonies — an idea that was as yet uncongenial to a majority of Bahamians and far beyond the PLP’s immediate agenda,” he continued.
Sir Arthur recalled that a key purpose of the mission was to embarrass the British government.
“Let me just mention that going to the United Nations was meant to embarrass the British government mainly about doing something about these matters in The Bahamas, because our petition for which we were complimented covered not just boundaries; we covered the whole state of affairs in the country at the time, and I think that was quite effective,” Sir Arthur told National Review.
Although nearly half a century has passed, the governor general said the events of Black Tuesday are still relevant today.
“The point is what we have didn’t just happen overnight and wasn’t just pulled out of a hat,” he said.
“It was a great struggle for it, and it was a struggle that Bahamians can be proud of because it was a peaceful struggle.”
Sir Arthur added, “I can’t think of a revolution in history that carried out its full potential where the ideals of the revolution were fully accomplished, and as you grow older you have to accept that your brightest visions, that your brightest expectations are very often not fully achieved.
“Nevertheless, we have made tremendous strides. We have a stable country. And I do worry about the social problems that we have, particularly crime and particularly the problem with Bahamian males… But, throughout The Bahamas, I see very promising young Bahamians coming up. And I think those who are too pessimistic about the future need not be because I think the young people coming up are going to surprise us in a positive way.”