Front Porch | The aspiration and enterprise of black Bahamians
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
– Langston Hughes
Beloved former Roman Catholic Vicar General Monsignor Preston Moss, a year away from celebrating his 80th birthday, grew up a stone’s throw away from the top of the hill East Street, not far from Mortimer Candy Kitchen.
Mortimer’s, which produced a rainbow of confectionary and other treats enjoyed by generations of Bahamians, was one of many black-owned enterprises which populated New Providence. The business grew from a dream into a cornucopia of confectionary delights for generations of Bahamians.
The website Ramble Bahamas describes the candy factory as “a landmark in the Over-the-Hill” community since 1928. The business was started by Ulric Mortimer, Sr., who first learned to make candies from his mother when he was a child.
“He was motivated to set up a manufacturing company to provide jobs for young black children in his community.
“After attending candy college in the United States, he first opened his doors on Hospital Lane, and as his business became more well-known, moved to the location on East Street where Mortimer Candies is today, under the name of ‘The Best Ever Candy Company’.”
Moss’s homestead stood in walking distance from Mortimer’s, and the Fort Hill, Mason’s Addition, Grant’s Town, Bain Town and other communities of former slaves, now free people, striving to overcome the indignity of slavery by reigniting their dignity and sense of possibility through unyielding struggle and the instruments and fruits of transcendence, including political and economic power.
Moss remembers well the racial inequality and discrimination unceasingly visited upon the majority of Bahamians by the white oligarchy.
The oligarchy greedily hogged commercial interests for themselves, denying the majority of black Bahamians and many white Bahamians economic opportunities reserved for a few well-connected families.
Quite a number of Greek Bahamians and others who were not a part of the white elite were also denied a host of economic benefits and special arrangements.
Yet amidst the economic and social discrimination, Moss has vivid memories of the vital and vibrant communities of black Bahamians Over-the-Hill and in settlements of freed slaves such as Fox Hill.
The familial, social and economic networks of these communities included: churches, shops, restaurants, burial societies, lodges, nightclubs and a host of other black-owned enterprises.
He recalls the entrepreneurial zeal of many skilled black Bahamians, including business people, who nurtured and enjoyed their own social milieu with a quilt of associations, societies and clubs.
Many of these Bahamians wanted discrimination dismantled so that they and their children might flourish even more. They did not pine for membership in various white clubs nor did they have an antipathy toward white Bahamians.
Nassau enjoyed some of the finest seamstresses and tailors, who could easily compete with other similar professionals or clothiers found anywhere in the world.
One was Leroy Archer, affectionately known as “Uncle Lee”, who, in his mid-90s maintains the quality of work and dedication to his craft of so many of his generation.
The Reinhard Hotel on Baillou Hill Road and Tin Shop Corner accommodated “people of color during the days of segregation”.
As Ramble Bahamas notes: “Initially designed and constructed by Dr. Claudius Roland Walker and Mrs. Mabel Walker in the 1930s, the hotel furnished the stage for everything from social soirees to local business operation to pivotal moments in Bahamian political history.”
The hotel “served as headquarters to the Progressive Liberal Party during the landmark 1967 elections that led to majority rule”.
The opening of Government High School in 1925 revealed the abundance of talent among young black Bahamians hungry for educational opportunity.
It also revealed the scarcity of opportunity for young black Bahamians, whose dreams often festered, or were deferred and unrealized, because of blatant discrimination and the poisonous mindset that black children were simply not as smart or as capable or as equal as others.
Over many decades, Government High would educate many black and white young people.
The sad history of how the school’s mission was upended by some of the very people who benefitted from the institution is a critical chapter in how a kleptocracy of certain black interests betrayed new generations of black, young and gifted Bahamians.
Like many others of his generation, a sense of inferiority never inhabited the sinews and synapses of Moss’ soul or imagination. His parents and grandparents imbued in the young Preston, a sense of pride and dignity as a human being, as a Bahamian, as “a child of God”, who also happened to be black.
The very notion that he was inferior or less talented or less capable than another human being because of the color of his skin was an anathema, “an affront to God”, a specious lie, laid bare by the splendid priestly ministry of a saintly native son.
A friend recalls his grandmother, who owned a grocery shop on Shirley Street. Her husband was one of the first black men to become a sergeant on the Royal Bahamas Police Force. Their story was typical of a burgeoning black middle class. All of their children went on to become professionals in their fields.
Many black Bahamians enjoyed a sophisticated cum cosmopolitan worldview, with an appreciation for educational and economic advancement. In quite a number of homes, books and music enlivened the spirits and yearnings of black Bahamians.
A number of such individuals helped to form the Progressive Liberal Party, which gave rise to party politics, a major advancement in the country’s political development.
Like Moss, former Governor General Sir Arthur Foulkes recalls the vibrancy and energy of black entrepreneurs, an economic force he and others wanted to help to unleash in the development of a modern Bahamas teeming with energy, especially as tourism was becoming a major industry.
Despite a treasury and rich legacy of black achievement, there are those who have, over many decades, continued to spin the false, prejudiced tale that there was little black enterprise or entrepreneurial spirit Over-the-Hill before majority rule.
Such a tall tale is a deep-seated prejudice and grand lie easily detected, arrested, convicted and sentenced to the graveyard of racist conceits, countered by demonstrable facts and a narrative of enterprise and achievement by black Bahamians that will be recounted in a series of columns.