Brent Symonette is being unfairly punished for the Bay Street Boys
Certain Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) operatives are utilizing the same race baiting strategy of the late Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat. With little alternative policies to counter the policies of the incumbent administration, they are pandering to thousands of cash strapped Bahamians who are envious of Brent Symonette and his family. Such a strategy could work in a politically immature country like The Bahamas, where the seminal contributions of the Symonettes are routinely ignored.
When PLO leaders struggled to improve the economic and social conditions of their Palestinian subjects, they would conveniently deflect attention away from their incompetence by pointing fingers at the Jewish state of Israel. This scapegoating strategy worked by causing struggling Palestinians to focus their attention on Israel rather than on the issues plaguing their country. By digging up the past transgressions of the United Bahamian Party (UBP), the Pindling administration, during the 1980s, used this tactic to frighten Bahamians away from the Free National Movement (FNM) with its UBP elements and to deflect attention away from its inability to lift The Bahamas out of the financial and social morass which plagued the country back then. Alex Haley’s television series “Roots” was an effective campaign strategy, particularly the scene in which Kunta Kinte is brutally flogged by Ames, the character played by the late actor, Vic Morrow. Being in charge of the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas, the political directorate made sure that “Roots” received significant running time.
Despite dissolving in 1970 or thereabouts, the UBP was routinely blamed for the myriad of issues that plagued the country throughout the 1980s. Sir Roland Symonette has been dead since 1980; Sir Stafford Sands since 1972, yet PLP operatives are unwilling to forgive both men and their political organization for whatever they are alleged to have done to this country throughout the 1950s and 1960s. This was evident in the furore over the elder Symonette being afforded national hero status, along with Sir Lynden Pindling, FNM founding father Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitefield and Sir Milo B. Butler. The most vociferous opponent of the move by the Advisory Committee of National Honours to honor the late Bay Street Boys mogul was PLP National Chair Fred Mitchell, which must have caused untold emotional grief to the Symonette family. Pop Symonette was ruthlessly vilified by his detractors. Every Majority Rule Day holiday must be difficult for this family, as they listen to pseudo historians exaggerate the shortcomings of the Bay Street Boys, while the deeply flawed Pindling administration is romanticized.
Unfortunately for FNM MP Brent Symonette, son of Sir Roland Symonette, his family is a victim of the Bahamian version of Black Panther Party reverse racist rhetoric, which is purportedly aimed at redressing racial inequality and implementing affirmative action. During the 1960s, certain elements within the PLP were inspired by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, Black Panther Party founders. Consequently, one can understand why white Bahamians dreaded the thought of majority rule. They feared retaliation.
With this anti-UBP mindset, the Bahamian educational system has led the way in miseducating tens of thousands of Bahamian students since majority rule and effectively brainwashing them into believing that Symonette and the Bay Street Boys did absolutely nothing towards nation building. In school, I was under the impression that every significant milestone achieved in modern Bahamian history was accomplished by the PLP under Pindling. While Pindling deserves the bulk of the credit for leading The Bahamas to independence in 1973, it was the UBP which laid the groundwork for independence by ushering in internal self-governance in 1964. Granted, Sir Roland opposed independence in 1966 when Labour Party Leader Sir Randol Fawkes moved for the appointment of a select committee to examine the matter of independence. It was shot down by Sir Roland and his minority government, on the basis of The Bahamas not being in the financial position to fund its own embassies, high commissions and defense force. What is worth noting is that PLP co-founder Cyril Stevenson vociferously opposed the idea also. Also worth noting is that Pindling did not support Fawkes in this endeavor, despite being in Parliament on that historic day.
In all things considered, Sir Roland’s argument of us going at it alone being cost prohibitive may have been valid – at that juncture in our nation’s history at least. Detractors point out that Symonette opposed women’s suffrage. This was true, but considering the prevailing patriarchal context of The Bahamas back then, the late UBP leader should not be condemned. What’s more, the fight for women’s suffrage was not spearheaded by Pindling and the PLP. It was led by Eugenia Lockhart, Mabel Walker, Mary Ingraham, Georgiana Symonette, Albertha Isaacs, Althea Mortimer and Dr. Doris Johnson. It is important to point out that not all of these ladies supported the fledgling PLP. Many of the women in the suffrage movement were UBP supporters.
The UBP, albeit reluctantly, allowed the enfranchisement of Bahamian women in 1962. While in school we were taught that Pindling was The Bahamas’ first prime minister, which is true. However, I don’t recall any of my history teachers mentioning Sir Roland becoming our first premier in 1964. Also ignored or downplayed by UBP detractors is the well-established fact that tourism and banking were put in place by Sir Stafford Sands and the Bay Street Boys. Sir Roland and the UBP can also be credited in helping to solidify the FNM as a viable alternative to the PLP, when he along with the Bay Street Boys dissolved their party and amalgamated with the fledgling FNM. The merger of the UBP with the FNM gave the latter a significant political shot in the arm. Also worth mentioning is that despite its blatant practice of gerrymandering, the UBP conceded defeat in the 1967 general election, after Sir Randol Fawkes and Sir Alvin Braynen had thrown their support behind the PLP. Sir Roland could’ve easily plunged this jurisdiction into political and sectarian violence in response to majority rule. However despite his obvious disappointment, he demonstrated remarkable political maturity in peacefully handing over the reins of power to his black political opponents, who had uttered many uncharitable words to him. Based on what Brent Symonette has had to put up with, it is evident that many black Bahamians are still nursing a grudge against his deceased father. The UBP had its fair share of flaws. We black Bahamians do have legitimate grievances against Symonette and the UBP, although more than half the Bahamian population living today wasn’t around when the UBP was in government. Our historical grievances against the white oligarchy should not cause us to ignore the UBP’s seminal contributions to The Bahamas.
With that said, the time has come for Bahamians to forgive the elder Symonette and his family. The time has come for disgruntled Bahamians to stop punishing the younger Symonette for the supposed transgressions of the Bay Street Boys.
– Kevin Evans