The humble Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel gave the world guidance about the inaccurate retelling of history that could serve as a balm for those choking on still more hogwash from Kevin Evans.
Wiesel, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, cautioned that in storytelling, some things are made true that never happened. Fact meets fiction at the intersection of Evans’ biases and prejudice.
Evan’s fealty to historical fact rests on quicksand, especially when it relates to issues of race.
Evans took an academic synopsis of Bahamians who went to the US to perform short term agriculture contracts over a 20-year period and stretched it to imply that they assimilated the uncouth aspects of white redneck culture and brought that back to The Bahamas. That is supposedly the origin of our crime problem today.
Evans is never one for context, but it is so important in the telling of history. The contracts started less than two years after the bombing of Pearl Harbor which dragged the US into World War II.
Its able-bodied men, including blacks, were sent abroad to fight for their country, leaving fruits and vegetables, some destined to feed the troops, spoiling on the branches and vines.
In 1942, the US signed the Farm Labor Agreement which was known as the Bracero Program. Though it was only to last until the end of the war, the program continued until 1964 and was the largest guest-worker program in US history. Bracero is a Spanish term for manual laborer.
After the war, when American farm workers walked off the job to protest poor wages and working conditions, farmers petitioned for and got more braceros.
Almost five million “contracts” were issued to foreign laborers; the vast majority came from Mexico. Canada supplied 119,223 laborers on contract. Bahamians got 49,218 contracts, with most assigned to picking oranges in Central Florida. Another 161,787 joined from the rest of the Caribbean.
Most braceros were men and the “Yankee” dollars they sent back home were a vital source of foreign exchange.
What’s more, although Bracero officially ended in the 1960s, a variant called the Temporary Foreign Worker Visa Program still exists today, although Donald Trump’s xenophobia has scaled it back.
Evans implies that Bahamian contractors were sponges absorbing the redneck culture they saw around them. This is hard to accept at face value when history shows that the typical poor white laborer (called by the derogatory term “redneck”) thought himself superior to blacks and would not have mingled in the South.
And it presupposes that Bahamians braceros, hardened by their own home-grown racism, couldn’t tell a mare from a stallion when on foreign soil.
Nonetheless, in Evans’ version of history, they appropriated redneck behavior. But these Bahamians came back home and with vigor cast their lot with the burgeoning PLP, further propelling the majority rule movement that ended racism here.
Exposing Bahamians to Jim Crow laws in the US would not have triggered self-esteem crises. If anything, it was the Bahamians who projected confidence, leaving a positive, lasting impression on the people they encountered.
Up and down the spectrum, the evidence is clear that Bahamians comported themselves with dignity under arduous conditions. Signs saying “No dogs, Negroes or Mexicans” were common.
The loutish behavior we witness now among some of our young people is not a pathology that stretches back to the contract days. Rather it has more to do with Hollywood influences, our own declining social standards and especially the havoc of the drug years.
Locals on “the contract” followed a long line of Bahamians who had, in essence, founded and built the City of Miami.
They knew about their forerunners and some had family in Miami since the late 1820s, long before Miami became a city. Historians have documented the fact that Bahamians at the start of 1900s had a more profound impact on American life at that time than any group of foreign black people from anywhere in the world, save and except for the African slaves.
Long before the Cubans ran to Miami in the 1960s and then in 1980, it was Bahamians who transformed Miami, not the other way around.
In street parlance, “Bahamians ran things”. Without Bahamians, the investors like Henry Flagler who plowed money into Miami would have gone back to New York after the first hurricane.
Bahamians were involved in business, sports, politics and culture. Mariah Brown, a woman from Upper Bogue, Eleuthera, built the first black-owned home in Miami in 1890. Miami designated it a cultural heritage site.
Father Theodore Gibson, the son of Bahamians, cast such an important shadow over Miami that he was at the time the most powerful black man in all of South Florida.
Coconut Grove and Homestead prospered because of Bahamians. Many rest at the iconic Coconut Grove Bahamian Cemetery. And for the last 38 years, a crowd as big as the entire population of The Bahamas has flocked to Coconut Grove for the annual Goombay Festival.
Bahamians undertook stealth boat missions to Florida to rescue those fleeing segregation, including a group of black Seminole Indians stranded on a cay there and who ended up in Andros.
Migration was a two-way street. Thousands of black Americans, not just from Florida, came here and helped make us strong.
The late Bahamian educator and suffragette Muriel Eneas, originally from Savannah, Georgia (wife of Bain Town sage Dr. Cleveland Eneas), comes to mind.
She and countless others transcended redneck bigotry over there and brought class and dignity. Today, we are probably the most genetically American country in CARICOM, with both black and white cousins stateside.
We are all mixed up here, but “redneck” is not an ingredient in our conch salad.
— The Graduate