ON THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF
SIR LYNDEN OSCAR PINDLING
THE COLLEGE OF THE BAHAMAS
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 21, 2001
‘A Short Walk Down The Memory Lane of Political History’
Each generation has the duty and responsibility to honour and pay homage to those on whose shoulders we stand. History will judge us harshly when newcomers are honoured for having done far less. Yes, there is a time, indeed, for everything.
My respects to the organizers of this lecture series that is designed quite appropriately to commemorate the legend and legacy of the father of our nation, the late Sir Lynden Oscar Pindling, and to you my distinguished audience.
I would wish to add to the introduction that it be stated: I will not be focussing on the childhood of Sir Lynden nor the development of the Progressive Liberal Party . . . lest the student of history confuses or is misled into thinking and believing that Sir Lynden was a founder of the P.L.P. That would be historically incorrect, and a disservice to the many who struggled and formed and nurtured the P.L.P.
Additionally, I do not wish to leave the impression, incorrect too as it is, that the successes of the P.L.P. Government, was attributed to Sir Lynden alone… but he was the captain of the ship, and as the things that went wrong are attributed to him, for it was on his watch and under his leadership, so too must credit be given for being the leader of the successes that the country enjoyed under his long and outstanding leadership.
In fairness to Sir Lynden, and history, my focus is to give some indication of the worth and stamina of Sir Lynden… on how he faced major challenges, both political and policy, succeeded in some and failed at some, and at the same time I will spend a little time on what Sir Lynden calls his greatest contribution, the establishment of the National Insurance Scheme.
I will endeavour to make my contribution to this exercise, not from the standpoint of "crashing" this, his party, but rather from the perspective of one who was privileged to have observed him first as a student follower, then later as a branch officer, as a Progressive Liberal Party chairman, as chairman of some 17 party conventions, as a parliamentary colleague and as a member of his Cabinet.
Black people have constituted the majority of the Bahamian population from the eighteenth century. Yet, some might consider it as being only fair to actually begin any real assessment of their development as a people from the time of their emancipation from slavery here in 1838. Even so, their 129-year journey from then to majority rule in 1967 might be regarded by many as having taken too long. However, there are some credible reasons in explaining the rationale for that prolonged journey, most prominent of which has been the residue of the plantation indoctrination that still obtains to some degree even now. We shall deal with this aspect of our history later on in this discourse as we link it to the role played by Sir Lynden in his attempt at eliminating its negative impact on our development as a people.
The first real attempt at bringing down our "Jericho Wall" of social, political and economic injustice was in fact the Burma Road Riot of 1942 when local blacks demonstrated in a violent manner against blatant wage-discrimination between salaries paid to Bahamian workers as opposed to that paid to their American counterparts during the construction of Windsor Field (our current International Airport) for the World War II effort.
This event is generally regarded as the first successful attempt in rallying the Bahamian masses. This was followed in 1950 by the formation of the Citizens Committee, led by Mr. Maxwell J. Thompson and others of his generation to fight for social justice. Their greatest success was the lifting of the ban that previously prohibited the showing of Sir Sidney's Poitier's film "No Way Out" here. In that film, Sir Sidney played the role of a doctor. This was considered too "uppety" by the white minority Government at the time as it might have sent the "wrong signal" to the black masses. Racial discrimination and segregation was very rampant in the Bahamas at that time.
Three years later, in 1953, the Progressive Liberal Party was formed by a group of light-skinned Bahamians led by Sir Henry M. Taylor and Mr. William Cartwright, both Long Islanders and sitting members of the House of Assembly at that time. The party made its formal debut in October of that year, but its initial reception some months earlier was very discouraging as the masses had a difficulty in accepting a black message from an almost all-white group.
However, this non-acceptance of the message began to dissipate in July 1953 when a young British-trained lawyer named Lynden Oscar Pindling, a boy from East Street, was called to the Bahamas Bar. He had just recently returned home and soon cast his lot with the then struggling infant political party. This he did before even attempting to get his new law practice off the ground.
Even though it is an undeniable fact that, as an individual, Sir Lynden could very well have made the greatest contribution to the success of both the P.L.P. and the Bahamas, the truth and historical accuracy make it an imperative that we state unequivocally that he did not act alone in the attainment of these achievements.
When Sir Lynden joined the P.L.P. in the latter half of 1953, that organization had already been established. He was, therefore, not even a founder of that party. Credit for its creation is due to both Messrs Taylor and Cartwright, primarily for their untiring research, both in Jamaica and elsewhere, and others for that singular accomplishment. Likewise, the same can be said of the many notable achievements of the six successive Governments that he headed. In both scenarios, he was the charismatic, resilient and effective captain of the team.
His first contribution to us black Bahamians was his unselfish refusal of many attractive inducements to not even join up with the white minority, as many previous black leaders had done, and I might add, as some others are still doing. All the Bay Street Boys, who controlled both the Government and the local economy, required of him was simply that he not become associated with the budding Progressive Liberal Party.
Thus, we must never allow that first contribution of his to ever be forgotten. That is why it pained us greatly when, many years later, some of the beneficiaries of his initial sacrifice had both the brass and the ingratitude to shamelessly shout publicly to his face that he, The Chief, was a thief.
1956 - 1964
The year 1956 saw the P.L.P. winning six seats in the then 29-member House of Assembly. This event also marked the advent of political parties into the local parliamentary experience. With the defeat of its founder, Mr. Henry M. Taylor, in that contest, the mantle of leadership, both parliamentary and later of the party itself, fell on the shoulders of a youthful, yet well prepared, Lynden Oscar Pindling. The House of Assembly then became centre stage for this rising political star and, in the ensuing years, was where he would display his remarkable debating skills and parliamentary acumen.
There, he took the battle to the Bay Street Boys fearlessly and, in the process, achieved for the masses many constitutional and electoral reforms that would eventually lead to the realization of majority rule in 1967. Under his leadership, his party's efforts in rallying the masses to exercise the superiority of their numbers at the polls in the historic January 10th General Election of that year, culminated their 129-year march from slavery to self-government.
This period revealed Sir Lynden as an educator in espousing both the P.L.P's ideology and its platform. It also exposed his magnetic charisma, his aggressive advocacy of human rights, social and political reform and his resilience in being able to bounce back after suffering serious setbacks and defections from within his own party.
It projected him indisputably as a populous leader by the manner with which he handled electoral setback at the polls in 1962, when women voted for the first time locally. Then as the people's champion through the events of Black Tuesday, when unjust official power was dramatically tested. He had already demonstrated his unequivocal support for labour and the trade union movement by the role he played in the 1958 General Strike and his going all the way, even to the police station cells, with taxi-drivers in Freeport, Grand Bahama around that time.
Most testing must have been his resolve to persevere and press onward with the struggle even though two of his former Government High School classmates quit him in the midst of the Quiet Revolution. One of them, who would later become a principle Cabinet colleague of his, and the other, who is presently our Governor General, parted political ways with him due to internal disagreements following Black Tuesday. We refer to our dear friend and mentor, the Hon. Paul L. Adderley, your speaker tomorrow, and Sir Orville A. Turnquest, respectively.
1967 - 1977
The unity, first attained in 1967, was convincingly reinforced by the masses in the subsequent 1968 General Election that saw the 14-month-old P.L.P.-Labour coalition Government (that ended upon the sudden death of Mr. Uriah McPhee) replaced by a P.L.P. Government that enjoyed a very comfortable majority. However, that unity only lasted some two years, as eight P.L.P. parliamentarians led by the late Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield joined with the Opposition United Bahamian Party in a vote of no-confidence in Premier Sir Lynden O. Pindling in 1970.
Those Dissident Eight, including four former Cabinet Ministers, were eventually expelled from the P.L.P. at its convention in October of that same year. They went on to form first the Free P.L.P. and later joined forces with the U.B.P. in the formation of the Free National Movement, led by Sir Cecil.
The decade of the 1970's proved to have been the most challenging test of Sir Lynden's tenacity and resilience. During this period, he not only survived that near-fatal no-confidence vote but also successfully contested the 1972 General Election against an F.N.M.-U.B.P. combine on the issue of Bahamian Independence. Following the attainment of Independence on July 10th, 1973, Sir Lynden's resilience was again tested prior to the 1977 General Election in an episode now known as the night of the long knives.
On that occasion, all opposition to Sir Lynden's style of ruling the P.L.P. was brutally removed when Messrs Oscar N. Johnson and Franklyn R. Wilson were both denied re-nomination. It was also the occasion of the withdrawal from the party of Messrs Carleton E. Francis, Lionel Davis and others. Still, Sir Lynden prevailed in the ensuing election and his party was returned to office.
1982 - 1992
This period began amidst a growing involvement of Bahamians and their Colombian counterparts in the nefarious narcotic drug trade through the Bahamas. Allegations of the involvement of Government officials at the highest level also began to attract some bad press for the Bahamas internationally. Headlines such as "Paradise Lost" and "A Nation for Sale" were a part of this bad press. Consequently, the P.L.P. Government authorized a Royal Commission of Inquiry in 1984 to investigate these allegations, in the process of which Sir Lynden's reputation was maligned as well as those of at least two of his Ministers, Messrs Kendal Nottage and George Smith, and several senior public officers. At its conclusion, Archbishop Drexel W. Gomez, then Lord Bishop of Barbados and one of the Commissioners, felt obliged to render a minority report that was unfavourable to Sir Lynden. This, even though his two other Commission colleagues reported otherwise.
In the wake of this Inquiry, the two Ministers were asked by Sir Lynden to resign their appointments. They complied. In an ensuing House debate on a related matter, influence peddling, Mr. Hubert A. Ingraham, P.L.P. Member for Cooper's Town, had a difficulty. He said that while he could forgive Sir Lynden for the findings against him, he was not prepared to be so charitable towards the two Ministers whom Sir Lynden seemed to desire him to consider also.
Claiming to be acting on principle in this matter, Mr. Ingraham remained uncompromising on the issue. His stand and subsequent outspokenness on this issue ultimately led to his eventual expulsion from the P.L.P. Deputy Prime Minister the Hon. Arthur D. Hanna also resigned his post as a personal protest against the Commission issue.
In the ensuing 1987 General Election, Mr. Ingraham ran as an Independent candidate and was re-elected to Parliament as the Member for the Cooper's Town Constituency. Upon the death of Sir Cecil on May 9, 1990, Mr. Ingraham joined the F.N.M. as its Leader and led that party to victory in the August 19, 1992 General Election. Thus, the stone that the builders rejected became the head corner stone.
Sir Lynden stayed on as leader despite failing health, led his party into a crushing electoral defeat in 1997, retired from Parliament in the same year and died on August 26, 2000.
I will now close just as I began by repeating my opening remarks. Each generation has the duty and responsibility to honour those on whose shoulders we stand. History will judge us harshly when newcomers are honoured for having done far less. Yes, there is a time, indeed, for everything.
Thank you very much for your kind attention.
WHY IT TOOK US SO LONG
(During the question and answer period that followed, Mr. Mackey presented this additional bit of information in explaining why it took the black Bahamian majority so long to attain self-government. It was taken from an article he had previously published in his weekly Tribune column VIEWPOINT on August 26, 2000 entitled "The Divide and Conquer Strategy.")
Like so many others, we too have often wrestled with the apparent inability of black people remaining united in any given situation for any appreciable period of time. When divisions ultimately occur among them, whether in business, the church, sports or politics, expressions such as Uncle Tom, black crab syndrome or sell-out are often heard in explaining the same. In reality, this mode of conduct is more often than not a throwback to a plantation mentality borne out of slavery. In the ensuing paragraphs, we shall attempt to explore its origin from the application of the tried and proven divide and conquer strategy.
At the commencement of the eighteenth century, the African slave population in the Southern United States began to mushroom. This increase created justifiable fear among slave owners who were fast becoming a minority in some areas. They felt that the slaves' natural instinct to retaliate against the inhumane treatment being meted out to them would soon result in revolts and other serious uprisings against them, as had already begun to occur. This same fear was to be experienced in the Bahamas a century later following the initial influx of Haitians, brought here against their will by British privateers, following the slave revolution in Haiti towards the end of the 1700's.
Thus it was that the Southerners employed the services of a consultant named William Lynch to assist them in preventing insubordination and lack of cooperation by their large slave population. In his book "It's OK to Leave the Plantation", the author, Mr. Clarence Mason Weaver, includes a speech delivered by Mr. Lynch on the bank of the James River in Virginia in 1712. In that speech, Mr. Lynch said the following:
"Gentlemen, I greet you here on the bank of the James River in the year of our lord one thousand seven hundred and twelve. First, I shall thank you, the gentlemen of the colony of Virginia, for bringing me here. I am here to help you solve some of your problems with slaves.
"Your invitation reached me on my modest plantation in the West Indies where I have experimented with some of the newest and still the oldest methods for control of slaves. Ancient Rome would envy us if my program is implemented. As our boat sailed south on the James River, named for our illustrious King, whose version of the Bible we cherish, I saw enough to know that your problem is not unique. While Rome used cords of wood as crosses for standing human bodies along its old highways in great numbers you are here using the tree and the rope on occasion.
"I caught a whiff of a dead slave hanging from a tree a couple of miles back. You are not only losing valuable stock by hangings, you are having uprisings, slaves are running away, your crops are sometimes left in the fields too long for maximum profit, you suffer occasional fires, and your animals are killed. Gentlemen, you know what your problems are; I do not need to elaborate. I am not here to enumerate your problems, I am here to introduce you to a method of solving them.
"In my bag here, I have a foolproof method for controlling your black slaves. I guarantee every one of you that if installed correctly it will control the slaves for at least 300 years. My method is simple. Any member of your family or your overseer can use it.
"I have outlined a number of differences among the slaves; and I take these differences and make them bigger. I use fear, distrust, and envy for control purposes. These methods have worked on my modest plantation in the West Indies and it will work throughout the South. Take this simple little list of differences, and think about them. On top of my list is "Age," the second is "Color" or shade. Then, there is intelligence, size, sex, size of plantations, status on plantation, attitude of owners, whether the slaves live in the valley, on a hill, East, West, North, South, have fine hair or coarse hair, or is tall or short.
"Now that you have a list of differences, I shall give you an outline of action - but before that I shall assure you that distrust is stronger than adulation, respect or admiration.
"The black slave after receiving this indoctrination shall carry on and will become self-refueling and self-regenerating for hundreds of years, maybe thousands.
"Don't forget you must pitch the old black vs. the young black male, and the young black male against the old black male. You must use the dark skin slaves vs. the light skin slaves and the light skin slaves vs. the dark skin slaves. You must use the female vs. the male, and the male vs. the female. You must also have your white servants and overseers distrust all blacks, but it is necessary that your slaves trust and depend on us. They must love, respect, and trust only us.
"Gentlemen, these Kits are your Keys to control. Use them. Have your wives and children use them, never miss the opportunity. If used intensely for one year, the slaves themselves will remain perpetually distrustful. Thank you, gentlemen.’
We reprint the above not to rekindle old hatreds against white people, but rather to point out the genesis of some of the negative traits that still exist among some of our own black people, even some of our leaders in every sphere of life in this society. You see, while all of our ancestors eventually left the plantation following emancipation in British colonies in 1838 and following the Civil War in America some three decades later, some, like Lot's wife, looked back. Thus, some of their descendents will forever possess a plantation mentality - always feeling insecure and thus having a perpetual dependence on the master for survival, even if that master today is the Government.
Black people must understand that emancipation, the American civil rights movement and our own quiet revolution were not about gaining the acceptance of white people. Rather, they were about leveling the playing field of opportunity for all people, so that they might compete fairly against each other and succeed or fail purely on the basis of their ambition, ability, intellect, industry and competence. Any success, thus achieved, would of itself command the respect of each other. That is what those struggles were all about - respect, not acceptance. With that respect comes pride, self- esteem and self-worth. These make us all men and women and equal.
We must, therefore, use that self-worth to always strive for personal independence and to develop confidence in our ability to provide for ourselves through our own efforts rather than looking to others for handouts, whether from new masters, their overseers or even from the Government.
Think on these things.