Speech delivered during

The Sir Lynden O. Pindling Lecture Series

The College of The Bahamas


March 21, 2002


From Burma Road to August 19, 1992


By George W. Mackey


                    Dreams give us hope,

                    Hope ignites passion,

                    Passion leads us to envision success.


                    Visions of success open our minds to possibilities,

                    Far-reaching possibilities help us to enlist support from others,

                    Support from others keeps us focused and committed.


                    Focus and commitment foster action,

                    Action results in progress,

                    Progress leads to achievement,

                    Achievement inspires dreams,

                    Dreams give us hope.


--Author, unknown.


          The organizers of this lecture series deserve credit for continuing to highlight the contributions and shortcomings of the generally accepted father of the Bahamian nation, the late Sir Lynden Oscar Pindling.


Thank you my distinguished audience and the organizers for inviting me back.


          I will not be talking about Constitutional Reform and the results of the referendum, as timely and as interesting as it is.  I will not be speaking directly about the upcoming general election, as interesting as that is.  I will not be speaking directly about the challenge of the leadership change in the Free National Movement . . . and the announced intention of Prime Minister Ingraham to retire from office.  Nor, will I speak directly about the items to be raised, or are being raised, in the current campaign.


          However, by covering the topic "From Burma Road to August 19, 1992", I will lay the groundwork for you to appreciate and analyze the events that are taking place.


          I think it appropriate to assert that most people here are too young to remember Burma Road, or know where it is, or - more importantly - appreciate the events that we refer to as the Burma Road Affair.  Thus, if I were writing for or speaking to a group - years from now - and the audience could not link the family names of major heroes in Bahamian history, I would tell them that the evolution of Bahamian history and politics is really a continuation from the "Emancipation period".




I would tell them that 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.




          I would tell them that 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.


          Thus, I would tell them in great detail of the Burma Road Affair, an event that occupies such a prominent place in Bahamian history.  However, in so doing, I must quote extensively some writings on this subject by Dr. Gail Saunders, our renowned local archivist and historian.  In her book, "Bahamian Society After Emancipation", Dr. Saunders describes the impact of this event on the Bahamas thus:


          "The United States entry into the Second World War brought mixed blessings for the Bahamas.  On the one hand it caused the collapse of the tourist industry and building construction, which exacerbated the already serious unemployment problem.  On the other, the Bahamas benefited because of its strategic position in the Atlantic hemisphere.  The United States feared invasion, seeing the Axis submarine offensive in the Caribbean as a real menace.


"New Providence was chosen to be the site of an Operational Training Unit under the joint auspices of the Imperial and United States Governments.  The installation, which had to be built, was supervised by the United States Army Engineering Department.  An American firm, Pleasantville Incorporated, began work on the 20th May, 1942. 


"Two sites were chosen.  One was just south of Grants Town, the predominantly black section of Nassau, at the site of the small field that had been developed by Sir Harry Oakes.  The other was in the Pine Barren near the western end of New Providence.  They were called the Main Field and Satellite Field respectively, and collectively, the 'Project'. 


"The operation employed over two thousand men, many of them Out Islanders who had flocked to Nassau during the previous two decades in search of jobs.  The project not only provided work for Bahamians but also caused an influx of white American workers who were brought in as foremen."


I would tell them that it was the disparity in wages paid to Bahamian workers in comparison to the higher wages paid to their American counterparts, for identical work performed on The Project, that eventually led to the riot that occurred on June 1, 1942.  Formed around the start of the Project had been a Labour Union and a Federation of Labour, both led by Mr. Charles Rhodriquez, an Over-the-Hill clothing merchant.  The strike began following the inability of Mr. Rhodriquez in getting the relevant authorities at that time to reason and to accede to the Bahamian workers' request for a more equitable wage rate.  Their destructive march had begun from Satellite Field (now the site of our present International Airport), on to the Main Field (now the site of the Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre) and finally on to Bay Street that took the brunt of their destruction.


Again, in her book, Dr. Saunders described the riot itself thus:


"The delaying tactics of the Government in response to the Labour Union demands did not satisfy the labourers.  Consequently, at about 4 p.m. on Sunday, 31 May, a crowd of about four hundred labourers from Satellite Field, who had threatened the white Bahamian foreman, Karl Claridge, talking loudly, gathered in front of the offices of the Pleasantville Company at the Main Field.  In the meantime, Captain Sears and three or four policemen appeared and tried to disperse the crowd.  When the crowd surrounded Sears, he drew his revolver, after which the crowd scattered.  There was no reason to think that the labourers would strike on Monday.


"The labourers assembled at the Colonial Secretary's Office, obviously trying to obtain some satisfaction about the wage question.  At 9 a.m. they were addressed from the steps of the Colonial Secretary's Office by Mr. Eric Hallinan, Attorney General, who urged them to choose a representative and send him to the Colonial Secretary or to the Governor, and promised that their grievances would receive immediate attention.


"He also added that the American authorities had wished to use only Americans on the Project, but Bahamian workmen had done so well, that it had not been necessary.  He therefore appealed to the crowd not to spoil the good impression that they had made.  Obviously, the 'excited' and 'angry' crowd, which comprised black labourers, many of them young men from the Out Islands, received the wrong impression or purposely interpreted it the way they wished.  They understood that if they did not return to work, the Government would replace them with American labourers.


"Within minutes, the riot started and a rowdy crowd rioted up and down Bay Street, smashing windows and looting stores.  A parked Coca-Cola truck on Bay Street provided a supply of missiles.  By noon, Bay Street, the centre of white Nassau, lay in shambles.  It had by that time been cleared by the police force led by Colonel Lindop, the Commissioner of Police.  Helped by the Camerons, the labour leaders and other citizens, the police authorities pushed the crowd over to Grant's Town, the black section, where further rioting occurred."


In the wake of the riot, two men had died, five were seriously wounded and forty civilian rioters were treated for minor injuries.  Although the riot did not sustain the black unity it had temporarily initiated, it did ignite the spark that would within a decade give rise to the quiet revolution that would eventually culminate in majority rule.




I would tell them how the Burma Road Riot was followed some eight years later by another incident sparked by the ruling white minority - and spawned by their intransigent attitude - which led to a second and more successful attempt in uniting the black masses.


In his book, "Let The Church Roll On", the late Dr. Cleveland W. Eneas, Sr. recounts how that one specific act of arrogance by the Bay Street Boys -- sometime around 1950 -- inspired an angry and determined group of black men to unite in challenging their despicable bastion of bigotry.  The incident was the Government's ban, imposed through its Censor Board, on the showing of the film "No Way Out", which starred Bahamian actor Sidney Poitier in the role of a doctor.


This portrayal was considered "too uppety" by the white minority Government at the time as they feared that it might have sent the "wrong signal" to the black masses.  Racial discrimination and segregation were very rampant in the Bahamas at that time.   The ban angered the black masses, many of whom had grown up with Mr. Poitier in the Over the Hill area.


Led by Attorney Maxwell Thompson, the group formed "The Citizens Committee" and set out to challenge the power of Bay Street by having the ban lifted.  They succeeded and the film was later shown at the then Capitol Theatre on Market Street.  Also included in the Citizens Committee at the time were such brave men as Messrs Randol Fawkes, A. Leon McKinney, Freddie Munnings, Sr. and Cleveland W. Eneas, Sr.


Thus, the success of The Citizens Committee not only spawned the initial uniting of the Bahamian masses, but also inspired others to take that unification to a higher political level.  In essence, it can be truly said that The Citizens Committee was indeed the forerunner of the Progressive Liberal Party.


The growing social injustice meted out to the black majority and the intransigence of the governing white minority to appeals on their behalf were nearing the breaking point by this time.  It was against this background that the seed of further uniting the masses politically was sown in the minds of two men from a very unexpected quarter.




          I would then tell them how some three years later, in 1953, the Progressive Liberal Party was formed by a group of light-skinned Bahamians led by those two gentlemen, the late Sir Henry M. Taylor and Mr. William Cartwright.  They were 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, our former 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 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.


The period covered in this discussion, the half-century betwixt Burma Road of 1942 and August 1992, is undoubtedly a chapter in our history in which our late mentor and friend, Sir Lynden O. Pindling, was its most dominant figure.  This is not to say that others did not make meaningful contributions to our national development during this period also.  However, in fairness to the man, let me repeat what I stated in this regard on a similar occasion a year ago:


Sir Lynden was the captain of the ship.  Thus, as things that went wrong are attributed to him, for it was on his watch and under his leadership that they occurred, so too must credit be given him for being the leader of the successes that the country enjoyed under his outstanding leadership. 


          Undoubtedly, one of the greater and sometimes unrecognized contributions of Sir Lynden was his aid and assistance in mentoring and giving the present Prime Minister Hubert Alexander Ingraham the opportunity to replace him and likewise serve with   distinction.  But that is a topic for another time. 


For all of those visionaries and heroes mentioned above, I shall now conclude --- just as I began -- by repeating my opening remarks.


                    Dreams give us hope,

                    Hope ignites passion,

                    Passion leads us to envision success.


                    Visions of success open our minds to possibilities,

                    Far-reaching possibilities help us to enlist support from others,

                    Support from others keeps us focused and committed.


                    Focus and commitment foster action,

                    Action results in progress,

                    Progress leads to achievement,

                    Achievement inspires dreams,

                    Dreams give us hope.


--Author, unknown.


Thank you very much for your kind attention.