Academic journal article The Journal of Caribbean History

Demystifying Bay Street: Black Tuesday and the Radicalization of Bahamian Politics in the 1960s

Academic journal article The Journal of Caribbean History

Demystifying Bay Street: Black Tuesday and the Radicalization of Bahamian Politics in the 1960s

Article excerpt

Introduction

The United Bahamian Party (UBP) led by the "Bay Street Boys", a group of White and near -White merchant-politicians, who had controlled the Bahamas economically and politically since the nineteenth century, soundly defeated the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) in the 1962 elections. According to Michael Craton and Gail Saunders, "the main reason for the PLP's 1962 setback . . . was almost certainly fear of the consequences of Black majority rule, shared not only by the White minority and the non- White middle classes but by many Blacks themselves".1 Craton and Saunders assert that the PLP had engaged in a highly charged, racialized campaign and Bahamian voters rejected that message, opting for the security and stability of the familiar, ruling White oligarchy. Interestingly, the PLP responded to their defeat in 1962 by intensifying rather than quieting their rhetoric and became increasingly radical in the run up to the 1967 elections, which the PLP won narrowly. If Craton and Saunders's analysis of the 1962 elections are correct, then the PLP somehow managed to overcome the voter's concerns about their radicalism by, paradoxically, becoming even more radical. We contend, however that it was widespread fear of Bay Street's power that explains the PLP's defeat in 1962, and it was the PLP's ability to demystify that power that led to the party's narrow victory in 1967 and their overwhelming victory in 1968.

Bahamian Blacks had begun chipping away at Bay Street's façade since the 1942 riot.2 "Black Tuesday", however, played a critical role in demonstrating to Bahamian Blacks that Bay Street could be resisted and defied. On Tuesday, 27 April 1965 a large noisy crowd gathered outside of the House of Assembly. As the Assembly continued the debate over the drawing of constituency boundaries, the parliamentarians could clearly hear the din of the crowd below. After the House rejected the PLP's motion to have the constituencies redrawn under the direction of the United Nations, Lynden Pindling, the opposition leader, denounced the Bay Street politicians as dictators, took hold of parliament's ceremonial mace and threw it out of the window to the waiting crowd below.3 Milo Butler, a leading figure in the PLP, followed suit and tossed out the quarter-hourglasses, used by the Speaker to keep time. The PLP members of the House then stormed out of parliament. It was a defiant act by the PLP and ultimately a defining one for the Bahamian people. Black Tuesday was definitive proof that Blacks in the Bahamas were prepared and able to stand up to the White ruling minority. It was evidence that Bahamian Blacks were no longer afraid of the Bay Street oligarchy. They had been warned by the Bay Street elite not to protest, and to stay away from parliament. Still, large numbers had gathered on Bay Street. Black Tuesday was also proof that the PLP was the "Negro's Party" (as its propaganda vehicle, the Herald, repeatedly claimed).

There is a surprising dearth of scholarship about this important period in Bahamian history and about Black Tuesday in particular; more so since scholars generally acknowledge its socio-political significance. Craton and Saunders, for instance, devote only four paragraphs to Black Tuesday in their two-volume general history of the Bahamas, Islanders in the Stream, but describe the event as the climax of "parliamentary histrionics . . . [which] polarized Bahamian politics as never before".4 Albury's general history, The Story of the Bahamas, likewise contains only a paragraph describing the events of that day, calling it a "dramatic form of protest".5 Similarly, Colin Hughes devotes only a few pages to the events in is his Race and Politics in the Bahamas, but does stress that "the 1965 mace incident" was one of five events that came to symbolize the Black Bahamian majority's quest to wrest political and economic power from the Bay Street politicians and their colonial masters.6 Although noting that "throwing down the mace impacted the social consciousness and social realities of all the people in the Bahamas", Scott Sherouse does not offer much more in the way of analysis. …

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