Post-Emancipation Race Relations in the Bahamas

By Buckridge, Steeve O. | The Journal of Caribbean History, July 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Post-Emancipation Race Relations in the Bahamas


Buckridge, Steeve O., The Journal of Caribbean History


Whittington B. Johnson, Post-Emancipation Race Relations in the Bahamas, Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006, xi + 190 pp.

In this fascinating and well-researched text, Whittington Johnson uses a broad range of sources, including letters, wills and testaments, church records, government papers and secondary works, to provide an insightful overview of race relations in the Bahamas during the post-emancipation period 1834 to 1865. In this work the author raises several key questions important to the study, such as: did Free Blacks and persons of colour join former enslaved people to elect non-Whites to the Bahamaian House of Assembly? What changes occurred in the Bahamian economy to accommodate the transition from a slave to a free society? How did the former Free Black and Coloured slaveholders fare economically after manumission? Were non- Whites given a role in the criminal justice system?

Although this study is primarily about the Bahamas, the work includes some comparative analysis of race relations in the Bahamian and the American South. This comparison enables us to view race relations in the American South through fresh lenses. Johnson reveals that race relations in the Bahamas were quite different from the American South during their formative period as free societies. Consequently, the end of slavery had different outcomes for descendants of the former enslaved Blacks in both countries. This story, Johnson argues, "begs to be told". After a thorough and meticulous examination, he concludes that in the Bahamas slavery was abolished peacefully and that the Ku Klux Klan, the American White racist organization - never gained a foothold in that country, nor was any Black person lynched in the Bahamas, as was the situation in the American South.

The author argues that the transformation from a slave to a free society in the Bahamas was peaceful and successful for several reasons that affected post-emancipation race relations. For instance, after manumission, race relations in the Bahamas did not result in bloody conflicts or civil war, the non-White majority did not seek revenge on Whites for enslavement, nor did Whites use violence and questionable legislation to subjugate non-Whites in order to retain control of government, as did White Southerners in the United States. (This situation seems unique to the Bahamas since in other parts of the Caribbean the plantocracy passed legislation to continue their stranglehold on the former enslaved peoples' labour and person.) According to the author, White Bahamians may have sympathized with their counterparts in the United States but they did not imitate them because "Downing Street would not have tolerated such behavior" (p. 139). Moreover, the Home Office in London played a major role in keeping Whites' hostilities and anger towards non-Whites in check by making sure not to disrupt the old power structure and allowing Whites to maintain their privileged status. For example, Whites retained control of the government and few nonWhites were elected to the local assembly. During the early post-emancipation era the requirements for a seat in the local assembly changed very little. Assembly members had to be male, twenty-one years of age, resident in the Bahamas for at least twelve months, and owners of a certain minimum amount of property (either real or personal). …

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