By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE decision to award the late Sir Roland Symonette with National Hero honours was branded as “bad,” “inexplicable” and “unlawful” by PLP Chairman Senator Fred Mitchell, who on Friday condemned Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis for his defence of the move.
In a statement circulated by the Official Opposition Friday, Mr Mitchell said the Prime Minister’s recent rebuke of the PLP, where he seemed to agree the party is playing the race card in its argument against the appointment of Sir Roland, signalled a “new low.”
Mr Mitchell, the Opposition’s appointment to the National Honours Committee, contended the Prime Minister’s actions are “ the last refuge of a scoundrel,” insisting that Dr Minnis “has lost the argument” and now “has to go there.”
Dr Minnis, in speaking to reporters on the issue Thursday, said it would “appear” the PLP was playing the race card.
Seeming to brush the entire dispute aside, Dr Minnis said: “I don’t go down that road. We must move beyond colours. So, I don’t see people like that.”
Responding on Friday, Mr Mitchell said the PLP has never made its opposition on the matter racial.
Mr Mitchell argued: “First, as far as we know Roland Symonette was a man with African ancestry.”
541 total votes.
Expounding on the point, he said: “So to quote the Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest when he was accused of being racist in tax policy, the PLP can’t be racist talking about Roland Symonette since we who have voiced objections are talking about a man who shares our common African ancestry.”
Mr Mitchell also claimed that there are many other “white men” who could qualify for the honour, but were passed over by the selection committee.
“This is not about race,” Mr Mitchell said. “This is about the acts of a man who opposed the creation of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.”
According to the former Fox Hill MP, much of Sir Roland’s political will and effort was used up in his opposition of many of the founding tenets of the Bahamas.
“He opposed majority rule,” Mr Mitchell said.
“He opposed the lowering of the vote to 18.
“He opposed the vote for women.
“He opposed the implementation of the labour and social security systems.
“He opposed the fair drawing of boundaries.
“He opposed independence.
“Every step of the way he did not want this to be a nation,” he added.
Mr Mitchell continued: “A National Hero is the hero of a nation. Sir Roland Symonette did not want this nation. He gave aid and comfort to a group that wanted to break up the nation. Now he is being rewarded as a hero of that nation.”
“Dr Minnis has certainly taken leave of his senses and good judgment,” he said.
Meanwhile, in a second statement released on Friday Mr Mitchell also condemned recent comments by Free National Movement Chairman Carl Culmer on the issue, imploring his political counterpart to read a copy of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s slavery novel ‘Uncle Tom's Cabin.’
In the statement, Mr Mitchell asserted that Mr Culmer continues to say, “dumber and dumber things.”
Referring to claims by Mr Culmer, where he accused the PLP of oppressing generations of black Bahamians through its political ploys and practices, Mr Mitchell said if there was a law against spreading misinformation - Mr Culmer would now be in prison.
“This is a classic example of what is known as Uncle Tomism,” Mr Mitchell said. “That means you blame the slaves for being in their condition and you get one of their own to say so.”
He continued: “How could a modern Bahamian, presumably educated in our country as a result of the policies of the PLP; whose island elected representatives of the PLP to take the country into independence; who benefitted from a senior job in a public corporation as a result of PLP policies; who lives in a free nation because of what the PLP did; whose very own FNM leaders were once PLP, speak such total and complete nonsense.”
“Instead of seeking to fix Grand Bahama with five FNM MPs and three Senators, he is spinning falsehoods.
“Mr Culmer should go sit in the graveyard in Savannah Sound and weep for his sins,” he concluded.
The first recipients of the country’s National Honours were announced on Independence Day, with the top honour of the Order of National Hero awarded posthumously to Sir Lynden Pindling, Sir Milo Butler and Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield and Sir Roland.
The announcement, specifically the selection of Sir Roland, has led to national debate over the criteria for selection, with scores of political, religious and national figures using their respective platforms to either condemn or back the choice.
On Thursday, retired Bishop Simeon Hall called for a stop to the debate, which he called “retrogressive.”
Bishop Hall, who serves as pastor emeritus at New Covenant Baptist Church, said despite the negative cases now being brought up about Sir Roland’s legacy, he knew first hand of many of his positive deeds.
“Sir Roland heard me preach one summer, struggling to get back in college and he paid one year’s tuition for me,” he said. “So for me, he will always be my national hero.”
Additionally, Bishop Hall called on the country to recognise that, just as Sir Roland did, many of the country’s founding fathers had “a dark-side.”
However, he said despite their alleged negative acts; “the good they did outweighed the bad.”
And added Bishop Hall: “Some of our black leaders had their own graveyards, figuratively speaking.”