EDITOR, The Tribune.
I am old enough, despite my youthful looks, to remember the late Sir Roland T Symonette and, of course, the late Sir Stafford L Sands. They were both integral members of what was then loosely known as the United Bahamian Party (UBP) which held political sway over our country during the 1950s and 1960s. Most adherents of the UBP were so-called “white” Bahamians but there were hundreds of “black” Bahamians who also sang from the same hymn sheet.
In fact, believe it or not, I too was a strong supporter of that political entity as a teenager and a student at The Government High School (GHS), where the University of The Bahamas is now located. The embryonic Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) back in the day had to dramatise and over blow almost everything, inclusive of the “race card” if it was to excite the imagination of the average “black” Bahamian and galvanise their support.
One must also keep in mind that around this same era, the so-called civil rights movement in the USA was in full bloom. Adam Clayton Powell, a then powerful coloured Democrat from New York; the young Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King from Atlanta, Georgia; H ‘Rap’ Brown of California and one of the more vocal leaders of the Black Panthers, Stokely Carmichael, a radical author and activist; Malcolm X and Elijah Mohammed of The Black Muslims were all over the USA and often times many of them popped over to The Bahamas on breaks and vacations. They would have, of course, interacted with the leaders of the PLP.
I am amazed at the furor that is being/has been generated over the selection, well deserved in my view, of Sir Roland T Symonette, a long dead Bahamian first Premier, as a National Hero. He did more for so many average Bahamian, white or black, than any other single Bahamian, white or black. Sir Roland was a product of his day and culture, but he, to my personal knowledge, never harboured a racist bone in his body. He mixed with all Bahamians and always displayed humility; meekness and gross generosity.
He and others within the UBP, Godfrey Kelly readily comes to mind as then Minister of Education and MP for Cat Island, opened up secondary education to the average Bahamian, white and black. Sir Roland was also instrumental in developing numerous real estate subdivisions throughout New Providence; Ridgeland Park East & West; portions of Englerston; Pinedale; Claridge Dale; Pyfrom’s Addition; Garden Hills Estates 1 & 2 and the list goes on and on.
As a result of his efforts, thousands of Bahamians were able to purchase, on credit, residential building lots from his assorted corporate structures. The Tin Shop on Wulff Road, was Sir Roland’s warehouse. Super Value is now on that site. Bahamians were able to purchase, often on credit, all of their building supplies from The Tin Shop. If you are able to tell me, tell me of one other Bahamian, black or white, who would have assisted in propelling thousands of fellow Bahamians into the now fabled ‘middle class’.
It is what it is and I for one will never allow misguided individuals, who should know better, besmirch the good name and, yes, integrity of Sir Roland. Sir Stafford may have “worn” his racial views on his sleeves, but I also knew him up close. He was a giant of a man, both physically and intellectually. He did not suffer fools gladly. Almost everyday, when I would not have been at GHS, I would accompany my late father, the Reverend Dr Ortland H Bodie Sr, into the Bay Street area.
I would often see Sir Stafford striding down that corridor and he often stopped and spoke to my dad and me in a friendly and jovial manner. So, for the remnants of black racists who still live in the distant past, I say get a life and let us deal with the real issues which plague our wonderful nation: teenage pregnancies; pervasive drug usage and abuse; inability of the average Bahamian to access an affordable piece of property; no fiscal responsibility; no freedom of information act; visionless politicians, across the board; a nasty environment; alleged corruption in low and high places and, of course, the societal and cultural melt down in our nation.
Sir Roland T Symonette deserves this honour and more. He was, like it or not, one of the more prominent guiders of the modern Bahamas. In fact, whenever we get around to setting up a National Heroes Park at Fort Charlotte, life-sized bronze statutes MUST be erected, inter alia, of Sir Lynden; Sir Roland; Sir Cecil; Sir Milo Butler and Sir Stafford. Let us move beyond this non issue of race. Race baiting in today’s Bahamas? To God then, in all of these silly things, be the glory.
ORTLAND H. BODIE, JR.
July 19, 2018