There was “Ottie” striding across the page. Under the picture, this headline: “Bermuda’s ‘dark day’ – 40 years on”. The headline led into a story, run over two pages, replete with names and personal recollections [RG – 02 Feb 05].
The story showed a depth of research that is not that common. It was a well-done and interesting story.
That headline though, told another tale.
‘Dark day’ is entirely a matter of perspective. The story’s lead paragraph spoke of a “..turning point in Bermuda’s history…”. This theme of a ‘turning point’ was reiterated by “Ottie” Simmons – forty years ago, in 1965, a BIU organizer; and by Derrick Burgess – forty years later, in 2005, the BIU president.
However, if the headline writer’s perspective is correct, it appears that for him [or her], the day was a bad day – a “dark day”.. Certainly, the idea that February 2nd 1965 led to a troubled period in Bermuda’s history can be supported by pointing to the riots and arson of 1968 – the disturbances of 1970 – the killings of 1973 – the riots and hangings and killings of 1977 – the General Strike of 1981.
So, from one perspective, 2nd February 1965 might have been a bad day. And all the other events bad events. But that’s only from one perspective. Is there, as there usually is, another perspective? There is.
In the forty-six years from 1959 to 2005, Bermuda changed from what was then a typical colonial regime to full internal self-government. From a white minority government and racial segregation and discrimination maintained by Bermuda laws, to a black majority government and an absence of almost all discriminations.
Change in Bermuda did not come about because ‘Jack Tucker’ and his mates woke up one day in 1959 and said: “We’ve seen the light! We’ll end all segregation! We will have equality of treatment for all!” No, that didn’t happen. In fact ‘Jack Tucker” found the 1959 Theatre Boycott a “’curious affair’, since there did not appear to be any serious matter of principle in dispute” [*].
From June 1959 to November 1998, this island’s black population worked its way towards the free and open society that we all today enjoy. 2nd February 1965, was just another one of those several days on which this long black struggle saw an eruption into violence.
Violence is a common part of the process of struggle. Those who are struggled against often paint and demonize strugglers as criminals and troublemakers. This happens because those who are struggled against are the makers of laws. Those who are struggled against generally create laws that help to maintain their ascendancy.
Those who struggle have two choices. Either accept inequity or break some laws and start to create a brand-new situation where equality will exist. More simply, either stay down or stand up. Over a hundred years ago, the Irish patriot James Connolly put it this way: “The great only appear great because we are on our knees…let us arise!”. Eighty years later, Bob Marley sang the idea to the new reggae beat in “Get up, stand up”.
One hundred and twenty-five years after Emancipation, black Bermudians began to “get up and stand up”. At intervals, there were scuffles and riots. Along the way there were some deaths. Always, though, there was a steady movement – by black Bermudians – towards the free and open society that now exists. Always, unfortunately, there was resistance – by some white Bermudians – towards that desirable progress.
When looking back and assigning values to past action, all of humankind tends to place values according to the stream of history down which they came. Martin Luther King’s ‘march on Selma’ is seen by some as a march to victory that helped to bring Condoleeza Rice to where she is today. But that’s a black American perspective. A staunch right-wing white Alabamian might still see that Selma march as an act perpetrated by black criminals and trouble-makers.
For a right-wing white Alabamian, the day of the march on Selma was a ‘dark day’; presaging many darker days to come. Is this the same for the person – whoever that person is – who worded the Royal Gazette ‘dark day’ headline for what was an otherwise superb story? A story refreshingly devoid of any other biased perspective.
Forty years later our ‘dark past’ still surges into our present.
[*] “Man of Stature – Sir Henry James Tucker” – J Randolf Williams – Camden Editions, 1987 – page 132.