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Bahamas History

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Submitted By tfees
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Question: 1(a)
Write a detailed account of the Burma Road Riot in Nassau, Bahamas.

So many of the most dramatic and significant social events in the Bahamas history were played out on the stage of Bay Street and, as a result of these events, Bay Street was turn into a place where Bahamians came together in display of unity and a place where they sought to act out dissenting viewpoints. The Nassau Riot in 1942 was a short- lived spontaneous outburst by a group of disgruntled Laborers according to source A. Before the riot of 1942, Bay Street could safely be called, a white controlled space. Although many blacks walked the sidewalks and even, when funds afforded it, shopped in the finer stores on Bay Street. It was with the knowledge that they were just visitors. Even though some blacks were allowed to work in the stores on Bay Street, the choice jobs were not available to them. A man who was admittedly colored could not even talk to a lady of a white family. Color separated the races in housing, education, occupation, and in social intercourse. Two Bases were to be built in Nassau, Oakes Field know as the Main Field and the other in the western end of the island know as Satellite Field. These two bases were to be constructed by the Pleasantville Company of the United States. It was called the Project, which would employ over two thousand Bahamians. Many People from the outer islands came to New Providence joining the already large labor force, that looked forward to the high wages. Although this was an opportunity for steady employment, they nevertheless were upset to find they would only offered the domestic wage rate. Many were disappointed because only the foreign works were paid well. Bahamians workers were paid differently from the foreign workers. Many were disappointed because neither the government or management made any progress about the wage dispute. The wages on these projects were typically pegged to the American wage scale instead of the domestic ones. There was a gross inequality between the wages paid to Americans working on the project and those paid to Bahamians laborers that were engaged in the same kind of work. These conditions didn’t sit well with the Bahamian workers. However there was a change in the economy. Fewer jobs, more competition for jobs as workers returned from International locations and out islanders migrated to Nassau. Although the economic situation in the Bahamas was quite bad at the time. The majority black population in the Bahamas could literally dismantle the edifices of the minority white rule, if sufficiently provoked. On June 1, 1942 weeks after the Project had begin, laborers went to Bay Street and then made quite loud demands for higher wages. The crowd said they would not go back to work until they had some proof about the wages. The crowd of workers, now buttressed by women and children from over the hill neighborhood, gathered outside of the government buildings at Public Square. Mr. Christie, Captain Sears and a number of others tried to convince the mob to go home but to no avail. Eventually, a number of men broke off from the main crowd, tired of listening to what they must have thought was cheap talk. The crowd of workers threw down their tools at Oakes Field job site, then called the Burma Road Project, and marched toward the City of Nassau. Armed with sticks, clubs, and machetes they sang Burma Road declare war on the Conchie Joe, Do Nigger don't you lick nobody, don't you lick nobody.
They headed down Bay Street smashing as they went. The crowd marched to Bay Street carrying clubs and sticks and assembled in Rawson Square, across from Parliament and outside the Colonial Secretary’ s office. Hoping to put their plea for higher wages to someone in authority. Several members of the colonial government and local assembly attempted to clam down the crowd by promising them if they stop what they are doing and go back to work their request would be put into consideration. They were almost persuaded to put down their weapons and go back to work. But members of the crowd saw two things as triggering the riotous acts that took place. One was the crowd attitude to the presence of the police. A portion of the crowd marched singing then turned their attention away from diplomacy and bargaining and began to take their frustrations out on Bay Street. Monday morning sounded like the buzzing of bees as a near by woman sat on her porch. The low buzz got louder and louder as thousands of men and women marched to over the hill from their worksite on their way downtown. Shortly after they arrived on Bay Street the low buzz grew in volume and Intensity and eventually erupted into yells and shattering glass as the crowd rioted and looted the stores. They moved down Bay Street smashing car windows and breaking storefronts. It seem that the people that broke windows were not the same people who were later looting the stores. They lashed out at the shops and the automobiles that were parked on Bay Street. After allowing the rioters and looters free reign on Bay Street for most of the morning , force comprised of police officers and a group of Scottish soldiers who were stationed in Nassau to protect the Duke Of Windsor. This worked and by midday they managed to push most of the crowd over the hill to the poorer neighborhoods outside the city center. There was a standoff in the Grant’s Town area at Cotton Tree and Blue Hill Road between a small crowd of rioters and about forty police officers and soldiers. The crowd was throwing rocks at the officers. During this standoff, one civilian was shot and killed, another was shot and eventually died in the hospital. Also five men were wounded and recovered. The city was in a state of emergency, and in mayhem. The anger vented by the rioters was reflective of the dissatisfactions felt by the entire black working class not just the workers on the Project. Their fight was not against an inadequate welfare system but against a system that oppressed the black majority in the Bahamas. The riot would result in a movement whose final triumph would be majority rule and the dismantling of the system of apartheid that inhibited Bahamian blacks socially. The riot however was more than an isolated act of venting. And although a powerful symbol of black agency that has been referenced again and again in the political struggles of Bahamian blacks. It was considered the first shot in the battle for political change in the Bahamas. At the time of the riot, political and economic life in Nassau was controlled by a small group of white merchants who had there headquarters on Bay Street. The riot marked the first time that a cross-section of black workers skilled and unskilled from all over the Bahamas stood together in a common cause. Although the workers were protesting against what they considered unreasonably low and unfair wages, more generally they were bothered by economic injustice. Fairness was really the issue here. Moreover, the workers were told understandably, albeit mistakenly, believed that the Bay street Boys were to blame for the injustice, they had been mistreated in the past by the Bay Street Boys, injustice bore their fingerprints. As a consequence of the riot, the first awakenings of a new political awareness began to be felt in the hearts of black people, time and the remarkable foresight, courage and initiative of a few dedicated members of that majority were all that were required to crystallize this awareness into a mighty political force.

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