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|The 1960s in the USA: A Bahamian Perspective (Bahama Journal)|
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|Posted by:||May 8th 2005, 12:56:25 pm|
|Fig Tree News Team||6th May
My Tuskegee Years: The Decade of The 60’s
May 5th of this week marked the 40th anniversary of my graduation from Tuskegee University, formerly Tuskegee Institute. It was at this institution, founded by Booke T. Washington in 1881, that I began my collegiate years.
My attendance covered the years from 1961 to 1965. It was during the decade of the 60s, which for many, was a notable epoch in world history. It was a time of voluminous changes in the global society and a period which, perhaps more than any since the post war (World War II), shaped the world in which we live today. Overall, it was a momentous time.
World War II had created a new sense of independence around the globe. The Marshall Plan, sponsored by the United States, was established to rebuild Europe which had been devastated by a war which also affected the Pacific and many of the Asian countries and eventually leading into the Korean War. In all of this, the United States emerged as a super power, not only militaristically but also economically.
It is this economic power that The Bahamas benefited as its economy was transformed from one based on farming and fishing to one based on tourism and banking. This transformation from a tranquil fishing village type country to a bustling urban society was the impetus which created a new self-awareness in The Bahamian people.
From 1949, The Bahamas began its conversion from a seasonal tourism to a year round holiday paradise. Hotels were built and resorts established. There was now movement of people from the Family Islands to New Providence to participate in the Nassau-based tourism product. By 1955, the government of The Bahamas signed the Hawsbill Creek Agreement which would create Freeport on Grand Bahama.
Politically, Bahamians were no longer prepared to cow-tow to the Bay Street oligarchy of merchants who welded not only economic power but also political power. This culminated with two events which forever changed the course of socio-economic and political development in The Bahamas. These two events were the formation of the first political party, the Progressive Liberal Party and the General Strike.
This was followed by three other events – Black Tuesday, the granting of Universal Adult Suffrage and Majority Rule. It was this political ferment which set the stage for my attendance at Tuskegee.
The Global Scene
Globally, the changes were just as dramatic. India under Gandhi started the march for independence which eventually marked the destruction of colonialism and the demise of the British Empire. With India setting the pace, The Gold Coast under Kwane Nkhmwah followed becoming the first Black African colony to gain independence from Britain as Ghana. The trend had been established and eventually it would reach the Caribbean in 1960’s with Jamaica, followed by Trinidad and Tobago.
In the United States, Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama decided that she was tired of sitting at the back of the bus. Her action launched the Civil Rights Movement under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., then a Pastor of a Montgomery Baptist Church. The Civil Rights Movement gained legitimacy as its approach to the civil inequalities faced by Black Americans was based on Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence which was also Gandhi’s tactic in fighting the British and eventually drawing them out of India.
America was further engulfed with Vietnam War, inner city riots in places like Watts, a suburb of Los Angeles and Detroit Michigan, the Black Power Movement led by Stokley Carmichael, the rise of the Black Muslims under Elizah Mohammed and Malcolm X and the drive for women’s rights under the Women’s Liberation Movement. All of these factors and events impacted my four years at Tuskegee University.
Civil Rights Marches
Memorable among these were the two marches, the March from Selma to Montgomery when the Civil Rights Movement under Dr. King defied the southern oligarchy much in the same way as the labour movement in The Bahamas defied the Bay Street oligarchy with the General Strike in 1956. Non-violent civil disobedience in an unjust and immoral political system was the answer.
Then there was the glorious March on Washington when Dr. King gave his now famous, "I Have A Dream" speech. This culminated in President Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act.
The Assassinations, Motown and Sports
Along with the advances, there were loses. One can remember the November Friday when President John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas, Texas. One can also remember the murder of Dr. King in Memphis, Tennessee. One can also remember the student riot in Europe and Enoch Powell, the British Member of Parliament, predicting the Thames River running red with the blood of West Indian immigrants who were being perceived as a threat to the British way of life.
Musically, the Beatles and Motown had become the sounds of the decade. It was Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown, who gave the world the Temptations, The Four Tops, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and others.
It was also a period which marked the ascendancy to the Black Athlete. Sir Frank Worrell to be followed by Sir Gary Sobers had molded the West Indies Cricket Team to become the best in the world. At home, Tommy Robinson, Andre Rodgers and Tony Carry had set a new path for young athletes to follow. Mohammad Ali, formerly Cassius Clay, would establish his legacy not only as the heavy weight champion, but as a global sporting icon.
The New Bahamas
On January 10th, 1967, almost 129 after the abolition of slavery, Bahamians who represented the majority of the people in the archipelago would have the opportunity to govern themselves. This would give rise to a new sense of nationalism. It was a nationalism which would foster nation-building as the New Bahamians would step forward to play a new and different role in the life and times of The Bahamas.
This was The Bahamas to which I returned in July, 1968 as a fully trained agriculturalist to join a Ministry of Agriculture which even though colonial dominated would implement policies and programmes devised by the government of the people. In retrospect, it was a magnificent decade and it ushered in the New Bahamas.
The Tuskegee Years
Spending four years in the 60s, one was also able to live in a region of America that was undergoing social change. The Southern United States was being transformed initially through the integration process from a segregated society to a totally integrated one. In 1961 when I left The Bahamas, I traveled to Alabama in the "coloured compartment" of a segregated rail system. By 1965, inter-state transportation facilities like train, bus stations and airports were integrated. Living through those years left an indelible mark on my psyche.
Attending Tuskegee University was not only an academic experience, it was also an education in the search of racial equality.
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