The formation of the Progressive Liberal Party

This article is courtesy of The Nassau Herald: The Voice of the Nation, Friday, November 25, 1983

November 23, 1953, was the official date of the founding of the Progressive Liberal Party. Months of feverish preparation by the founders and a small band of supporters finally led to the establishment of the first political party in the history of The Bahamas. There have been many published versions of the events leading up to the birth of the PLP. Few, however, provided an accurate account of the facts as they are known by the founders of the party. Here are the facts: William W. Cartwright and Cyril St. John Stevenson visited England in June of 1953 ostensibly to “cover” the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for “The Bahamian Review”, but with a firm determination to seek support and assistance from officials of the Labour Party and Fabian Society for the establishment of a political party in The Bahamas.

At the time, Mr. Cartwright was a member of the House of Assembly representing the Cat Island Constituency, and Mr. Stevenson was employed on the editorial staff of The Nassau Guardian. In London, the two men spent much of their time talking with Labour Party leaders, officials, and members of Parliament and with officials of the Fabian Society.

Encouraged by the outcome of their discussions, Mr. Stevenson and Mr. Cartwright returned to Nassau more determined than ever to put their plans into action. Within 10 days of their return, they left for Kingston, Jamaica, where they spent three weeks studying political planning and intelligence. They held discussions with Sir Alexander Bustamante, leader of the Jamaica Labour Party and Prime Minister Mr. Norman W. Manley, leader of the People’s National Party; the Hon. Rose Leon, minister of health and housing; and several other officials in the Jamaica Labour Party.

On their return to Nassau, they telephoned Mr. Henry M. Taylor (now Sir Henry) and told him what they planned to do. Sir Henry agreed to join them. The first meeting to lay the foundation of the party was held in Sir Henry’s home on East Street, opposite the Police Barracks. Subsequent meetings were held in Mr. Cartwright’s office in the Lightbourne Building, on the corner of Bay and Frederick Streets.

In October, a final decision was reached, and a working plan agreed upon. Out of thirty or more persons approached to take an active role, only six came forward. They were: Mr. Clement Pinder, Mr. Holberton “Holly” Brown, Mr. U.H. Knowles, Mr. John S. Carey, Mr. Paul Farrington, and Mr. Felix Russell. The group became the first self-appointed executive board and elected the following officers: Sir Henry, chairman; Mr. Stevenson, secretary-general; Mr. Carey, vice-chairman; Mr. Cartwright, treasurer, and Mr. Knowles, chaplain. Mr. Knowles, Mr. Russell, and Mr. Carey, members of the first executive board, are now deceased.

The first business to be dealt with by the new party was the choice of a name that would convey to the Bahamian people the direction the party would follow and at the same time provide a rhythmical sound when the first letters of the name were put together and used. A dozen or more names were submitted by the members of the executive board, and after careful consideration it was decided the name of the party should be the “Progressive Liberal Party” (PLP).

On November 23, the secretary-general announced to the Bahamian people the formation of the Progressive Liberal Party and the names of the officers and members of the executive board. The slate of officers and the executive board were subsequently ratified at the first convention of the party held at the Aurora Lodge Hall, at the top of Charlotte Street, on June 11, 1954.

Early in 1954 The Nassau Herald was resurrected and under the editorship of Mr. Stevenson, became the outspoken mouthpiece of the PLP. Its policy was the same as that of the new PLP: “To rid the country of a minority government that kept the masses in a state of poverty and deprived them of their basic fundamental human rights.”

In January 1954, Mr. Richard E. Ferguson, a merchant in the Coconut Grove area indicated his interest in working with the party. He invited party members to hold a public meeting in front of his store in the Grove. The meeting was well attended, and a number of persons signed the party’s pledge, solemnly promising “to accept the programme, principles, policies and to conform to the constitution and standing orders of the PLP and to support PLP candidates in all elections.” This was an historic meeting; it marked the formation of the first branch of the PLP. Mr. Ferguson, known as “Fergie”, will always be remembered as the first chairman of the first branch of the Progressive Liberal Party.

On April 17, 1954, Sir Henry, Mr. Carey and Sir Lynden visited Sandy Point, Abaco. They conducted the first PLP meeting to be held on that island. A party branch was formed. It was the third to be formed in the Family Islands. In the meantime, encouraging reports were received from Fresh Creek; Mr. Bain reported that over 100 Androsians had joined the party and paid their registration fees.

In late April, the PLP gave its unofficial approval for Messrs. Stevenson and Bain to contest the two Andros Island constituencies in the next general election, due to be held in 1956. The two men immediately set about establishing branches in every settlement in Andros, the largest island in The Bahamas chain. They toured the entire island, from Red Bay to Mars Bay, time and time again, preaching the gospel of the PLP wherever they went.

Among the important decisions taken by the executive board of the party during the early days was the adoption of the party’s flag, the official crest, the party’s colours, the PLP Salutation and the selection of the official song. These were subsequently ratified by the first PLP convention held on Friday afternoon and evening, June 11, 1954, at the Aurora Hall.

Over 500 Party members attended, and adopted the party’s platform for the year ending June 1955. It was a history making occasion for the nine-month-old political party and members of the executive board. Many delegates came from the Family Islands and took part in debate.

Reporting on the activities of the party since its inception, the secretary-general said: “At the present time there are over 1,000 members of the PLP in Andros, Bimini, Abaco, Long Island, Cat Island and New Providence. The membership roll is continuing to swell, and by the beginning of 1955, we hope to have 3,000 members to support our cause.”

The slate of officers appointed at the inception of the party was elected by the convention for one year.

As the PLP grew in membership and stature it attracted a number of prominent Bahamians to its leadership.

This historical sketch of the early days of the PLP would not be complete if inference was not made to the outstanding contribution by the women’s branches of the party.

Unheralded and fired with courage and devotion beyond the call of duty, these dedicated souls worked unceasingly in the cause of the party. They were in the forefront of all fund-raising drives, and their presence was strongly felt in all areas of the party’s activities. To name them all would be an impossible task. To say that the country would remember them with gratitude would be the whole truth.

On May 6, 1954, almost 100 members of The Bahamas Taxi Cab Union assembled in the Mother’s Club, East Street, to hear the chairman of the party and members of the executive board outline the party’s progress since its inception. On this occasion, Sir Lynden spoke at length on unions, and urged the members to work together for the good of the party.

As a result of this meeting, the president of the union, Mr. P.A. Huyler, appointed a committee to consider the advisability of forming a PLP branch for union members.

This was one of the most important developments in the life of the party. The Taxi Cab Union was a powerful organization. If it could be encouraged to cast its lot with the PLP, the party would be well on the road to political success. On June 16, 1954, a PLP committee, headed by Sir Lynden, and a committee headed by Mr. Huyler met and worked out plans to enable the union to throw its full support behind the eight-month-old political party.

The PLP went into the general election of 1956 confident of victory. The party emerged with six members, polling 33 percent of the total number of votes cast.

On July 10, a significant date in the history of the PLP, the six members, took their seats in the House of Assembly, led by the party leader.

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