Oswald Brown Writes!
By OSWALD T. BROWN
“It is better to be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” The truth inherent in this sage axiom currently is being proven in a number of posts on Facebook in response to the decision by the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) government to rename the Paradise Island Bridge in honour of Sir Sidney Poitier, the internationally acclaimed Bahamian-American actor, to launch the activities being put in place for 40th anniversary celebrations of The Bahamas’ attainment of independence.
Virtually all of the comments that have been posted so far have been very critical of the government’s decision. One person even asked this stupid question: “Other than being Bahamian what has Sidney Poitier done for The Bahamas?”
Young persons who never developed a love for reading can be forgiven for not being aware of the immense contributions made to this country by arguably The Bahamas’ most famous “son,” but there are some surprisingly negative comments from some older persons who should know better and most certainly should be aware of the significant role Sir Sidney played in The Bahamas’ struggle for majority rule in the 1960s.
What many Bahamians tend to forget is that the struggle by black Bahamians against racism and for equal rights in this country was waged simultaneously with the civil rights struggle in the United States, where racism was sanction by law. Sir Sidney was actually born in Miami, Florida, and as an American citizen by birth he was one of the celebrity activists very much involved in the American civil rights struggle, working alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders in the United States in the 1960s.
But he never forgot his Bahamian “roots.” How could he? He was just a few months old when his parents, Reginald and Evelyn Poitier, returned to Cat Island from Miami, and Sidney spent his boyhood days in The Bahamas. The remarkable story of how he became one of the world’s greatest actors has been well documented. As noted in Wikipedia, the Internet online encyclopaedia, at the age of 10, his family moved to New Providence from Cat Island and the age of 15 was sent back to Miami to live with his brother. Subsequently, he moved to New York at the age of 17 and held “a string of jobs as a dishwasher.” The rest of the life story of this remarkable Bahamian-American is template for achieving success through sheer grit and determination to succeed in his chosen profession.
What has Sir Sidney done for The Bahamas? During his involvement with civil rights movement in the United States in the 1960s, it was well known at the time that Sir Sidney used his celebrity status to focus attention on the concomitant struggle for equal rights and to stamp out racism in The Bahamas.
This was around the time when his acting career was in “high gear.” I recall that I was a young reporter at The Tribune when he became the first black person to win an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in “Lilies of the Field” in 1963, and I covered the gala dinner held in his honour at the British Colonial Hotel following a massive welcome-home motorcade through the streets of Nassau.
It is important to keep in mind that the United Bahamian Party (UBP) was the then government, and although I can’t quote verbatim any portion of the powerful speech Sir Sidney delivered in thanking the UBP for honouring him so lavishly, I do remember how proud I was listening to my “black brother” talk about the evils of racism and its undesirable existence in The Bahamas. Surely, this national recognition by the UBP of Sir Sidney’s accomplishment as an actor, just a year or so after the Savoy Theatre on Bay Street had been integrated, must have stoked the simmering embers of discontent among politically active young blacks involved in the “quiet revolution” and helped bring about the downfall of the UBP in the historic January 10, 1967, general election.
Obviously, Sir Sidney was very pleased with the outcome of that election because he was present at the opening of the House following the election along with several of his celebrity friends, including Bill Cosby, Sammy Davis Jr., and Clarence Williams III, one of the stars of The Mod Squad, one of the top-rated television shows in 1967.
This was also the year when Sir Sidney became the movie industry’s Top Box Office star of the Year with three successful films: To Sir, with Love; In the Heat of the Night; and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.
Given this fact, Sidney Poitier’s name and accomplishments are known in every corner of the world and I am sure that he’s recognized primarily as a great Bahamian actor. To be sure, it is impossible to put a “dollar value” on what this has meant to a tourist destination like The Bahamas.
So let me congratulate my good friend Charles Carter and Dr. Nicollette Bethel, co-chairs of the Bahamas’ 40th Independence Anniversary Steering Committee, for recognizing someone who is indeed well deserving of such a high honour for his invaluable contributions to this country.