“Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word,
\for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.”
A few weeks back in this space we wrote of William W. Cartwright as the only surviving member of a trio of gallant Bahamians who, back in 1953, founded the Progressive Liberal Party as a political organisation purposed and propelled by what at the time seemed an impossible dream.
That purpose was to leave no stone unturned in an arduous and ambitious mission to lead the struggle for social and economic justice and equality for all Bahamians.
For the past few years Mr. Cartwright had been residing and cared for at Good Samaritan Home in Yellow Elder Gardens, where, less than a month ago he had been paid a visit by Governor General Sir Arthur Foulkes, a journalist who was employed at the Nassau Daily Tribune at the time of the establishment of the PLP.
An astute Sir Arthur, who eventually became news editor at the Tribune. would have been thoroughly familiar with the revolutionary feat carried out by Bill Cartwright and the other two co-founders, the late Sir Henry Taylor and Cyril St. John Stevenson.
In fact before long Sir Arthur went on to become a member of the PLP.
At the time he co-founded the PLP, Bill Cartwright was an independent Member of the House of Assembly for Cat Island, having been elected in 1949, and served for a single term. In the 1956 elections, the PLP nominated Arthur Hanna and Samuel White, father of The White Boy.
Cartwright, Taylor and Stevenson, all mulattos, suffered greatly at the hand of Bay Street for having dared to spearhead an organisation of largely black Bahamians whose common and greatest enemy was Bay Street, but Cartwright, an enterprising realtor, probably fared better than the rest through his sheer tenacity for survival.
In fact in 1952, even before the birth of the PLP, he had founder the Bahamian Review, the Bahamas’ first monthly new magazine which flourished, again despite the deliberate efforts of Bay Street to withhold vital advertising.
In the meantime in 1954, recognising the party’s need for an effective communications medium, and no doubt pressed by Cyril Stevenson in that regard, Bill Cartwright furnished the funds for the purchase on The Herald, a weekly tabloid that had been established in 1937 by Jack Stanley Lowe.
The paper, edited by Cyril Stevenson who had resigned as a senior reporter for Bay Street’s Nassau Guardian, became the major mouthpiece for the Progressive Liberal Party, and was to remain that important communications medium for the party almost up to the critical 1967 general elections, by which time both Stevenson and Taylor had been edged out of the party.
Throughout the years, however, Bay Street in its determination to hold on to political supremacy in The Bahamas, was relentless in its machinations to maintain that control in the face of the swelling popularity of the PLP.
Eventually as the economic screws were tightened and for other pressing reasons, Bill Cartwright stepped back from the front line of PLP politics, and was for years to remain but an avid and fully understanding observer of the passing political scene he had been fundamental in changing.
In fact for a long time following the advent of majority rule when the PLP was the government of The Bahamas, Bill Cartwright, for his own very good reasons, preferred that he not be publicly identified as one of the founders of the PLP, and in that regard personally sought the cooperation of some local publishers.
For years Bill Cartwright sought in one way or another to continue in the publishing field, and as late as 2001 had grandiose plans to publish a comprehensive book, Builders of The Bahamas, in which he intended to capture vignettes of the lives of dozens of Bahamians who had figured with some prominence in the process of making The Bahamas what it is today.
On that ambitious project he had solicited the partnership and assistance of The White Boy, who marvelled, quietly, that Bill Cartwright had not included himself in that list of builders, despite the fact that he had been one of three architects of the modern Bahamas.
On that publishing mission just over a decade ago, Bill Cartwright could be observed walking about town, primarily in the Palmdale, Village Road, and Shirley Street areas, with a knapsack containing the elements of his dreams, offering a cherry “morning” or “afternoon” to friend and stranger alike.
In his time Bill Cartwright when he operated his real estate business on Bay Street downstairs the Psilinakis Building, was a fairly short, freckled-faced natty dresser with an infectious smile who in fact had his way with the ladies, having stepped down the aisle more than once.
He had fearlessly played his historic revolutionary role as a political reformer, setting the stage for others to grasp the baton and run with equal fearlessness to the finish line. Then he stepped back from that front line leaving it to successive generations to continue on that mission.
He did not stick around like a political anachronism, standing selfishly in the way of other, young Bahamians like Lynden Pindling and Cecil Wallace Whitfield and Orville Turnquest, overlapping their moments in time, and in stepping back as he did he was providing an example for others who stubbornly hang on when time is clearly up.
Bill Cartwright passed away last week at the age of 89, three and a half weeks after the Progressive Liberal Party had gained its eighth general election victory in The Bahamas. In all the years since he had dropped out of the political limelight, this is what he said with regard to the PLP’s May 7th win:
“Now I can go. I can leave now. I wanted to make sure the PLP won the election.”
It was, in modern political poetry, a sentiment taken almost straight out of St. Luke’s biblical account of the occasion upon when the young Jesus was brought to the aging Simeon for a blessing. The old man held up the child and uttered, “Lord, now lettest Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou has set before all people; a light to lighten the gentiles . . . ”
Opposition deputy leader Loretta Butler-Turner noted in Parliament last week that “We are where we are today as a nation in terms of our democratic heritage in no small measure because of William Cartwright. . . He is in his own right a founder of the modern Bahamas. We owe him a deep debt of gratitude.”
Also in Parliament prime minister Perry Christie, describing Bill Cartwright, said: “He was always at pains to play down the historical role he had played in laying the foundations for party politics in The Bahamas. Although he personally suffered a great deal for that, and for his courageous battle against the racial and economic injustices of his day . . . he was a man of enormous goodwill, and a spirit of reconciliation was deeply embedded in his character.”
Mr. Christie announced that the government will accord Bill Cartwright a state-recognised funeral, which means essentially that the government will through the cabinet office provide the printed funeral programmes and the necessary protocol arrangements at the church, perhaps with such other assistance as police escorts.
Yet a state recognised funeral means also that the family of the deceased must bear the essential costs of the funeral. It is widely believed that Bill Cartwright was far from a wealthy man.
The nation will wait to see whether in the circumstances the Progressive Liberal Party steps up to the plate and bear the expenses of the burial of the party’s final illustrious founding father.