For more than four decades in The Bahamas, stretching back to 1968, successive governments have failed properly to recognise and pay tribute to nationals who have contributed significantly to the development first of the colony, and then of the Bahamian nation.
Back in June 1972 as the Progressive Liberal Party government had set out the terms of independence the following year, the government caused the House of Assembly to pass a Special Resolution honouring and acclaiming the late Sir Milo Butler as a National Hero.
Independence came on 10 July 1973, and on 1 August that year Milo Butler, having been knighted in the queen’s 1973 Birthday Honours, was sworn in as the first Bahamian governor-general.
All that was quite fitting, yet at the time there were yet alive three Bahamians whose early vision, defiance, and revolutionary spirit had initially set the stage for majority rule, and for independence.
They were Henry Milton Taylor, Cyril St. John Stevenson, and William Wilton Cartwright. The three had established the Progressive Liberal Party in September 1953, twenty years before independence.
All three, to one degree or another, had suffered deprivation and dispossession because of what they had dared to do blatantly in the face of the oligarchical regime then governing the colony, yet, quite frankly, successive new peoples’ governments had failed to go again to Parliament with a proposition of new Special Resolutions to designate the three as national heroes.
A new government of the Free National Movement came to office in 1992, serving until 2002, when the PLP again became the government for a single term. This was succeeded in 2007 by the FNM, which served until May of 2012, when the PLP again became the government.
By May of this year two of the three founders of the PLP – Sir Henry Taylor and Cyril Stevenson – had already passed on to another kind of glory, but the third founder, the final keeper of that original revolutionary flame, William Cartwright, was still barely alive, in a home for the aged, cared for, literally, by good Samaritans.
That was until one month following this year’s general elections. In a way, the chronicle of Bill Cartwright continues to be a sort of neverending story in The Bahamas, and perhaps rightfully it ought to be, all things considered.
Finally this past Monday we laid William Wilton Joseph Cartwright to rest in Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Cemetery on Shirley Street, following a two-hour funeral service at the Anglican Church of St. Gregory the Great on Carmichael Road.
Bill Cartwright, as noted, was one of the three founders of the Progressive Liberal Party. He passed away on 7 June, four months short of his 90th birthday.
The funeral, if one may be forgiven such a description of such a traditionally sad and mournful affair, was a splendid occasion upon which leading representatives of Church and State spoke of the departed social and political revolutionary in quite fitting terms, with family members and others in the church nodding in quiet acknowledgement.
Among those in attendance was the Roman Archbishop Patrick Pinder, no doubt in recognition of the fact that William Cartwright had for most of his life been a practising Roman Catholic.
There were no tears shed.
Regardless of the disconsolate condition of his final years, when Bill Cartwright was forced to lean so heavily on the care and kindness of strangers, there was a diverse number of Bahamians who could relate to several stages of his life, either directly or else through tales told by their elders.
For example, one such was a fellow named Samuel Alexander Miller II, who was about 13 years younger than Bill Cartwright, but who was funeralised at Bethel Baptist Church on Meeting Street on Saturday 16 June this year, two days before Bill.
They used to call him “Bodyguard”, and he hailed originally from Knowles, Cat Island. In his final years he resided in a building at the corner of West and South Streets, opposite the gas station.
Even when Bodyguard’s health began to fail, he would sit inside the door of the residence, watching the world pass by unless and until some friend stopped by to say hello and spend some caring, quality time with him.
Each day a few years back he used to make his way slowly down West Street to sit and chat with regulars at the Bethel-Robertson bar near to Meadow’s Street, and often he would move across the street under the fig tree where he sat on a bench or box and impart pearls of wisdom to the eager, thirsty souls who desired to know, such as The White Boy.
Bodyguard delighted especially in relating old time stories of Cat Island, and we vividly remember his versions of some of the things that happened back in 1949 when Bill Cartwright was making his first bid to become an elected Member if the House of Assembly for that district.
That was about four years before the establishment of the PLP, and Cartwright was at the time an enterprising relatively young Bahamian in the real estate business, with an office on Bay Street.
Bodyguard told of how Cartwright had gone ahead as an independent and nominated to run for one of the two Cat Island seats. At that time Cat Island was pretty much a political stronghold of the powerful Harold G. Christie, but apparently that did not faze Bill Cartwright.
On the last night of his campaign, Bill Cartwright took along his old friend, Dr. Claudius Roland Walker, who was one of the candidates for the Southern District of New Providence, and who was considered a man of great persuasion on the campaign trail.
Cartwright especially wanted Dr. Walker to help him convince the patriarch of The Bight settlement, Sammie Swain, that for the first time he should consider voting for a black man.
Cat Island was a two-man constituency, and Dr. Walker appealed to Sammie Swain to try at least to convince the people to split their votes. Later Bill Cartwright was to tell of how greatly impressed he was with the powerful argument advanced by Dr. Walker, who had already won his New Providence seat.
The Cat Island candidate then put to Swain the plain question concerning the way the patriarch would vote the following day, and persuade others to vote.
Sammie Swain, after thinking deeply, informed Bill Cartwright that he, Swain, was fond of both Bill Cartwright and Harold Christie, so what he planned to do was to vote for Christie, and pray for Cartwright.
Both Christie and Cartwright won the Cat Island seats, and four years later he went on, with Taylor and Stevenson, to establish the PLP. In 1972, the bulk of the political movers and shakers in the new Free National Movement had actually been at the heart of the PLP before disenchantment had set in.
In fact at the outset, the original members of the Free PLP used to boast that they were indeed the “keepers of the dream” – the dream of freedom and social and political development initially advanced back in September 1953 when Bill Cartwright and two other Bahamian visionaries look that quantum political leap.
Now Bill Cartwright is gone, but his and how two valiant founders of the PLP will be a neverending story in the modern Bahamas, and beyond . . . for what it’s worth.