Remembering Mazumbo, a dynamic freedom fighter

  • Flashback: In the photograph on the right, labour movement founding father Dr EF Gordon (also on the left and in the top photograph) meets The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in St George’s Town Square in 1953. Dr Gordon, who became known as Mazumbo, is preceded by SS Toddings, MCP, who was publisher and editor of the Mid-Ocean News

    Flashback: In the photograph on the right, labour movement founding father Dr EF Gordon (also on the left and in the top photograph) meets The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in St George’s Town Square in 1953. Dr Gordon, who became known as Mazumbo, is preceded by SS Toddings, MCP, who was publisher and editor of the Mid-Ocean News

Yours truly acknowledges the effort of Mr. Glen Fubler and his associates in highlighting the 120th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Fitzgerald Gordon. Fubler cited individuals and groups relating to Gordon and his efforts on behalf of Bermuda and her people. Having been closely associated with Gordon and recorded his sentiments, Freedom Fighters from Monk to Mazumbo, an historical biography by Ira Philip was the outcome of my close personal relation with Gordon.

It was in 1924, when the Trinidadian born Gordon arrived in Bermuda. Dr. Gordon was recruited to fill the void caused by the death of Somerset-based Dr. Packwood.

He had been persuaded to come by one of the Island’s leading black entrepreneurs, Mr. William H Robinson a wealthy land owner who operated a chain of grocery and dry good stores in Sandys Parish.

Mr. Robinson was on one of his regular buying trips to the West Indies when he met the Doctor in Dominica.

Dr Gordon spent his first night in Bermuda in the merchant’s home at Somerset Bridge. He soon established his own residence and surgery at Heathcoat Hill.

Edgar left Trinidad as a teenager to study medicine at Edinburgh University in Scotland.

In Trinidad, he was one of the most brilliant scholars to graduate from Queen’s Royal College. He qualified as a doctor at Edinburgh at the age of 23.

Dr Gordon was a feared man, even before he set foot in Bermuda. His qualifications were impeccable.

He was black and proud. Moreover he was being sponsored by so-called “racemen”, the label placed on the likes of William Robinson who would not kowtow to the ruling families. Despite his degree and years of practice, he was required by the Medical Board to sit what he termed an almost impossible examination.

To their dismay he passed, and they were obliged to permit him practice medicine in Bermuda.

Dr Gordon was never to forget this calculated insult to his intelligence and his dignity.

And neither was he to be forgotten or forgiven by the establishment for having the temerity to excel.

He would never be allowed to practise in the only hospital in the land, as that institution, aided by public funds, was for white doctors and nurses only.

The establishment went to great lengths to discredit him at every turn.

The minutes of meetings with the establishment would never reflect his professional designation Dr. And would otherwise show that E F Gordon et al were present.

Normal greetings for Dr Gordon and his associates. would be by the salutation “What do you byes want?”

The word “byes” was used contemptuously in “Bermuda Speak” to demean Dr Gordon and his associates — a way and means of calling grown and highly professional black men “BOYS.” Perhaps, the import and connotation of this word is lost to many modern day commentators.

Dr Gordon established his own surgery, to which people of all strata of the community flocked.

As a physician, it soon became known far and wide that he possessed extraordinarily rare diagnostic skills.

He dispensed his own medicine and many tales emerged about the efficacy of his treatments.

Outside of his surgery, this dapper, somewhat diminutive man developed an early following amongst the youth of the community. He had tremendous appeal to the youth of the community who liked his dashing style and his outright irreverence for unenlightened authority . Many became known as “Gordinites”

The year 1933 was crucial one for Dr Gordon. He was prepared to make his first bid for elective office in the General Election that May. He lost the election.

Despite the colour bar, Dr Gordon saw a strong proclivity on the part of the ordinary black and white Bermudians to be friendly. He diagnosed the Island’s problem to be economic and not racial.

Segregation was an instrument of economic exploitation.

He tried to point out to poor whites that they were victimised as much as by government’s policies, and often times were more disadvantaged, particularly in the areas of education and sports.

Despite the dual school system many poor whites and Portuguese attended so-called black schools.

They were more affordable than the class conscious white schools.

Dr Gordon accepted that when all other things were taken into account, that elections in Bermuda boiled down to a white versus black issue, and a question of which blacks were more acceptable to the white power structure.

He advocated having as many blacks running on a single ticket rather than against each other, splitting their votes.

It was therefore a major political coup in the General election of 1943 when he was able to get the favoured black candidate in Hamilton Parish, W B Furbert, to agree to form with him a workingman’s ticket.

On the eve of the election it became abundantly clear that Furbert had struck a deal with Front Street

What follows is an excerpt from a letter to the editor, dated May 27, 1943 in which, among other things, Dr Gordon wrote: “I am proud of the incident that your paper so glibly described as a “disturbance created” by me at the so-called Political Meeting in Sandys Parish on the 26th instant.

“I am and will always be proud at asking prospective candidates questions on subjects that concern the very existence of the coloured people of Bermuda.

“In my opinion there is too much callousness and lackadaisical conduct of the “freed slave” of this country.

“At best it is more than revolting to find people whose main objective in life is to be sycophants and “Uncle Toms.”

“They may have their objective of taking the line of least resistance, because they do not realise the power of the franchise; but I loath and despise them for their very indifference to their on interest... Bermuda’s motto “Quo Fata Ferunt” which means “Whither the Fates lead us,” and I am afraid that is taken too literally by an illiterate majority....”

In commemoration of Dr E F Gordon there could be a no more fitting summation of the man and his contribution than that of Dr Eva Hodgson, the author of SECOND CLASS CITIZEN: FIRST CLASS MEN:

“Dr. Gordon was a dynamic man, arrogant, brilliant, imperfect, but the one man, more than any other, who had tried and succeeded in awakening a political consciousnesses among the labouring classes and the masses of Black People, an awakening which was sporadic and like a candle flickered and sometimes seemed to die completely. Nonetheless, he had shown black and white the importance of an organized, politically conscious populace.

“It was a lesson which they did not really learn completely either then or for years to come. But he had given them an experience and, even without any political gains, for the black people, that was important.”

MAZUMBO was gone. The Recorder lamented his passing, noting: “No other man in this country had so fired the imagination and altered the inarticulate masses as he did.”

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Published Mar 21, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated Mar 21, 2015 at 8:12 am)

Remembering Mazumbo, a dynamic freedom fighter

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