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A word of thanks and moment of pause for the trailblazers

A moment of pride: standing with Bermudian legend Walter Roberts (Photograph supplied)

“Rise up fallen fighters

Rise and take your stance again”

— Robert Nesta Marley

Last week we witnessed a combination of cries and celebrations.

Last week we witnessed a combination of tears and triumphs.

Last week we stood among giants and walked with legends.

On May 22, Bermuda stopped to recognise the 50th anniversary of the first General Election to be held under universal adult suffrage, which ensured that the eligibility to vote was based not on property ownership but on age alone.

Essentially, it allowed those of lower economic standing an equal footing, politically at least, as those of higher financial standing.

This fundamental right was not only given to Bermudians by the powers that be. This had to be an orchestrated effort from multiple angles, starting with those who formed the Committee for Universal Adult Suffrage.

While this was chaired by Pauulu Kamarakafego, the former Roosevelt Brown, it was revealed or reiterated by Glenn Fubler that the driving forces behind this committee were three ladies — the late Roslyn Williams, the late Edwena Smith and the very living Florenz Maxwell.

Hundreds of persons sat both in awe and tears at the home-going service for Edwena Smith, held on Monday at her home church of St Paul AME. A fitting venue, as it was in the very basement of this church that the CUAS was formed and agendas fleshed out more than 50 years ago.

I sat in the main hall of the very same church that enveloped my childhood years, envisioning the untold number of meetings held within those very walls. The hundreds, thousands, of St Paul members who served in both diligence and silence to birth social and political democracy in our island. Most of whom worked behind the scenes in whatever capacity that was needed, while others served on the front line of the war against racial inequality.

One such St Paul member, who wore several hats, is Progressive Labour Party stalwart and legend Stanley Morton.

Mr Morton was among those who were recently honoured at a special joint sitting of both the Upper House and Lower House on May 22. He was joined by others who ran in that historic first election.

Among those honoured as the Class of 1968 were the following:

• Former Speaker of the House Stanley Lowe

• C.V. “Jim” Woolridge

• Stanley Morton

• Walter Roberts

• William Cox

• Arthur Hodgson

• Howard Saltus

• Donald Jones

The latter two gentlemen, while never elected to Parliament, ran as candidates for the Progressive Labour Party in that historic 1968 election. Of note, Walter Roberts was first elected as a Member of the Colonial Parliament in the 1963 General Election.

During the special sitting, Mr Roberts gave a detailed presentation of many of the events leading up to the election itself:

• The facts around how most Bermudians were denied the right to vote before 1963

• The 1965 split within the PLP that led to the formation of the Bermuda Democratic Party

• The fight for universal adult suffrage

• The results of the 1968 election, when the PLP won eight out of 40 seats

• The pay that parliamentarians received

• His unmatched perfect attendance in the House for 35 years

Throughout the time that he spoke, you could hear a combination of pain, passion and purpose emanating from his heart and soul. In a hall full of politicians, spanning multiple generations, persons sat in awe at the history laid bare for all to absorb.

Fittingly, the Speaker of the House, Dennis Lister, arranged for Mr Roberts to speak from the government benches, as he had spent his entire political career in opposition. This was a special moment for someone well deserving.

Without a doubt, it is because of the works of those in both the background such as Edwena Smith, Florenz Maxwell, and those on the front lines such as Stanley Morton, Howard Saltus, Donald Jones and Walter Roberts that Bermudians enjoy the democracy that we have today.

Had they not been prepared to sacrifice it all for the betterment of those left behind, I do not know where we would be today as a country.

As we sit in our chairs in Parliament today, I challenge all of my fellow MPs, on both sides of the floor, to sit in silence for a few minutes to give thanks to the known and unknown freedom fighters who paved the way for us.

Rise and stand to honour them.

Christopher Famous is the government MP for Devonshire East (Constituency 11). You can reach him at WhatsApp on 599-0901 or e-mail at cfamous@plp.bm