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A message from Mazumbo

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Greetings, today’s generations. This is the “spirit” of E.F. Gordon offering some perspective and hoping it may help you engage this challenging period in human history. Of course, I can speak only from my own experiences.

E.F. Gordon, the founding father of the labour movement, 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 S.S. Toddings, a Member of the Colonial Parliament who was publisher and editor of the Mid-Ocean News

My journey began in Trinidad back on March 20, 1895, 60-odd years after emancipation in the British Empire. My father was Trinidadian, while my mother originated from the Cape Verde Islands, a Portuguese colony near Africa. That diverse background offered me some global perspective.

Historic service to the island: E.F. Gordon championed the cause of Bermuda's workers

I grew up with a love for learning and a passion for cricket. My family had the means in January 1912 to send me 4,500 miles to Scotland, where I lived with a local family. I successfully completed my A levels while spending spare time enjoying cricket. I chose to pursue medicine upon acceptance into Edinburgh University in 1912.

Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda

It was there I met my wife, Clara, a native of Dominica — one of the few female medical students. We married while students and, as our family expanded, Clara sacrificed her dream of becoming a physician.

Other choices may have been made with the benefit of hindsight.

Those years were shadowed by the onset of the First World War in 1914. That tragedy involved world powers demonstrating extremes of man’s inhumanity. Edinburgh’s hospital was inundated with the war’s seriously wounded.

By my graduation in 1918, the war had ended, but while Europe attempted to revive from its collective insanity, the Spanish flu pandemic began. It was in those circumstances that I began my medical career in Scotland.

In 1921, our family moved to Trinidad where I practised for a while before being offered the role of Chief Medical Supervisor in Dominica. In 1924, I was approached by Bermudian entrepreneur William Robinson to come to Bermuda to replace the recently deceased Dr Packwood in Somerset — and I accepted.

I found aspects of Bermuda society unpalatable, notably the racial discrimination. While I noticed people complaining, there seemed little effort in promoting progress. I eventually began writing Letters to the Editor, especially regarding the policy excluding Black nurses from the hospital and parish system.

I maintained my passion for cricket, assisting Alma “Champ” Hunt in getting a trial for the West Indies team and subsequently facilitating that legend’s career in Scotland during the 1930s.

Concerned about the lack of progress in the island, I ran for Parliament — notwithstanding the undemocratic system — in 1933 and 1943 but without success.

The year 1944 proved to be pivotal, when Eustace Cann played a key role in the parliamentary success — on April 21 — for the 26-year-long Suffragette Campaign, gaining for women the right to vote. This became a lesson from me, as I had maintained the approach of progressives calling for “all or nothing” on voting rights.

Dr Cann’s out-of-the-box approach very soon gained the attention of local artisans in a labour dispute at the United States Naval. Base in Southampton. They requested Dr Cann’s assistance, leading to the founding of the Bermuda Workers Association, which was formalised in July 1944 with myself as the first president.

Over the next two years, the BWA grew and I was successfully elected to Parliament, representing St George’s. In addition, in 1946, we launched a petition campaign throughout the island addressing segregation, the right to vote, education and other matters, garnering 5,000 supporters

That same year, legislation was passed restricting the BWA, so the organisation was restructured and the Bermuda Industrial Union was formed as a result.

In 1947, I personally delivered the petition to London and, while it received support, the local power brokers were unmoved. The campaign had enlightened our community, in which only 7 per cent of the population enjoyed the right to vote. One outcome was free primary education; that landmark became the first domino in the transformation of Bermuda.

It was also in 1947 that I decided to formally change my name to Mazumbo, embracing my African roots, as I protested parliamentary shenanigans.

In 1948, I lost my seat in an election, as I was focused on a strike by longshoremen. I became depressed as a result, but members of our community rallied around and in 1953 I was re-elected to Parliament. That November, I led a quiet protest against segregation during the visit of the new Queen, Elizabeth II, and received support from four British newspapers and 40 British MPs.

I died on April 20, 1955 of a heart attack at the age of 60.

I’m credited for championing a transformative movement involving so many in postwar Bermuda, which provided the foundation for the Island to develop into a democratic society. Out of the mistakes and successes of that journey, and with the benefit of hindsight, let me offer a few pointers:

• Think globally but act locally

• Be at home in your own skin, wherever you find yourself

• Always be opened to learning, as Dr Cann demonstrated by thinking outside the box

• Remember that the rights of women are equal to those of men

• Mistakes are only guideposts for growth

• Rather than complain, foster progress

Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda

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Published March 22, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated March 21, 2021 at 12:54 pm)

A message from Mazumbo

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