Anniversary of hope
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly”
This quote from the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr captures a sentiment that speaks to these times. On this eve of the anniversary of the hangings of Erskine “Buck” Burrows and Larry Tacklyn in 1977, we reflect on how we regard the humanity of each other. All others.
MLK is calling on us to mindfully adjust our lens as we access — in the words of Marvin Gaye — “what’s going on”. This involves how we regard our neighbour or the circumstances taking place around the globe. Dr King is urging us to access empathy, and to appreciate the commonality of each other’s humanity.
I credit family, especially my mom and grandmother, for nurturing that sense in me. That foundation was supplemented in Sunday school, learning how “All the children of the world” are loved. Elliott School and my North Village neighbourhood also promoted sharing. Wynona Jennings left tiny Heard Chapel AME, which supported her in establishing an orphanage and school in the Liberian countryside.
It was at St Paul AME Sunday school that I learnt how conditions for some fellow classmates had resulted in them sheltering at Sunshine League. That foundation led me as an 11-year-old to donate to the Sunshine League my first wage — five shillings (about 70 cents today) — for working at Mrs Clark’s store during Christmas holidays.
That same spirit led me, upon returning from university in 1974, to organise a Burrows & Tacklyn Defence Fund when they were charged for the assassinations of the Governor, Sir Richard Sharples, aide-de-camp Captain Hugh Sayers and police commissioner George Duckett, as well as the Shopping Centre murders of Mark Doe and Victor Rego. While I didn’t know Burrows and Tacklyn, I had learnt that they had “raised themselves on the streets”, and both had experienced incarceration from very young.
Of course, given the punitive nature of our society in those days, and the victims involved, the majority of residents shied away from the matter. However, notwithstanding my membership in the Black Beret Cadre and the story suggesting Burrows and Tacklyn were linked to the cadre, I acted from that guiding spirit.
The late Dame Lois Browne-Evans followed her guidance by taking on their cases without financial considerations. (She did so notwithstanding the political cost, given the unpopular circumstances.) Others shared that spirit: musicians offered their talents in jam sessions hosted by the Spinning Wheel nightclub. In an effort to promote this spirit, we organised a rally with the support of PHC and use of their stadium. Notable among those musicians was the diverse band Fame, the No 1 group in the island who played six nights a week at the Hamilton Princess.
After Burrows and Tacklyn had been convicted, we organised the Anti-Hanging Campaign. Despite community resistance, 7,000 signatures were eventually collected. Over many months, momentum grew locally, including last-minute, unanimous support at the parliamentary caucus of Britain’s governing Labour party. However, the Foreign Secretary had the last word. The hangings led to an angry reaction, the most violent weekend in the island’s history.
It is noteworthy that the weekend of December 2, 1977 saw the last of any widespread riots in Bermuda. Over subsequent decades, there is evidence that we have been moving in a direction spoken about by Dr King. Of course, more progress is needed in recognising that what is done to one is done to all.
Rather than act on Dr King’s call, the Gaza tragedy might tempt us to turn our heads away. The tragic action by Hamas on October 7 led to the deaths of 1,200 Israeli civilians, including 17 children. With well-publicised intentions, the Israeli war machine in six weeks has caused unprecedented destruction, a scenario summarised below:
• The equivalent of 1.5 Hiroshima bombs has been dropped on a landmass six times the size of Bermuda with 2.3 million people, two thirds of whom are women and children
• Fifteen thousand civilians have died, including more than 1,000 babies
Campaigning by Israeli hostages’ families and the global ceasefire campaign have helped to establish a temporary pause in fighting. This offers a beacon of hope for the possibility of what John F. Kennedy called for, only months before his assassination: steps towards genuine peace ... a peace for all.
Our thoughts, prayers and mindful actions can support that possibility.
• Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda