Our Bermudian heritage: a time for reflection
For many senior Bermudians, Heritage Month is not only a time to celebrate our island home, but it is a good time to reflect on what qualities helped to bring us where we are today.
As one of those who still remembers life during the 1940s, it is truly amazing to recall how our struggle involved unjust social distances, which had nothing to do with any virus. Institutional racial segregation sadly was a part of our system, instigated as a means to prevent people of colour from opportunities open to the white society, whether they were qualified or not.
It was a sad time for Bermuda because our small population meant intermingling between the races could not be avoided, and despite outright racism, many blacks and whites managed strong relationships that might have been the pathway for change.
However, that change would involve painful moments in community life, as the agonising process to seek full recognition as equals was unstoppable.Something not mentioned too often is that the true Bermudian spirit between blacks and whites would become too strong for those who preferred the old system, where some were denied equal rights based on skin colour.
It would take many years to dismantle those social chains, and today, while it is still a work in progress, we would be in denial not to admit that we all have something to be proud about, in climbing those rocky hills of social injustice in search for a better Bermuda.
In a world of social injustice, those wronged could easily slip into a mode of wanting revenge, but that attitude reminds of an old saying, that anyone seeking revenge should first dig two graves. Hatred will always destroy the carrier. That is one disease that is harder to stamp out than the coronavirus.
America paid a heavy price with a civil war over hatred that claimed thousands of lives. That nation still has pockets of groups who openly display bitter resentment against those they feel are not like them.
It is important that our generation today fully understands that while there were social storms and storms from nature such as hurricanes to contend with, we as a people found ways to enjoy life, no matter what social obstacles existed.
Bermuda during those early years was far more spiritually based, with most children attending Sunday school throughout the island. It was the age of discipline in families, much of which has all but vanished in this modern age of changing behaviour patterns.
But that’s another story.
This is Heritage Month but on this occasion it must be observed with caution owing to the Covid-19 coronavirus, which has shattered the world order, claiming many lives and leading to lockdowns that have altered life on the planet.
Here in Bermuda, the lockdowns and cancellations of a number of summer social events have undoubtedly caused considerable disappointment and distress, as some people struggle to adapt to a health crisis that still poses a threat to life.
Times have changed. As a young boy back in the Forties, it was interesting to recall the spirit of sharing that was prevalent throughout the island, and I recall seeing some of this first-hand while spending a short period during summer months with the Minors family in St David’s. During those days, and even today, fishing was a daily activity — rain, blow or shine.
James Minors, head of the household where I stayed, on his return from a fishing trip would leave fish at the doorstep of a family without question.
It was a way of life in much of Bermuda because helping each other would see us through tough times especially during the war years. Farther up a hill from where I stayed, the Bermuda Militia Artillery, the black unit, was based before merging after the war with the all-white Bermuda Rifles. In 1965, they merged to become the Royal Bermuda Regiment. The BMA manned huge guns on the hill, and many afternoons I would watch gunners practising with a slow-moving target off the South Shore. When those guns roared, you could almost feel the earth tremble.
Much of Bermuda was aware of German submarine activity in the Atlantic, which resulted in the sinking of several vessels carrying food supplies, and there was always the fear that Bermuda was not off the target list.
Mercifully, while most houses used little light at night, and many schools had air-raid drills including The Central School, now Victor Scott Primary, where I attended, we came through it all without experiencing the nightmare of deadly explosions seen in other countries. Without television and very few radios, swimming and playing outdoor games for most of us was the outlet for adventure.
One activity after Sunday school at St Paul AME Church was to take a stroll through Hamilton before heading home. The train was operating at that, time and, at a tunnel on Front Street west, it would enter and exit the city on regular runs.
We knew there was not much traffic on a Sunday. After a brief discussion, we decided to walk through the dark tunnel, emerging at the other end without incident. We abandoned that exercise without waiting for advice.
These were challenging times, but it was also a period when men would tip their hats when passing a female, whether they knew her or not. People in Hamilton were known to stop whatever they were doing to observe the two-minute silence during the Armistice observances marking the ending of the First World War.
The values of that period crossed racial lines and, despite resistance from those in authority, the yearning to make Bermuda better was destined to move forward because it was the only way to create a society for all.
There are many stories about those difficult days, and our precious seniors know much more than the few things mentioned here. We must reflect occasionally on those early days because, as tough as they were, it will always be a part of our heritage.
We cannot rewrite history, but the past can help us in shaping a better future for Bermuda and all its people.
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