Black history month: Saluting our heroes
Friday, February 29, 2008 10:29 AM
Our series of profiles of trailblazing black Bermudians, which concludes today, has been done in partnership with the Government TV station CITV, which is airing short profiles of four people each week, as well as giving viewers the opportunity to take part in a quiz to win one of eight plasma TVs. Tune in to CITV daily (seven days a week) at 7am, 11am, 4pm and 7.30pm to hear the trivia questions and log on to www.citv.gov.bm to search for the correct answers.
Dame Lois Browne-Evans: a political powerhouse
Lawyer and former Opposition Leader Dame Lois Browne-Evans (1927-2007), who died last May three days before her 80th birthday, was at the forefront of politics during Bermuda's tumultuous transition from rule by a white oligarchy to a two-party democracy.
Her career in public life began in 1953 when she became Bermuda's first female lawyer. She was first elected to Parliament in the history-making 1963 election, in which adults who did not own property received the right to vote for the first time.
Lois Browne-Evans was one of nine candidates who contested the election under the banner of the Progressive Labour Party, which had formed that year. She was one of six who were elected.
It was the start of a 40-year career in politics that ended in 2003, when she resigned as a MP.
Dame Lois could look back on a career that saw her take part in two constitutional conferences and become Opposition Leader, the first for a woman in Bermuda and the whole of the British Commonwealth.
The ultimate prize, taking the PLP to victory though, was something that eluded her. Although she lived to see the PLP form the Government in 1998, it would not be under her leadership.
Dame Lois was often a lighting rod for criticism, both within her party and without. In 1977, she led the unsuccessful campaign to prevent the hangings of Governor's assassin Buck Burrows, and Larry Tacklyn-whom she had represented in court. It pitted her against then premier David Gibbons.
She was also at the centre of the bitter split that saw the PLP's representation in Parliament reduced to seven seats in 1985. A group that was opposed to her leadership quit to form the National Liberal Party.
Dame Lois was born on June 1, 1927 on Parson's Road, the second of four children. She attended Central School and won a scholarship to attend Berkeley Institute. She taught for two years at Elliott School in Devonshire before going off to England to study law. Her father, James Browne, a successful businessman and first-generation Bermudian, financed her studies.
Her years in London were crucial to her political development. She met young law students from the Caribbean and Africa who later returned home to play pivotal roles in their nations' development. On her return to Bermuda she established her law practice and had a number of high-profile cases.
But politics eventually superseded law. Dame Lois had joined a party that was beset by internal wrangling. In 1965, the PLP experienced its first split and Dame Lois was left to soldier on as its sole parliamentarian.
Things had improved somewhat by 1968, the year of the first election held under the new constitution and the two party systems. But the PLP's leader, lawyer Walter Robinson, lost his seat in that election, and Dame Lois replaced him.
Dame Lois stepped aside for Mr. Robinson in the 1972 election, and stepped into the post again in 1976. She remained at the helm of the party until 1985 when she resigned as leader and was replaced by Frederick Wade.
She remained a dominant figure within the PLP, and stepped into the role of elder stateswoman. She was a member of the first PLP Cabinet and was appointed Attorney General in 1999. Dame Lois was married to Trinidadian-born John Evans. They had three children, Tina and Donald, both of whom live in the U.S., and Nadine.
Like any politician, Dame Lois had taken her share of criticism over the years. In 1999, she accepted the award of Dame, the female equivalent of knighthood, from Buckingham Palace, going against long-standing PLP policy that members not accept such awards because of their colonial connotations.
Dame Lois, who had declined a similar award years earlier, said she had accepted it because of her children's urging.
Dame Lois, who was known for her oratory, was never quite able to shake off her infamous "fornication in the bushes" comments, which she never actually uttered, at least not in those exact words.
They dated back to a political meeting on August 17, 1967, and according to her biographer Randolf Williams, were off-the-cuff remarks.
In the report of the meeting, which was carried in The Royal Gazette the following day, she told the audience to get their kicks from political meetings, not marijuana.
She then added she didn't care if a young man even spent his time fornicating "out in the bushes - at least he is going to give birth to another Bermudian."
E.T. Richards: first black in BDA to receive a knighthood
Edward Trenton Richards (1908-1991) came to Bermuda to teach at Berkeley Institute and went on to make history by becoming the first black head of government and the first black person in Bermuda to receive a knighthood.
Sir Edward, who was known as E.T., was born in British Guiana (now Guyana) and was trained to be a teacher at Queen's College in Georgetown. His sister Pearl encouraged him to join her in Bermuda. He arrived in 1930 to teach mathematics, Latin and games at Berkeley.
His career in Bermuda could have earned him the title 'The Peaceful Warrior'. He was a vocal critic of segregation-he made his views known in the pages of the Bermuda Recorder, where he worked as associate editor during his years at Berkeley, and also in Parliament.
In 1943, Sir Edward seized upon the opportunity to fulfil a lifelong ambition to become a lawyer. He studied law at Middle Temple in London. He was called to the U.K. bar in 1946 and opened his own law firm in Bermuda the following year. He had a varied legal practice and also served for a period as a magistrate.
In 1948, he was drafted into politics by Martin Wilson, a political organizer and labour leader, and was elected to the House of Assembly, representing Warwick parish. It was the start of a 27-year career in politics and with his fellow black Members of Parliament-who were then a minority in the House-he spoke out against racial segregation and the property vote.
He was a member of a parliamentary Interracial Committee (1953-1954), and chaired a second parliamentary committee whose work led to passage of a 1961 law that made it illegal for restaurants to deny service to blacks.
With the dismantling of segregation and the dawning of a new era, Sir Edward became one of the first black members of the United Bermuda Party, after its formation in 1964. It was a controversial move as some of the key figures in the new party were former segregationists.
However, having seen Guyana torn asunder by racial turmoil, Sir Edward was determined that the best way forward was to work with whites to break down barriers.
In 1968, the year of the first election under the two-party system, which the UBP, with Sir Henry Tucker as government leader won, Sir Edward became Deputy Government Leader. He was knighted in 1970.
In 1971, he replaced Sir Henry as government leader, becoming Bermuda's first black head of government. During his tenure, he negotiated changes to the Constitution with the British Government, which resulted in the title of Government Leader being changed to premier. He became Bermuda's first premier in 1972.
Sir Edward stepped down as premier and UBP leader in 1975. He formed a new law firm Richards, Francis, and Francis and continued there until his retirement. Sir Edward married Madree Williams in 1940. Their three children are Patricia Danger, UBP MP Bob Richards and Angela Barry.
Hubert Smith (1920-2002) was one of Bermuda's best-known entertainers during the golden age of tourism. As leader of Hubert Smith and the Coral Islanders, he entertained countless tourists and encouraged numerous others to visit during overseas Bermuda Briefings tours staged by the Department of Tourism. Mr. Smith wrote countless songs, including his classic-'Bermuda is Another World.'
The son of Aubrey and Beulah Smith, he started playing the ukulele at age 14, which set him on the path to his career. After singing and playing the guitar with several local big bands, he went on to form Hubert Smith and the Coral Islanders in the 1950s. Members included Earl Darrell, Albert Fox, Stan Seymour, Charley Butterfield, as well as his sons Hubert Jr. and George, with whom he released a recording entitled 'We Three'. Others who joined his band included Kenny Iris, Olive Bean, Max Smith and Mike Stowe.
Hubert and the Coral Islanders performed at the Coral Island Club and Clay House Inn and went on to play in all the island's major hotels. The group performed in the United States, Canada and Europe for the Department of Tourism.
Mr. Smith also performed for royalty, including Queen Elizabeth, U.K. Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and Harold Macmillan and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower during their visits to Bermuda.
He also acted in four movies, did dozens of talk and televisions shows and appearances, both here and abroad.
Mr. Smith was a prolific songwriter, musician, calypsonian and globetrotting ambassador. He advised and assisted many young entertainers with their careers and was also a long-time president of the Bermuda Federation of Musicians and Variety Artists.
Awards Mr. Smith, who was a father of six, won over the years included Sandys Rotary Club's 'Man of the Year', the Hamilton Lions Club's Entertainment Award and the Queen's Certificate and Badge of Honour. He was also one of the first recipients of The Adlev Annual Entertainment Award which was presented to him in July 2001.
Editor's note: The latter two profiles were supplied by Government's Department of Communication and Information, with help from the Bermudian Heritage Association, and edited by Meredith Ebbin.