By 1955, the Bahamas began to make a concerted effort of sorts to attract American negroes, as tourists, to Nassau. The impetus didn’t totally come from within the Bahamas, it came from a black Bermudian, who had had much success in the early 1950s tapping into this new, unconsidered market for Bermuda.

(The Pittsburgh Courier, Saturday 17 September, 1955)

In 1955, Stafford Sands, Chairman of the Bahamas Development Board, along with a Bermuda based, Hilton G. Hill, Inc., a travel company, pushed the agenda of getting more American, middle class, negroes to spend their new found leisure time, and their new found disposable incomes in the island chain.

There was only one problem – the colour bar was firmly drawn, and it was not budging.

At least not yet.

(The Pittsburgh Courier, Saturday 17 September, 1955)


Who was Hilton G. Hill?

Hilton G. Hill was a Boston educated Bermudian Negro, who was also a member of the Bermuda Parliament. Hill recognised a huge untapped economic market in selling travel dreams to monied American negroes. Hill had married an upper middle negro woman from Boston. Mrs Georgine Russell-Hill was the youngest of three daughters of a Harvard University-educated dentist Dr. Alfred P. Russell and his wife Maybelle. Maybelle was a pianist and organist who attended the New England Conservatory of Music.

Hilton Hill opened his travel agency specifically tailoring vacation packages for American negroes to come to Bermuda. Soon they were opening an office in New York. Hill hired only negroes to work in his travel agency.

Hilton felt that negro employees would be more particularly aware to the peculiarities of the foreign travel market as it related to negroes in a very hostile and often dangerous civil rights era.

In Bermuda in the year 1951, Hilton and his wife Georgine helped to strike a blow against racial segregation. They along with Hilton’s sister, Carol Hill, organized a street protest against the Bermudiana Theatre Club, which refused to sell tickets to black patrons.

Racial justice pioneer passes away Georgine Hill was also a superb singer, artist and teacher Wednesday, January 29, 2014 6:45 AM

By 1955, after his success in attracting negro tourists to Bermuda, Hilton G. Hill turned his attention to the Bahamas.

(The New York Age, Saturday 05 March 1955)

(Georgine Hill, along with her husband Hilton Hill II, who was then a Member of Colonial Parliament, were among the dignitaries presented to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh during their 1953 royal visit to Bermuda. *Photo by Richard Saunders, courtesy of the Bermuda National Gallery and the Bermuda Archives)

Racial justice pioneer passes away Georgine Hill was also a superb singer, artist and teacher

In 1957, at the height of his success in the negro tourist market, Hill’s tourist office in Hamilton, Bermuda mysteriously burned down.

(The New York Age, Saturday 12 January 1957)


A GROWING RESTLESSNESS IN THE BAHAMAS

By 1955, the jagged line of segregation had long been firmly drawn across the islands of the Bahamas. Bahamians were equally long acclimated to the stiff, uncomfortable air of quiet discrimination. There were places negroes couldn’t go, places they couldn’t live and jobs they would never have. An unspoken social line pretty much ran across everything, including tourism. But, the Bahamas was changing in ways that were just not predicted by the government of the day.

Population numbers began to rise. Education opportunities were expanding abroad. A new breed of ambitious, young black professionals were now coming back home from universities in America and England. They were coming back looking for jobs and opportunities. There weren’t many available. Economic and social problems were also on the rise in negro communities like Grant’s and Bain Town.

It was around this time that unemployment, crime and a growing malaise that the speed of social change in Nassau, was just not moving fast enough, began to take an uncomfortable foothold in poorer areas.

With few economic opportunities available, and with the success of the expanding tourist market, Black Bahamians decided to get into the industry as major players. They had nightclubs and bars and guesthouses and small hotels.

But, there was one glaring problem.

The problem was race.

White American tourists were by far the largest single group visiting the Bahamas. In the 1950s, coming from a segregated America, whites would never stay in negro establishments in the Bahamas. Few would make the trek Over The Hill, to the negro areas to eat in restaurants or drink in their bars and nightclubs. A horse and carriage to view negro culture, in Grant’s and Bain Town, was acceptable, but anything more than that wasn’t.

It must have been a revolutionary moment when Hilton G. Hill brought the idea of expanding the tourist market, in the Bahamas, to include monied negroes from America.

How would the white establishment in the Bahamas greet this? The Bahamas in 1955 wasn’t the most enlightened place in the world. Women didn’t even have the vote yet.

Negro businesses, on the other hand, embraced it with all the enthusiasm they could muster, because it meant the potential for a new revenue stream, coming to Nassau, primarily just for them.


NEGRO JOURNALISTS SAY THEY ONLY INTERACTED WITH WHITE PEOPLE ONCE DURING THEIR VISIT TO NASSAU

Leisure time and having the money to travel became the hallmark of middle and upper class existence in America. After World War II, the yearning to travel abroad was reignited once again.

Around the same time, more and more Negroes in America, especially in the North, were rising up to a middle class status, with valuable leisure time, and more disposable income to spend how they saw fit. Travelling abroad was problematic of course, depending on where you went. Racism was rife around the world and blacks did not want to go where they were not welcomed.

Hilton G. Hill had chosen a number of prominent magazine and newspaper journalists to come to Nassau on a whirlwind two day extravaganza in the hopes they would write about the fantastic time they had there. One positive article could attract untold numbers to islands through the Hill travel agency.

The delegation was feted to the best the Bahamas had to offer for negro tourists. The Bahamas Taxi Cab Union drove them on a tour of the city area. They were treated to Pearl Cox’s Guest House, the Saxony Guest House, Mrs. Worrel’s Guest House and Mrs. Charles Major Guest House. They were shown the Hotel Reinhard owned by Dr. C. R. Walker. All located in negro areas.

The journalists noted that their only social encounter with whites was at a cocktail party at Ardastra Gardens hosted by Stafford Sands and his wife.

(The Pittsburgh Courier, Saturday 17 September, 1955)


(The Pittsburgh Courier, Saturday 17 September, 1955)

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