When the rich fight, they don’t play by the same rules as the poor. In the Bahamas, poor negroes like to march, have the occasional riots, get pissy drunk and break up the place a bit. The rich however, get damned good lawyers, a few influential politicians, and if all else fails, a really well trained enforcer. For this small island nation, the 1940s was a period of pivotal, political turning points in the capital city, the seat of concentrated power, Nassau.
Foreign investors were scoring big wins against Conchy Joe, Bay Street oligarchs, and the influential merchant class. Crown land had been sold by the bucketloads to get foreign money in. Soon though, foreign investors wanted to expand beyond original agreements. This began to encroach on Conchy Joe Bahamians’ territory.
In 1943, some reckon it all came to a head… literally to Harry Oakes’s head. But that’s a story for another day.
Conchy Joe don’t play. Him don’t take no last.
BAHAMAS COURTED LIKE A TEENAGE GIRL
The Bahamas, in the early 1900s, was like a young, teenage girl. She was giddy headed, from the all the sudden attention so many foreign suitors were giving her. Everywhere sweet young Bahamas turned, some foreign investor was holding out wads of cash trying to seduce her. Money in return for crown land. Money in return for industry. Harry Oakes, Austin Levy, Alex Wenner-Gren, and so many countless others came over the decades. They promised her infrastructure. Bahamas blushed. They promised her jobs. Bahamas smiled. They promised her great wealth and income. Bahamas jumped for joy.
Alex Wenner-Gren bought a huge stake in Hog Island later renamed Paradise Island. Wenner-Gren, a Nazi sympathiser became close friends with Governor, the Duke of Windsor in 1940.
Sir Harry Oakes eventually owned great land stakes in Nassau and despite not being Bahamian, say in the House of Assembly and the Bahamas Legislature
Austin T. Levy From Rhode Island, United States, developed South Eleuthera and brought large scale livestock and agricultural businesses to the Bahamas.
(The Greenville News, Monday, 08 August 1938)
Teenage Bahamas though, forgot that one important lesson, which all young women are taught, regarding the spurious attention often given by men. They don’t give without wanting something in return.
In other words, for the young teenage Bahamas, ‘if ya gone take foreigner man dem money, him ga wan lift up ya skirt.’
In 1942, after a rush of foreign investment money began to slowly underpin, almost the entire economy of the Bahamas, foreign investors suddenly realised their substantial power in little “two by four” Nassau.
Foreign investors began to push. No longer content to stay in the corner where white Bahamians oligarchs said they should be. Foreign investors began to flex their political muscles. Bay Streets merchants, the white oligarchs of Nassau, and the white House of Assembly members who had lured them, and their overseas money into the Bahamas, suddenly found themselves on the defensive end.
Foreign investors started lifting up the skirts of the Bahamas, using their new substantial financial influence, to get to the core power in government.
1942 – Conchy Joe Problems
Bay Street Oligarchs vs. Foreign Investor Austin T. Levy
In 1942, millionaire foreign investor and developer of South Eleuthera, Mr. Austin T. Levy could have gotten any white lawyer, in Nassau, to represent him. Levy chose a negro lawyer. He did it to make a point to the Bay Street oligarchs who were opposing him.
A bitter fight had erupted between white Bay Street oligarchs represented by attorney and member of the House of Assembly Stafford Sands, and a company called Eleuthera Ltd. who had hired negro attorney and member of the Bahamas legislature, the Hon. A. F. Adderley, to represent them. The fight was over expansion plans for a business license to include imports into the Bahamas. Imports was the Bay Street merchants sole territory. They owned the shops and supermarkets. There was no way they were going to sit back and let foreign investors take over, even a small part, of the food import business.
Eleuthera Ltd. began as an agricultural experiment by Austin T. Levy. It soon turned into to a successful business supplying agricultural and dairy products throughout the Bahamas.
Austin T. Levy was no ordinary millionaire. He was politically connected to the powerful United States Republican Party. In fact, in 1950, at 70 years old, Levy was chosen by the Republicans to challenge the Senate seat for Rhode Island.
(The Corpus Christie Times 30 October 1950)
AUSTIN T. LEVY’s GROWING BUSINESSES IN ELEUTHERA 1941
(The Miami Daily News, Sunday, 09 March 1941)
1942 – WHITE MEN FIGHTING, TIME TO PAY ATTENTION!
Everyone then knew that when white businessmen, in the Bahamas, started fighting amongst themselves, something was wrong. It was time to pay attention. Why was this? Well, in 1942, they owned all the big businesses in the Bahamas. And, if white business owners, the movers and shakers, the politically connected, the rich, were feeling threatened economically, by foreign investors, then it was only a matter of time before small mom and pop negro businesses began toppling over.
By the time World War II was viciously raging in Europe, the Bahamas had already begun traveling an economic path that would become more controversial than anyone could have ever imagined. The tentacles of foreign direct investment and tourism were far-reaching even then. In both positive and negative ways they have shaped the fortunes of the Bahamas.
While the merchant class was enjoying prosperity, lulled into a false sense of economic security, foreign investors began to realise the integral part their money was playing in the Bahamian economy. Harry Oakes’s money was spread so far across Nassau that there was scarcely a building or weed filled field he didn’t own. The same for Alex-Wenner-Gren despite his assets being frozen because of his Nazi ties. After the war he got it all back.
Though prosperity was raining down for a select handful, a few economic home truths were becoming painfully apparent to the Bay Street Boys.
The Daily Tribune wrote in July 1942...”For years we have been warning this country of the ultimate outcome of its tourist and capitalist policies. Now the people who sold charming quiet and unsophisticated Nassau down the river are shouting the loudest.“
Some reckon to this very day, this was the reason why Sir Harry Oakes was murdered. Some theories suggest Oakes was getting airs, thinking too much of himself, in the Bahamas.
IMPORT LICENCE GRANTED
Stafford Sands vs. A. F. Adderley
Bay Street interests including W. H. H. Maura, Bethell Roberts and others vs. Austin T. Levy and Eleuthera Ltd.
Today the Licensing Authority granted a license to Eleuthera Ltd. to wholesale and retail all animal and agricultural products including imported milk and cream and products manufactured in the colony from such imported milk and cream.
This license extends to this company for the first time the right to deal in imported products.
Objection to this application was filed by certain merchants in the city who were represented by Mr Stafford Sands, Jr., while Eleuthera Ltd was represented by the Honourable A. F. Adderley.
A. F. Adderley lawyer representing Eleuthera Ltd. and Austin T. Levy.
Stafford Sands representing Bay Street interests including W. H. H. Maura and Bethell Robertson & Co.
Among the items in the protest was a request to limit any such license given to Eleuthera Ltd to 3 months from July 18.
In presenting the case for the applicant Mr Adderley pointed out that since Eleuthera Ltd. had started operations in the colony the supplies and consumption of fresh milk had increased four to five times. In consequence of the present unprecedented and abnormal conditions in Nassau this demand had still further increased considerably.
In objecting to the time limit suggested by the Opposition, Mr Adderley pointed out that the Authority now had the power to revoke any license issued by them.
He thought it amusing that among the signatories to the objection was a lumber firm ( W. H. H. Maura) and a firm that dispensed beverages that might not be so wholesome as milk (Bethell, Robertson & Co., liquor dealers).
In presenting the case for the opposition Mr Sands said that the principle at stake was whether this company should or should not be allowed the right to import and sell any products.
He pointed out that Mr Maura dealt in many products beside number and that in signing the petition that the Bethell Robertson & Co. exercised their rights as citizens.
In giving the decision of the Authority Mr. F. E. Field, said that members thought that it would be unfair to impose on this company the restrictions requested in the petition.
Present at the sitting room Mr F. E. Field, Chairman, Mr Reginald de Glanville, and Mr Etienne Dupuch.
All the other applications for licenses were granted with the exception of Leila Allen for restaurant license.
(The Nassau Daily Tribune, Saturday, July 18, 1942)
MILKING THE COW
This week the cry has been “milk” and the Montague bathing beach. For years we have been warning this country of the ultimate outcome of its tourist and capitalist policies. Now the people who sold charming quiet and unsophisticated Nassau down the river are shouting the loudest.
Poor dear souls. They are more to be pitied than censured. They can’t understand what has happened to this country. They would be horrified if they could be made to realise that the Nassau of today is the product of their own grasping selfishness in recent years.
It is impossible to sell— or give— all the bathing places in the island to vested interest and then try to keep people away from the one desirable spot that is left in the island in the hands of the public.
It is impossible to lure wealth into the Colony “milk” it for a few private purses, and then restrict the rights and privileges of these people so that the “milking” might go on indefinitely.
If a “two by four” Nassau businessman thinks he can tell a man he has encouraged to invest millions in this country and he must keep his hands out of business and government, time —–and a short time too—will show where “big copper” stands in relation to a million dollars.
When a man puts his money in a country his next step is to see that the Government is rational and sound.
This country is now suffering from what we fear is a chronic case of “growing pains”—– and there is no physician to cure the ill.