If one believes in such things as blessings, then consider that for The Bahamas, the appointment of the abdicated King, the Duke of Windsor, as Governor of the Bahamas, was the ultimate blessing for the Islands during the war years. Unquestionably, the sensational appointment brought a needed international focus to deplorable physical conditions in the historically significant area of Grant’s Town.
Without this fortuitous appointment, a significant political turning point, the pace of social, economic and political advancement, in the Bahamas, may have been pushed back another twenty years or more. All the previous governors combined, could not bring the international press to The Bahamas, like a former king could.
In 1941, Grant’s Town remained a settlement stuck in the quicksand of time. Other than filling in the swamp, which originally made up the near Nassau city settlement, Grant’s Town remained much the same as it was at the end of the 1800s. Disease was rampant. Sanitation was limited. Worms caused intestinal diseases and bloated bellies. If worms ate their way through the soles of the barefoot, they caused jiggers. Lack of available medicine meant eye diseases , fevers, abscesses, infections and early death for the inhabitants of Grant’s Town. Small hut housing in which people cooked with coal, had little ventilation. This caused breathing and lung problems in the young and old. Limited education, opportunities and regular jobs turned Grant’s Town male residents into zombies, who sat under trees all day, numbly begging passersby for money.
When the new Governor arrived in August 1940, he was greeted by the great and the good of New Providence and the Out Islands. Flamboyant and cultured, the Duke and Duchess’ reputation for enjoying the finer things of life, along with copious indulgences in heady sophisticated entertainment, had preceded them. Rich and connected socialites in Nassau were salivating at the prospect of sipping glasses of champagne, hearing scandalous stories and mixing intimately with English royalty.
Many in the upper crust layers of Nassau’s high society became upset at the Duke’s new preoccupation with the negro poor.
Shortly after his arrival, on a first official tour of New Providence, the Duke was able to see firsthand the wide disparity in economic wealth on the tiny island.
From Westbourne, the sprawling Western District estate of expat Harry Oakes, to the abject squalor of Grant’s Town, the Duke quickly saw he had his work cut out for him, if he wanted to help the poor without antagonising the rich.
The Governor soon found that an entrenched stubbornness within the powerful Assembly, towards providing more initiatives to address the problems of Grant’s Town, was as protracted as the history which anchored the Assembly, way back, to very creation of Grant’s Town.
In a number of interviews given after the Duke of Windsor took office in 1940, he made mention of the serious poverty which had a stranglehold on the black economic poor throughout the islands.
There were other negro concentrated areas in New Providence like Foxhill for example. Grant’s Town was particularly mentioned because of its conspicuous close proximity to Bay Street. It must have been shocking to the Duke to see such a glaring example of poverty within a stone’s throw of the money and political centre of Bay Street.
Truth was, no one really expected the Duke to do any actual work. His role, many assumed and some politicians hoped, was meant to be ornamental. Bahamians were shocked when he started to actually rolled his sleeves up, despite disliking just about everything related to the dry, hot islands.