Nestled between Augusta and Nassau Streets, in the heart of old Nassau, there rests in the solemn, underbrush challenged Western Cemetery, a headstone. This headstone marks one of the most important deaths in Bahamian political history.
Uriah McPhee’s life was tragically cut short, by illness, on 17th February 1968. He died in Boston, Massachusetts. His death however, set off a remarkable chain of events. Uriah’s sudden demise, helped to solidify the neophyte Black Power political movement, in The Bahamas. His passing, in the most unforeseen twist of fate, began the confirmation of Premier Lynden Pindling and the Progressive Liberal Party, legacy in Bahamian history.
Death offers unexpected challenges and opportunities for the living. In the room of one, sometimes, possibilities can bloom. In politics, if one knows how to read the often upended, scattered tea leaves of power, a sudden death can open doors, you scarcely dreamed existed. In 1968, the sudden death of 42-year-old Uriah McPhee MHA, first offered a challenge, then an opportunity to new Premier Lynden Pindling.
On February 19, 1968, the death of Uriah McPhee and the death of the PLP majority in the House of Assembly made news around the world. Premier Lynden Pindling suddenly had a significant problem. The death of McPhee removed the PLP majority of one, in the House of Assembly. There were now 18 PLP to 18 UBP. Pindling had a decision to make. Should he go to a by-election for the one seat or should he call a new general election, only little over a year, since the January 10, 1967 watershed voting.
Middle Class Negroes in Shirlea Voted for PLP in 1967
History forgets that Exuma born, Uriah McPhee, was the Member of the House of Assembly for what was then a predominantly middle class, negro populated area, newly created in the run up to the general elections, Shirlea constituency. McPhee was then, a successful negro merchant in Nassau. He owned McPhee’s Food Fair on Strachan’s Alley off of Kemp Road.
Whoever Uriah McPhee, Member of Parliament for the Shirlea constituency for the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) was in life, his 17 February, 1968 death eclipsed all of that. This great historical fact and man, have been egregiously forgotten in political history. Without the sudden turn of events in February 1968, the first term of the Progressive Liberal Party would have run its natural five years course, with only a fragile majority of one.
Would the PLP have survived those first five years with only a one man majority? Historians can only speculate on what might have been. One thing is certain, 1968 solidified the Black Power movement in The Bahamas. It gave the PLP an unequivocal mandate to govern. And this would not have happened, but for Uriah McPhee shuffling off this mortal coil, allowing the PLP another fortuitous opportunity to make history.
Passions Ran High. Sporadic Violence Became the Hallmarks of the 1968 General Elections.
Former Premier Sir Roland Symonette challenges PLP secretary Sinclair Outten in the 1968 General Elections
By 1968, the mood had changed in Shirlea towards the PLP. Former Premier, UBP Sir Roland Symonette would win the Shirlea seat, which had been snatched from the jaws of UBP victory, by the PLP, just the year before.
It only stands to perverse historical irony, that Uriah McPhee’s unexpected death, prompted an unexpected general election, which gave the PLP Party a decisive victory. Yet, the only seat that truly mattered, the one whose suddenly vacancy, altered the course of political history, for the next twenty-four years, the Shirlea constituency, was lost by the PLP in 1968.