It may have been the first world war and serious global events swirling around, and engulfing the colonies, which started things. Maybe. By 1915, Britain had sent out the call for troops, but negroes were discouraged from applying. They created the British West Indies Regiment in 1915 in order to prevent large numbers of Black men from the Caribbean serving in British regiments. It may have been that. Or, it may have been the colour bar and segregation which contributed to the beginnings of negro social and political organisations in the Bahamas. Maybe. We cannot be entirely sure of what prompted the inception of the League just over 100 years ago. What we are sure of is that around the beginning of the 20th century, there were quivers and stirrings within the negro community in the Bahamas. These stirrings began to focus on a collective type of social involvement and the plight of the negro. These stirrings brought together the few negro men who sat in the House of Assembly in 1915.
The Bahamian Progressive League is a bit of a mystery. Could it have possibly been the fledgling beginnings of a negro political party in the Bahamas, or was it just a social club? The very name progressive league suggests very strongly a formal association, more organised than a mere club. It suggests that is was created for the advancement of something significant, some important ideology, some way of thinking or political movement.
Despite all that the name promised, almost nothing is known about the League. It appears to be a negro led organisation, existing at least, according to what is found in the newspapers of 1915, 1916 and 1917, during the First World War. Some of the members like Leon Walton Young, Earnest L. Bowen and Thaddeus A. Toote were members of the House of Assembly, and of African descent. There were other members mentioned, such as R. M. Bailey who was also black.
The league began in 1915 judging by the statement that the Chairman Mr. H. E. S Reeves was going to give an explanation of the objective of the League. Henry Reeves we know was born on Cat Island on 16th November 1883. By May 1937, he had become a naturalised American citizen. Nothing is known of the President, a Mr. S. H. Tinker, except that he had a good job. He was a Superintendent of the Miami Industrial Mutual Benefit and Saving’s Association in 1916 as seen from the notice below that he got someone fired, probably for stealing.
1st October 1915, The Tribune, Nassau, New Providence, Bahamas
From the 26th January, 1916, Nassau Guardian and Bahama Islands Advocate and Intelligencer
We have an incredible resolution by the Progressive League that a special session was held to commemorate the life of Dr. Booker T. Washington who had died on 14th November 1915. The press release specifically makes mention of uplifting of Our RACE and the betterment of the condition of mankind the world over. It also states that the passing of Dr. Booker T. Washington was a sad event and a great blow to the negro cause.
From the 16th June, 1917, Nassau Guardian and Bahama Islands Advocate and Intelligencer
This press release is particularly interesting. William Archibald Pitt was a doctor from Scotland. A white man from Scotland. He was also a Freemason. What is interesting about Archibald Pitt is that neither on the Freemason listing in Nassau or in South Africa where he served, did he list his age. He was a member of the Royal Victoria Lodge in Nassau and apparently a friend of the Bahamian Progressive League.