Historically speaking… A synopsis of The Nassau Bahamas Association of New York

In the early years of the 19th century, hundreds of Bahamians sailed Northward from Nassau, and other islands of the Bahamas archipelago in search of a better life in America. The myriad stories that were told of the bright lights and the golden opportunities waiting to be had in New York City, inspired dreams of grandeur in the hearts of many young men and women who came to realize those glowing prospects.

In the year 1912, ten men of Bahamian ancestry came together and formed an organization in hope of filling the needs for fellowship and community among Bahamian families in the New York area. With the formation of this association, Bahamians coming to New York from The Bahamas and elsewhere could now meet, greet, and receive support as they pursued new jobs and attempted to reestablish themselves. Because Bahamian nationals were then a part of the British Empire, migrant Bahamians could not rely upon the British Colonial Office in New York City for assistance with their socioeconomic and cultural adjustments to this complex metropolis.

Charles Wilson, one of the early leaders of the Nassau Bahamas Association served for thirty-five (35) years as the first financial secretary. With a rare wit and talent for communicating the unique feel of things Bahamian, he summarized the character of the organization in a poem that invited members to their new home in Harlem. This poem is dated October 5th, 1949, and it reads thus:

There will be soft drinks, hard drinks, drinks that are not soft at all; Cool drinks, hot drinks, drinks for making Scotch Highball. Come all ye Nassau scattered race, Come to The Bahamas meeting place. Come and let us be united and I know you will be delighted. After roaming to and fro, Paying as we onward go, Now, never more to roam, We are safely in our home.

The Early Years

On September 17th, 1912, the Association was duly organized, a constitution was drafted, and the Bylaws were framed. The ten Bahamians who founded The Nassau Bahamas Association in New York City were Austin A. Wilson, Rubin Clinton, Charles Sawyer, Bruce Roberts, Frank Russell, Robert Carey, Arthur Minnis, Edward Brown, Henson Styles, and Willie White. Apart from Nassau, the founding fathers’ genealogy probably could be traced to Andros, Abaco, Cat Island, Eleuthera, Exuma and Long Island. In 1922 the membership was expanded to include women. The admission of women to the membership led to an immediate broadening of the activities and programs, including the annual pre-Mothers Day dance held at the Rockland Palace near the famous Polo Grounds, former home of the New York Giants baseball team. The prominent women during those years were Georgie B. Roberts, Augusta Hall, Victoria Hall, Susan Jolly, and Ida Brennan. Further expansion later included descendants and spouses. Subsequently honorary membership was extended to non-Bahamians.

On July 6th, 1939, the organization was incorporated in New York State under the name of the “Nassau Bahamas Association, Inc.” In 1946, the Association purchased a building to serve as its headquarters, located at 211 West 137th Street, New York City. Before long a flourishing juvenile branch emerged, with a youthful Freddie Pinder at the helm as President. Many of these juveniles have established themselves in well-placed positions in the Harlem community and beyond.

The Post War Era -1950’s

During the 1950’s New York City became a place for young Bahamians to pursue their University studies. Like the founding fathers of the association, Bahamian students identified with the need to maintain a community while away from home. The Bahamian students found an open welcome from the Association. It was not long before students then established a student’s organization, formally know as the Bahamian Student’s Association. Mr. Ernest Strachan became the first president of the student division on June 14th, 1959.

The 1960’s and 1970’s

The new student group flourished. They were vibrant and pioneering in their endeavours. Many of the members from that era returned to The Bahamas and made significant contributions to their country. They include, but are not limited to: John Deleveaux, Executive Director of The Bahamas Hotel Association, David Saunders of The Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation, Sir William Allen, former Governor of The Central Bank, and former member of Parliament, Gwen Kelly, prominent local actress, P. Anthony White, journalist and numerous others. The founder, Ernest Strachan, went on to ascend the ranks of the United Nations, and upon his return to The Bahamas made many valuable lasting contributions to the Office of Foreign Affairs before his death.

Student – sponsored activities were also historically significant for the support given to the late Dame Dr. Doris L Johnson, leader of The Women’s Suffrage Movement in The Bahamas. Dame Johnson, the first and only female to serve in the Government of The Bahamas at that time, was a member of the association. While completing her doctoral studies at New York University, she received financial support from the association, and was instrumental in establishing a scholarship program to assist other students in the New York City area.

The Nassau Bahamas Association continues to build the bonds of community within the New York City area and in The Bahamas. In New York, the association has served as a food distribution point for local citizens in need of assistance, sponsored Thanksgiving dinners for senior citizens, and hosted annual Christmas parties for neighbourhood children. The association has made financial contributions to various Bahamian institutions, including The Princess Margaret Hospital, The Ranfurly Home for Children, The Home for Retarded Children, The Percis Rogers Home for the Aged, and The Mother’s Club. In 1967 the association had the honour of hosting Prime Minister Pindling and Lady Pindling in recognition of the Prime Minister’s victory in attaining his office.

The 1980’s

During the 1980’s The Nassau Bahamas Association weathered a serious crisis that threatened collapse of the organization. It was evident that the future would require revamping of the organization, improved management, and the implementation of modern business acumen. Fortunately, the Bahamian character emerged triumphantly. What was most encouraging was the fact that by and large the general membership supported the expedient changes that were necessary for the move toward the progressive 1990’s. At this juncture the building was refurbished under the leadership of then President Clarence Cartwright, and the able craftsmanship of Henry Wilkinson, Lionel (Cracker) Davis, and Johnny Murray.

The 1990’s

The association during the decade of the nineties was not without its challenges, but it was a period of reclamation with a revived student association that coordinated and published a biannual newsletter, and coordinated numerous activities that allowed for continued fellowship and camaraderie. That spirit of patriotism has carried through to the present, and it is with that sentiment of community that we envisioned our place in the new millennium.

The New Millennium

We envisioned a reclaimed and renovated building at 211 West 137th Street, in New York City, which would provide a basement and sub-basement area for the association’s use, a first floor to host or sponsor seminars, conferences, community and cultural events, and a second and third floor area, which would complement the activities of the combining areas, consistent with the character of our not-for-profit organization.

Over the past few years, we have continued to make new strides to enhance the association. On September 23, 2002, The Bahamian American Association, Inc. (BAAI), an outgrowth of the Nassau Bahamas Association, Inc., was incorporated to acquire not-for-profit status under 501C3 and to address the present realities of the Bahamian American Community.

While the period of 2003 through 2005 was faced with various maintenance hurdles, BAAI pursued with persistence and determination numerous initiatives, including its annual Independence Gala Ball and Scholarship Awards Ceremonies, that have created a favorable and promising start in 2006:

  • In September, 2005, a dedicated team consisting of Lorette Nixon, Chairman, Marlon Soudatt, Webmaster and members: Dominique Symonette, Graham Ward, Nkrumah Mulmi, Jerona Babb, Dr. Emil Moxey and Edwin Archer volunteered to develop a website for the association. Crestwell Munnings, BAAI’s Chairman of the Board and Vice President, Carolyn Young-Miller, BAAI Treasurer and the Hon. Edison “Ed” Bethel, Consul General of The Bahamas in New York, provided information and advice when called upon. On March 18, 2006, BAAI entered the technology era by launching its official website, http://www.bahamianamericanassociation.org.
  • An indenture conveyed on March 7th to transfer title of 211 W. 137th Street from the Nassau Bahamas Association, Inc. to The Bahamian American Association, Inc. was officially recorded and filed by the Office of the City Registrar of New York on March 31, 2006.
  • Under the leadership of the Hon. Eldred ‘Ed’ Bethel, Consul General of The Bahamas to New York and Mr. William R. Dames, President of BAAI, a delegation of twenty- six association members and three supportive friends visited Nassau, Bahamas, from Thursday, May 25th to Sunday, May 28th, 2006. The focus of this sojourn was to sensitize the Bahamian Government and community of the contributions made by Bahamians and friends in New York City, and to appeal to the public and government for financial donations or partnership opportunities to renovate the historic building and home of the Bahamian American Association, Inc., located in Harlem.
  • We are a growing and evolving organization with a strong historical legacy and a bright future ahead of us. Our success as a people who have survived a long history of challenges (political as well as social), will not be accomplished purely by the increase of material wealth, but rather by the guiding star of the founders. Their vision afforded a precedence of perseverance, tenacity and courage that serves as an oasis for our continued efforts today. As we move along we must make every effort to ensure that their ongoing legacy will prevail for future generations to come.