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Belize’s Booker T.

EditorialBelize’s Booker T.

As lynchings in the South reached a peak in 1895, Booker T. Washington gave a speech, known as the “Atlanta compromise,” which brought him national fame. He called for black progress through education and entrepreneurship, rather than trying to challenge the Jim Crow segregation and the disenfranchisement of black voters in the South.

Black militants in the North, led by W. E. B. DuBois, at first supported the Atlanta compromise, but after 1909 they set up the NAACP to work for political change.

Decades after Washington’s death in 1915, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s took a more active and militant approach.
– from WIKIPEDIA, The Free Encyclopedia

The United States Civil War, fought from 1861 to 1865 between the Northern Union and the Confederate South, had the issue of slavery as a primary concern. The North wanted to abolish slavery, whereas the slaveholding South wished to continue that cruel institution. When the North won the Civil War, the Emancipation Act through which Abraham Lincoln had freed African Americans during the war, was upheld.
A period followed in the defeated South, roughly between 1865 and 1877, which was known as Reconstruction, but Reconstruction slowly began to be reversed as the defeated Confederate South began to re-organize itself through violent, white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, and established a system of racial segregation which is known historically as Jim Crow.

African Americans, who had enjoyed the vindication of Reconstruction, returned to repression under Jim Crow, which was a form of apartheid. Racist whites began to impose their will on African Americans in the Southern states through lynchings and other acts of violent brutality.

Booker T. Washington, a strong and moral African American who had been born into slavery, emerged as the most prominent leader of African Americans in the South. He urged his fellow blacks to accept the new Jim Crow status quo and concentrate on education, business, and hard work. Booker T. was opposed to political militancy and agitation. Booker T. may be described as practical and pragmatic.

A half century after Booker T. Washington’s death, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) experienced what began to happen to Booker T. Washington in the early years of the twentieth century. Booker T. began to be seen as an Uncle Tom who was refusing to confront white racist violence against blacks. In Booker T.’s case, the challenge to his policies was led by a Harvard-educated intellectual named W. E. B. DuBois, who called for black militancy and political agitation. In 1966, Stokely Carmichael’s call for black power and self-defence marked a popular shift away from Dr. King’s philosophy of Christian non-violence.

We have said that Booker T. was a practical man. He recognized the decidedly minority status of blacks in the South, and he acknowledged the awesome economic and political power which whites had regained after the war and Reconstruction. The national debate between followers of Booker T. and proponents of DuBois’ militancy raged hot and furious in the U.S. until Washington’s death in 1915. It was around that time that Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican, set up shop in Harlem for his new Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). DuBois and Garvey quickly became bitter enemies, but whereas Booker T. was an appeaser, Garvey in his own way was even more militant than DuBois.

Belize’s Foreign and Home Affairs Minister, Wilfred Elrington, an attorney, is a practical and pragmatic man. He is also a very successful man where his own life and profession are concerned. The opinions and philosophy of Mr. Elrington remind us of Booker T. It is clear that Mr. Elrington is intimidated by the massive power of the Guatemalan republic which claims half of Belize’s territory. At the same time, as Police Minister, Mr. Elrington last week expressed a harsh and uncompromising attitude with respect to the wayward youth of Belize City.

With Mr. Elrington agreeable to operating in the national media spotlight where the Foreign and Home Affairs of Belize are concerned, Rt. Hon. Prime Minister Dean Barrow is able to stay in the background and essentially avoid the minefields of the Chiquibul/Sarstoon and the Southside gang wars. We pointed out to you in an editorial last week that neither Mr. Barrow or Mr. Elrington was ever a member or supporter of the militant United Black Association for Development (UBAD), the founders of this newspaper, whereas Mr. Barrow’s Housing Minister, Hon. Michael Finnegan was a UBAD member before he helped to found the now ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) in September of 1973.

Mr. Finnegan is, of course, a UDP loyalist; as such, he will not criticize any of his UDP colleagues publicly. It is of note that Mr. Finnegan’s wife, Diane, is a high profile member of a troika (the others being Chester Williams and Nuri Muhammad) who had been leading a successful program of interacting with the Belize City gangs in order to promote peace in the streets. Under Mr. Elrington’s leadership, the Police Department broke up the interventionist program of the troika when they ordered Williams to desk duty in Belmopan in July. Mr. Elrington’s public statements, especially last week, indicate that he absolutely believes in the hard line, hammer approach where the gangs are concerned. But this is the diametric opposite of how he behaves with the threatening Guatemalans. It may be said that Mr. Finnegan is off the hook where the Southside civil wars are concerned, because he will be retiring. Still, one wonders whose approach he supports in this critical matter – Mrs. Finnegan’s humanitarian approach or Minister Sedi Elrington’s brutal philosophy. Inquiring minds would like to know, as we would say.

The more important Cabinet Minister who is avoiding the responsibility of taking a public position on Mr. Elrington’s repeatedly controversial pronouncements with respect to both Foreign and Home Affairs, is no less than the UDP Leader and Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow. Mr. Barrow, in his third term as Prime Minister, cannot become Prime Minister again, because the UDP itself legislated a three-term limit for the position. He can run again for his Queen’s Square seat, a seat he has held in the House of Representatives since December of 1984, but Mr. Barrow has already said that he will not run again. The thing is, he is not behaving in public like any kind of lame duck: we are saying that he appears to be enjoying the power and limelight as much as he ever did. In addition, increasing doubt about the viability of the proposed leadership succession in the UDP, in the person of Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Patrick Faber, has been making for a very interesting climate at the highest levels of UDP leadership.

Dean Barrow and Sedi Elrington were high school classmates at St. Michael’s College in the 1960s. Mr. Barrow qualified as an attorney in 1974, and Mr. Elrington a couple years later. Sedi’s older brother, Hubert, also became a lawyer, while Dean’s younger brother, Denys, did the same. Sometime after Mr. Barrow became UDP Leader after Dr. Manuel Esquivel resigned leadership following his August 1998 general election defeat, a family rivalry began between the Barrows and the Elringtons, to the extent that both Hubert and Sedi boycotted the Barrow UDP and ran independently in the 2003 general election, Hubert in Lake Independence and Sedi in Pickstock. Reconciliation between the families occurred in time for the 2008 general election, when Sedi won the Pickstock seat for the UDP.

Mr. Barrow is no W. E. B. DuBois, and he certainly is no Marcus Garvey. He has never been any kind of militant, so the chances are he is not really uncomfortable with Sedi Elrington’s rhetoric, whether that rhetoric is appeasing to Guatemala or aggressive to Belizean youth. With respect to Guatemala, Sedi’s rhetoric is what the Friends of Belize want to hear, what they like to hear. With respect to the Southside gangs, Mr. Barrow really doesn’t give much of a damn what Sedi says. Up to now, he has tolerated Sedi because Sedi’s high profile takes the heat off him, plus he has no hard electoral reason to believe that the Southside, which is the ruling party’s political stronghold, is all that angry with Sedi’s Booker T. rhetoric.

We think, however, that Sedi Elrington will be one of the issues in next March’s national municipal election in Belize, which will take place just days before the Guatemalans hold a national referendum to decide whether to submit their territorial claim to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for arbitration. We think Sedi will be an issue in March, and we absolutely know the ICJ will be an issue.

Power to the people.

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