A little bit from the Bahamian diaspora

Bahamians in the recent past are not famous for leaving their homeland. We tend to think of ourselves as a nation who has to put up with immigrants, but which does not have to worry much about emigration.

This is certainly changing. While we are by no means able to compare ourselves with the diasporic tendencies of our Caribbean neighbours, young Bahamians are choosing more and more to emigrate to other lands. A lot of it has to do with a lack of opportunity at home, with a lack of space to be different, to be innovative, to be young. Let’s admit it: our society stifles difference.

We tend to forget, though, that when we study our history, Bahamians have been migrants in the past. If we study the twentieth century alone, we will realize that Miami was built by Bahamians, Key West is the “Conch Republic” because it, too was settled by Abaconians and Eleutherians, and Bahamians travelled for work to Panama, Cuba, South Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.

I was reminded forcefully of that just over two weeks ago, when I received the following email:

Dear Dr.Bethel,

My name is Tom Quirk. For the past few years I have been researching civil rights incidents in my old hometown of Scarsdale, New York. For the past few months, I have been researching the story of The Cockburn Trial, which took place in 1937.

I was wondering if there was any chance that you were related to Pauline Cockburn. Her maiden name was Bethel. Her father was named Ernest Bethel. Her husband was Joshua Cockburn, a ship’s Master who was the first Captain on Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line ship The Yarmouth, which was rechristened The Frederick Douglass.

Whether you are or not related to Pauline Cockburn I have attached my most recent draft of my article in case you have time to read it. If you are too busy, sorry to bother you. I obtained your email from your blog.

I am a high school teacher in Lexington, Massachusetts. I have posted three articles about civil rights incidents that occurred in or near my hometown between the years 1937-1963 on my website: Thomas-Quirk.com.

Sincerely,

Tom Quirk

Now I’ve never heard of Pauline Bethel or Ernest Bethel, but I do know a little bit about Joshua Cockburn. He was, as Tom Quirk observes, one of the captains on Marcus Garvey‘s Black Star Line—though not, apparently, the best ally for Garvey to have. I was fascinated to know more about him (and about his wife too), so I corresponded with Tom Quirk.

It turns out that Tom has done considerable research into the Cockburns, who eventually emigrated to the USA, where they became residents of Scarsdale, New York. I offered to share that research on this blog. Watch this space.

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