No social movement or set of political ideas could lay sole claim to the grassy expanse of the Southern Recreation Grounds. At mid-century, community leaders and politicians filled that open canvas – commonly called “Gov’ment Ground” – with calls for reform in areas as varied as workers’ rights, women’s rights, racial equality, and electoral fairness. These notions, rising as murmurs in private homes and meeting spaces, found full expression at the Southern Recreation Grounds before audiences that climbed to thousands at the height of popular agitation for change. Not only ideas stood on display: leaders who had earned their stripes as public speakers in lesser locales could showcase their knowledge and test their eloquence on this premier stage for political expression. The park boomed with voices raised to share information, to agitate for expanded rights, and to inspire civic engagement on behalf of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, the Bahamas Federation of Labour, the Progressive Liberal Party, and more. The Grounds offered a space of refuge too. It embraced the crowd that sought it out on “Black Tuesday” in 1965 after mace and hourglass had quit the House of Assembly. By the 1960s, the Grounds reigned as the established home of the whole progressive movement. To study the road to Majority Rule is to call to mind “Gov’ment Ground.”
That the Grounds should play so central a role in community political assertion could have come as no surprise. For decades the park had offered a hub for shared recreation, spiritual life, and exposure to local and world affairs. Bands played concerts featuring classical music and calypso music, and audiences came to sit and listen. Cricket teams would practice throughout the week to compete on Sunday afternoons. As softball and baseball grew in popularity, those sports also found a home. Basketball would advance, in time, to occupy the western corner of the Grounds. Churches and cathedrals hovered within walking distance of the Grounds, including ones headed by religious leaders like Reverend H.W. Brown of Bethel Baptist Church who encouraged their congregations to play a part in civic matters. Of a Sunday morning, after Mass, public intellectuals thrashed out issues of moment at home and abroad, older men schooled younger men in the values and lore of the community, and elders coached young people about their role in the life of the polity. Stately silk cotton trees, standing like sentinels along the eastern, southern, and western flanks of the park, used their silhouettes to shade those debates and exchanges and lent stature and grace to the setting. Teaching, learning, mentoring – all were hallmarks of the milieu, for astride the northern edge of the Grounds stood the Western Junior School and the Western Senior School, two institutions which nursed future leaders of the colony and the nation, and in company with them stood the Southern Public Library, established in 1951 and later known as the Lillian G. Weir-Coakley Public Library, which came to be utilized by students and public alike. In view of its central location, its tradition of service, and its august presence, for the Grounds to answer the call to political commitment at mid-century was a natural response.
After 1967 had ushered in Majority Rule, the Grounds continued to be a center of recreation, reflection, and education. But while the park fulfilled many community needs through the twentieth century, none had the lasting impact of its historic role in mid-century politics. One echo today of that notable role is the Randol Fawkes Labour Day Parade which features marching bands and Junkanoo performers. On occasion this parade makes its terminal point the Southern Recreation Grounds. There government officials and union leaders give speeches, recalling rituals of discourse and oratory that governed the park half a century ago.