The other legacy of José Lake, Sr. that turned 50 in 2009 By Shujah Reiph


The 84th birthday anniversary of the late St. Martin patriot Joseph H. Lake, Sr. (1925-1976)—better known as José Lake, might have been remembered quietly by a few family members and friends on October 4, 2009.

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But another legacy of the man known as the father of journalism for the whole island and "dean of the political opposition" in the South from 1959 to 1976, reached another anniversary milestone in 2009, some 33 years after his death.

The year 2009 marked the 50th anniversary of a still active family media tradition started by José Lake, Sr.

This article focuses on a direct family link to Lake’s media work. (But there are also those individuals and print and broadcast media on both parts of St. Martin that could claim to be directly and indirectly inspired by the Lake journalistic tradition.)

On July 1, 1959, José Lake, Sr. founded the Windward Islands Opinion newspaper and the People’s Printery. At the foundation of these two interlinked businesses was a philosophy of advocacy journalism and service to the people of the island and not just to the "Dutchside" or "Frenchside"—or reinforcing those colonial divisions.

Furthermore, the founding purpose of the Opinion was stated as "a means of helping to improve the social, economic, educational, and political conditions of the Windward Islands by advocating against the causes of Injustice and Oppression."

Leo Friday of St. Martin and Will Johnson of Saba know a lot about the trials and achievements of Lake, the man the late commissioner and businessman Rupert Maynard repeatedly labeled as a Cassandra prophet. (Cassandra was the Greek prophetess who was cursed to foretell the truth but each time her people would not believe her predictions, causing her much pain and frustration.)

Johnson and Friday are probably two of the more consistent chroniclers of Mr. José Lake’s life and time. Both, as Johnson puts it, not only know intimately about Lake’s "struggles, conflicts and sorrows, but also of the fun times."

Lake paid a heavy price for challenging the political and economic establishments on both parts of the island. Most businesses refused to advertise in the Opinion, keeping it economically weak. Lake was once literally the lone public voice exposing the bad treatment of workers and what he called the "slave wages" paid to employees.

In the 1960s, Lake’s life was threatened; his office was burned to the ground in Philipsburg; and he was officially declared persona non-grata in the North for writing about the poor educational system.

In fact, it was another great St. Martin patriot, the late politician Felix Choisy who got the persona non-grata status revoked.

Lake fearlessly wrote about issues that ranged from political corruption, environmental destruction of Fort Willem hill, to involving the churches in stopping Zwarte Piet as a racist symbol from visiting St. Martin schools during Christmas time.

Many people who are still alive today had to hide in alleys or in their homes to read the Opinion in the early 1960s. All of this is documented in the books National Symbols of St. Martin and For the Love of St. Maarten.

José Lake, Sr. not only published his Opinion as of 1959 but also the Shaka magazine of his son Joseph H. Lake, Jr. in the early 1970s. Both publications were printed at the People’s Printery by Tony Hawley, the nephew of Lake, Sr. Hawley ran the printing shop in those days. In the early 1970s, Lake, Jr. became an editor of the Opinion.

The first descendent publisher of the José Lake media tradition was Joseph H. Lake, Jr. He founded the Windward Islands Newsday in 1976, at the demise of the Opinion – following his father’s death that same year.

Newsday would face much of the same economic boycott as the Opinion for its reporting on government corruption and business exploitation of workers. Lake, Jr.’s publishing company was called Windward Islands Graphics.

In the 1990s Lake, Jr. published the tourism magazine Welkom/Bienvenue and in the early 2000s, following the closing of Newsday, The Republic of St. Martin. Between both Lakes, the island also had its first dailies and color newspapers.

The second business to grow directly out of the foundation laid by the senior Lake is Tony’s Printing Shop, founded by Tony Hawley in 1982. Tony was reared by Lake as his son and from the age of nine, became the classic printer’s apprentice. He is in fact St. Martin’s senior and most experienced printer. Tony’s Printing Shop is based in Middle Region, the native village of Jose Lake’s family.

The third media that claims descendant from the Lake tradition is House of Nehesi Publishers (HNP). The book publisher was founded in 1982 by Lake, Sr.’s son Lasana Sekou in his New York university dorm room. HNP was established in St. Martin in 1984 and is in its 27th year with over 70 publications by new and senior authors from St. Martin, throughout the Caribbean and the USA.

From 1976 Hawley worked with Lake, Jr. before launching his own printing business, while Sekou was publishing for at least two years in the USA before coming home to work with his older brother as a Newsday editor from 1984 to 1995. As children, all three sold copies of the Opinion newspaper.

Cooperation and exchange of media information formally and informally between Lake, Jr., Hawley and Sekou continue to this day. However, I am told that it is Tony who is teased the most among the media brothers as looking "more and more like the old man."

The three brothers uphold Lake, Sr. as the founding patriarch of the family’s media tradition, as the foundation and inspiration of their individual work. For many of us in the media José Lake is a champion who paved the way for freedom of expression and press freedom as a vigorous practice and not just as an ideal in St. Martin.

According to Johnson, José Lake also created a consistent forum to empower the island’s people, bringing them out of various forms of inferiority complexes.

Often the few who openly stood up with José Lake, some quietly and some more "bold and brave," did so at serious social, political, and economic risk to their person, their families and livelihood.

As for continuing the media tradition, there are at least three younger Lakes (in their early 20s and early 30s) showing real interest in the media, namely sports broadcasting/production, web design/publishing, and entertainment publishing.

The three younger Lakes have also worked with or share media ideas with one or more of their senior Lake kin. Time will tell how far into the future the new generation will take this St. Martin family tradition of publishing and printing … beyond its 50th anniversary.