Life of St. Martin activist still inspires island

Joseph H. Lake Sr. was a pioneer journalist, publisher, politician, labor organizer, orator and patriot.

On July 1, 1959, he founded the Winward Islands Opinion newspaper to improve the Windward Islands. He did so by advocating against the causes of injustice and oppression.

Lake’s writing exposed government neglect and corruption; criticized what he called “slave wages” in the public and private sector; and advanced progressive ideas about self-pride and democracy.

To writer Camille Baly, Lake must be counted among St. Martin’s early trade union advocates and activists.

He was the first to publicly advocate for better wages and facilities for both the pier and one of the island’s early telecommunications firms in the 1960s.

The journalistic and political work of the man widely known as José Lake, placed him in immediate conflict with both sides of the island.

During these day’s of conflict, Lake was verbally abused and many tore his impeccably ironed shirts at political campaign rallies.

His answer to those who asked why he accepted such treatment was simply, ” They’re my people; they don’t understand yet that I am fighting for them.”

A firm believer in the historical unity of St. Martin and the socio-economic oneness of his people, Lake wrote and fought against exploitation and discrimination in the North and South sides of the island.

In 1960 he was banned from traveling to the North portion of the island because he’d written articles condemning the French-colonial education system, took photographs of deplorable classroom conditions and called on the Mayor to correct said deficiencies.

Lake also popularized the phrases that were revived during the heightened political awareness and street demonstrations of the 80s and early 90s: “Long live the people.”

“The people united will never be defeated,” and “Only the people can save the people.” He would raise his fist above his head and punctuate his speeches with these phrases.

José Lake tirelessly encouraged the people of St. Martin, especially the young people, to pursue the highest education possible and to take great pride in being St. Martiners and being black men and women.

All information was obtained from the book National Symbols of St.Maarten/St.Martin By Lasana M. Sekou.