Jamaica has six national heroes and one heroine
Born between 1815 and 1820 Paul Bogle was a Deacon of the Native Baptist Church in Stony Gut, St. Thomas, Jamaica. His belief in the teachings of the Bible inspired him to become involved in the peoples’ struggle for justice. Paul Bogle spent much of his time educating and training the members of his congregation, and is credited with initiating the so-called Morant Bay Rebellion in 1865. Edward Eyre, the then Governor of Jamaica, offered a £2,000 reward for the capture of Paul Bogle for his alleged role in the unrest at Morant Bay.
George William Gordon, the son of a Scottish planter, Joseph Gordon, and one of his female slaves was born at Cherry Garden Estate in St. Andrew. Born in 1820, Gordon was self-educated and became a successful landowner and businessman. He was one of the original founding members of the Jamaica Mutual Life Society, an insurance company. Gordon was an exceptional “free colored”; he championed the cause of poor blacks. As a member of the Jamaica Assembly, his defense of the social and moral rights of the oppressed made him an enemy of the Colonial establishment, particularly Governor John Eyre.
In 1865 when the so-called Morant Bay Rebellion broke out, Gordon was arrested for conspiracy, probably because he was a member of the same Baptist Sect that Paul Bogle belonged to. When Gordon was arrested, the Government could find no evidence to support his arrest. He was hanged with 18 others on October 23, 1865.
Queen Nanny of the Windward Maroons has largely been ignored by historians who have restricted their focus to male figures in Maroon history. However, amongst the Maroons themselves she is held in the highest esteem. Biographical information on Queen Nanny is somewhat vague, with her being mentioned only four times in written historical texts and usually in somewhat derogatory terms. However, she is held up as the most important figure in Maroon history. She was the spiritual, cultural and military leader of the Windward Maroons and her importance stems from the fact that she guided the Maroons through the most intense period of their resistance against the British, between 1725 and 1740.
Queen Nanny is presumed to have been born around the 1680’s in Africa’s Gold Coast (now known as Ghana). She was reported to belong to either the Ashanti or Akan tribe and came to Jamaica as a free woman. It is possible that Queen Nanny brought slaves of her own, reportedly being of royal African blood. It was not uncommon for African dignitaries to keep slaves. She was said to be married to a man named Adou, but had no children. She died in the 1730’s.
Samuel ‘Sam’ Sharpe was born in 1801 in Jamaica. He was also known as ‘Daddy’ Sharpe. He was a slave throughout his life, though he had been allowed to become a well-educated man. Because of his education he was highly respected by other slaves and he became a well known preacher and leader. Sharpe was a Deacon at the Burchell Baptist Church in Montego Bay. He spent most of his time traveling to different estates in St. James area educating the slaves about Christianity and freedom.
In the mistaken belief that emancipation had already been granted by the British Parliament, Sharpe organized a peaceful strike across many estates in western Jamaica at a critical time for the plantation owners: harvest of the sugar cane. The Christmas Rebellion (Baptist War) began on December 25, 1831at the Kensington Estate. This largely known as the Christmas rebellions. Reprisals by the plantation owners led to the rebels burning the crops, but the slaves did not attack the white population. The rebellion was put down by the Jamaican militia within two weeks and many of the ringleaders, including Sharpe, were hanged in 1832. The rebellion caused two detailed Parliamentary Inquiries which contributed to the 1833 Abolition of Slavery across the British Empire.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey (1887-1940), black nationalist leader, who created a “Back to Africa” movement in the United States. Garvey was born the youngest of 11 children in Saint Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. He left school at the age of 14 to serve as a printer’s apprentice. A few years later, he took a job at a printing company in Kingston, where in 1907 he led a printers’ strike for higher wages. Garvey then traveled to South America and Central America. In 1912 he went to England, where he became interested in African history and culture. He returned to Jamaica in 1914 and shortly thereafter founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and the African Communities League.
In 1916 Garvey moved to the United States and settled in New York City. A plaque commemorating the place where he gave his first public address in the United States can be found at 55 West 138th Street in Harlem. He incorporated the UNIA and started a weekly newspaper, the Negro World. A persuasive orator and author, Garvey urged American blacks to be proud of their race and preached their return to Africa, their ancestral homeland. To this end he founded the Black Star Line in 1919 to provide steamship transportation, and the Negro Factories Corporation to encourage black economic independence. Garvey attracted thousands of supporters and claimed two million members for the UNIA. He suffered a series of economic disasters, however, and in 1922 he was arrested for mail fraud. Garvey served as his own defense attorney at his trial, was convicted, and went to prison in 1925. His sentence was commuted two years later, but he was immediately deported to Jamaica. Unable to resurrect the UNIA or regain his influence, Garvey moved to London, where he died in relative obscurity.
He was born William Alexander Clarke to an Irish planter and a mother of Taino origins. He claimed that he took the name Bustamante to honor an Iberian sea captain who befriended him in his youth.
After travelling the world, including working as a policeman in Cuba and as a dietician in a New York City hospital, he returned to Jamaica in 1932 and became a leader of the struggle against colonial rule. He first brought himself to public attention as a writer of letters to the Daily Gleaner newspaper; 1937 he became treasurer of the Jamaica Workers’ Union which had been founded by labour activist Allan G.S. Coombs. During the 1938 labour rebellion he quickly became identified as the spokesman for striking workers, and first manifested the charisma that was to lead to a distinguished political career. Coombs’ JWU became the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) after the revolt, and Bustamante became known as “The Chief”.
He was imprisoned for subversive activities in 1940. A year after his release from prison in 1942, he founded the Jamaican Labour Party. His cousin, Norman Manley, founded the JLP’s chief rival, the People’s National Party. Bustamante’s party won 22 of 32 seats in the first House of Representatives elected by universal suffrage, making Bustamante the unofficial government leader (as Minister for Communications) until the position of Chief Minister was created in1953. He held this position until the JLP was defeated in 1955.
Jamaica was granted independence in 1962 and Bustamante served as the independent country’s first Prime Minister until 1967. However, in 1965 he withdrew from active participation in public life, and on August 06, 1977 exactly 15 years after Jamaica gained independence.
Norman Washington Manley was born at Roxborough, Manchester, on July 4, 1893.
He was a brilliant scholar and athlete, soldier (First World War) and lawyer.
He identified himself with the cause of the workers at the time of the labor troubles of 1938 and donated time and advocacy to the cause.
In September 1938, Manley founded the People’s National Party (PNP) and was elected its President annually until his retirement 31 years later.
Manley and the PNP supported the trade union movement, then led by Alexander Bustamante, while leading the demand for Universal Adult Suffrage. When Suffrage came in 1941, Manley had to wait ten years and two terms before his party was elected to office.
He was a strong advocate of the Federation of the West Indies.
Federation of the West Indies, established in 1958, but when Sir Alexander Bustamante declared that the opposition Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) would take Jamaica out of the Federation, Norman Manley, already renowned for his integrity and commitment to democracy, called a referendum, unprecedented in Jamaica, to let the people decide.
The vote was decisively against Jamaica’s continued membership of the Federation. Norman Manley, after arranging Jamaica’s orderly withdrawal from the union, set up a joint committee to decide on a constitution for separate independence for Jamaica.
He himself chaired the committee with great distinction and then led the team that negotiated our independence from Britain.
The issue settled, Manley again went to the people. He lost the ensuing election to the JLP and gave his last years of service as Leader of the Opposition, establishing definitively the role of the parliamentary opposition in a developing nation.
Norman Manley died on September 2, 1969.