Columns

Clifford Campbell, born 120 years ago

MICHAEL BURKE

Thursday, June 28, 2012    

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Today is the 120th anniversary of the birth of Sir Clifford Campbell, the second governor general of Jamaica and the first Jamaican to hold the post. The first GG was Sir Kenneth Blackburne who had also been the last colonial governor of Jamaica. Sir Clifford died in 1991 at the age of 99. It is fitting that the 120th anniversary of the birth of Sir Clifford Campbell falls in the same year as the 50th anniversary of Jamaica's Independence.

Apparently, both Sir Alexander Bustamante, the first leader of the Jamaica Labour Party, and Norman Manley, the first president of the People's National Party, had decided that whoever won would find a very black man to be the governor general. Norman Manley's choice was Rudolph Burke, but the JLP won and Sir Alexander's choice, Clifford Campbell, was appointed.

Sir Clifford Campbell was born in Petersfield in Westmoreland. His education was at the Petersfield Elementary School and Mico Teachers' College. He had won the Issa scholarship. He was principal of three elementary schools in Westmoreland. A man with an interest in music and painting, he served on the managing committee of the western federation of teachers, on the board of visitors of Savanna la Mar Hospital and several school boards.

Campbell was the Member of the House of Representatives for Western Westmoreland from December 1944 to January 1955. He was also the first president of the Jamaica Senate, immediately following political Independence, serving nearly four months before assuming the office of governor general on December 1, 1962. Campbell was also on the managing committee of the Westmoreland Rice Growers Association and was first vice president of the association of branches of the Jamaica Agricultural Society. He was also a member of a committee of the House of Representatives to investigate the conditions of Jamaican farm workers in the USA. It is unfortunate, however, that the visits by Jamaican politicians to the farm work sites over the last seven decades have never caused the sort of improvement that was required.

At the time of Sir Clifford Campbell's appointment as governor general in 1962, many Jamaicans felt that only whites should serve in that office. Up to the 1970s there were many white Jamaicans residing in the island. They were for the most part the descendants of the slave owners. But other white people in Jamaica were the descendants of German and Portuguese indentured servants and of the white Haitian refugees. Others were Syrians, who came at the time of the Great Exhibition in 1891, which was Jamaica's first attempt at tourism.

It is true that the planter-class whites saw themselves as being above other white people in the island. In any case, the black people who were trained to be in awe of the whites could not, for the most part make the distinction between a rich white person and a poor one. However, all of this intra-white division was forgotten when the appointment of Sir Clifford Campbell became known. Most of them joined in one voice in criticising the move. While a few decades before, Campbell could not go further than the gate of King's House, the upper classes were not able to stop his rise in 1962.

So Sir Clifford and Lady Campbell had to endure upper-class gossip about their lack of social graces. But even if some of the gossip was true, so what? The rumour about Lady Campbell speaking to the table attendants at Kings House and saying, "Teacha nuh custom to no fork-fork and no plate-plate, put all a dem inna one dish" did not go over well with higher society. But the truth is that no one dines sumptuously every day, or we would all weigh at least 500 pounds. They were appalled that Lady Campbell took her chickens from Westmoreland to King's House, but in later years Michael Manley started the "Baby Hounslow" farm at Jamaica House.

Yet Sir Clifford did succeed in lifting the collective self-confidence of Jamaicans to some extent, though obviously not far enough, given our history of mental slavery. But in any case, a start is a start. To his credit, Sir Clifford was very impartial in the office of governor general. According to Gleaner columnist William Strong (which was the nom de plume for Evon Blake), Sir Clifford Campbell's fallout with the JLP started after he became governor-general. He refused to continue paying party dues to the JLP. By 1967, Hugh Shearer as prime minister was making enquiries of other people if they would be interested in becoming governor general.

The rift was obvious in Sir Clifford's last year in the post. Attending Jamaica House for a function in 1972 when Michael Manley was prime minister, he said that it was the first time he was ever invited into Jamaica House - which was built in 1964. What could be up for discussion is whether the trend of impartiality set by Sir Clifford was always followed by succeeding governors general.

ekrubm765@yahoo.com

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