Sir Clifford Campbell: A nation takes its identity

Michael Burke

Thursday, June 28, 2018

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Jamaica's second governor general Sir Clifford Clarence Campbell would have been 126 years old today had he been alive, having been born on June 28 1892. In 1962 the new national symbols (anthem, pledge, song, flag, bird, fruit, motto, etcetera) that came with political independence were very important for the psyche of Jamaicans to understand that we were no longer a colony but an independent nation.

Sir Clifford was the first native governor general. In 1962, many felt that the governor general should have been a white Englishman. Mental slavery was even more rampant then. So it was important that our governor general, which is a ceremonial office, looked like the majority of Jamaicans. The tenure of the former primary school teacher as governor general — December 1, 1962 and February 28 1973 — should be seen in this context.

It was therefore important for Sir Clifford to wear the English admiral uniform, as worn by the colonial governors, if only to show that his status was equal or even greater than theirs. For the same reason National Hero Marcus Garvey, as president of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, wore a similar uniform.

In 1993, Justice Hugh Small, who is also a former minister of government, told a Jamaica College (JC) old boys' luncheon that he recalled being a small boy at JC in 1952 when King George VI of Great Britain died. The entire school, then an institution for the sons of the elite, was summoned by then Headmaster Hugo Chambers, who told them that he had just learned on short wave radio of the death of King George VI.

There was weeping and wailing amid shouts of “Long live the King!” This was only 10 years before Jamaica's achievement of political independence. So from Justice Small's account one can understand the work that was needed to educate our populace about being an independent nation.

In 1962, there were many brown-skinned middle-class people who were all for political independence as they thought that they would become the new overlords. And, yes, many of the middle-class Jamaicans did become the new overlords for the next 30 years or so, because they were the only Jamaicans privileged with a secondary education. Indeed, in Africa, British colonial divide-and-rule policy took the form of the colonial overlords educating one tribe only.

And Julius Nyerere, as president of Tanzania, addressed the problem when there were complaints. In an address to his citizens, Nyerere told Tanzanians that it would continue to be that way until the rest of the nation caught up with education. There was definitely a parallel in Jamaica in respect of the class divisions that the colonial authorities created and left here at the time of political independence.

There were many who gave Sir Clifford and Lady Campbell a hard time because it was rumoured that they did not understand the sort of etiquette that was expected of occupants of King's House. “Teacha nuh custom to nuh fork-fork and nuh plate-plate,” Lady Campbell allegedly told the waitresses at King's House. “Put all a dem inna one dish.”

If truth be told, many of the English governors were not used to that sort of life either. Many serious things are said in jest, so we can read between the lines the words of Jamaica's last colonial governor and our first Governor General Sir Kenneth Blackburne: “I can go back to washing my own dishes now,” he said as a joke at his farewell party.

But, in the end, the nation was very proud of the Campbells. Born in Petersfield, Westmoreland, Teacher Campbell became the first member of the House of Representatives in 1944 for Westmoreland Western. Winning again, in 1949, he was made Speaker of the House of Representatives when previous Speaker Osward Alphansus Malcolm lost his seat in an election petition.

It was during those years that Campbell as Member of the House of Representatives co-operated with the Roman Catholic Church in its attempts to set up co-operative housing in Sheffield, Westmoreland. In the end it did not happen because the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) could not release the late Jamaican priest, Father Sydney Judah, then pastor of St Joseph's Church, Savanna-la-Mar, to be the full-time manager of the project.

Campbell lost his seat on the two ensuing occasions, first to Fred “Slaveboy” Evans in 1955, and second to Rudolph Robinson in 1959. In 1962, Sir Clifford Campbell was Jamaica's first president of the Senate, a post he held for nearly four months before being sworn in as governor general in the National Stadium in 1962.

Sir Clifford, a former Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) legislator, never denied the allegation written in The Gleaner that members of the JLP were angry with him after his appointment because he refused to pay party dues once he had been appointed. And Campbell made his displeasure known when Michael Manley led the People's National Party to victory in 1972.

In his speech of congratulation to Michael Manley on being appointed prime minister, Sir Clifford said, “Change and decay, in all around I see.” And he was referring to the tenure of the JLP in Government in the 1960s when the economy was booming. The problem was that the 'boom' did not trickle down to the masses.

Jamaica House, which was originally built as the residence of the prime minister, was completely finished in 1964 as Sir Clifford celebrated two years in office as governor general. Yet in 1973, having been invited to Jamaica House by then Prime Minister Michael Manley, Sir Clifford remarked that it was the first time that he had ever set foot in Jamaica House with the clear insinuation that he had not been invited there before. Was that because he refused to pay party dues once he became governor general?

Today, there is still an attitude that anything foreign is better. Unfortunately, our education system never really addressed that.

Michael Burke is a research consultant, historian and current affairs analyst. Send comments to the Observer or

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