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The doubles game continues

Monday, May 15, 2017

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Reader interest in the saga of the two national anthems and the two national flags prompted me to go back to another doubles game, the controversy that flared up over two houses in December 1962.Our journey to Independence was not flagged by wars or revolution, but there are many interesting bumps on that road with dramatic background stories that add drama to those exciting years.

The contributions of our national heroes and their places in history are well enshrined. But there are many other lesser-known heroes who played pivotal roles in the early stirrings of nationalism that surfaced after the 'Morant War' of 1865 as Jamaicans began to take aim at the stranglehold imposed on people and country by Crown colony government.

As an elementary schoolboy I recall a Pioneer Press book series issued by the Department of Education and which was distributed to elementary schools as auxiliary reading for 5th and 6th class students. One such book was Six Great Jamaicans, written by W Adolphe Roberts. At my tender age it didn't hold as much interest as the comic book adventures of Roy Rogers and Lone Ranger, but I scanned it because of the cowboy and Indian distractions. I lost out on the stories and legends of nation-builders like Paul Bogle, George William Gordon, and Edward Jordan, whose achievements I believe were chronicled in the book.

I also missed the biological sketch of Dr Robert Love, a black man born in Nassau in 1835, who settled in Jamaica in 1889 and emerged, according to a Robert Hill essay, as the most prominent radical figure in Jamaican politics at the turn of the century. He played a leading role against British imperialism. His newspaper, Jamaica Advocate, was his major platform for democratic rights. And one of his major battleground strategies was to appeal to the black section of the population who had voting rights (very limited and only to those with some pence) to make themselves available as candidates for election to the Assembly.

Marcus Garvey credited Love with much of his early education on race consciousness. Love's paper spanned pan-African and international thinking and strengthened the democratic movement against colonialism in the opening rounds of the 20th century.

There seems hardly any regard in our national heritage reviews for Love's outspokenness and courage. Certainly there was no mention of him in my civics classes, and it took many years after the Pioneer Press series to discover someone like Love, whose achievements on our behalf ought to occupy a more prominent place in our history.

After Love, there was much more to come. Marcus Garvey founded Jamaica's first modern political party, the Peoples' Political Party (PPP), in 1929.The PPP focused on workers' rights, education for the poorer classes, housing, agricultural improvement schemes, and a host of welfare programmes aimed at securing aid for the poor. Such a party wasn't going to get too far in Jamaica in the 1920s, and sure enough, it did not. In fact, Garvey was thrown into a Jamaican jail on some petty excuse, but incredibly he won his constituency seat while incarcerated.

In 1936 the growing national spirit was energised by the forming of the Peoples' Progressive League in New York by Walter Adolphe Roberts, W G McFarlane and Wilfred Domingo with the express intent of seeking self-government for Jamaica. It was the League, later spearheaded by H P Jacobs, Richard Hart, and joined by O T Fairclough and Ken Hill, who persuaded Norman Manley to take up the mantle of political party leadership in 1938.

Other standout stories included the launch of Jamaica Welfare in 1937 by Manley, a movement concerned with the general welfare of grass roots people.

In and around the same time the legendary stories of a Alexander Bustamante wrestling with St William Grant and A G “Father' Coombs over union leadership, Alexander Bedward's oratory that moved thousands across the island to witness his 'ascension' — which went no higher than a mango tree — and Bustamante's singular leadership of the labour movement, all have backgrounds attached to them that are still to see the light of day.

Often forgotten in this historical kaleidoscope are the roles played by Edna Manley, wife of Norman Manley, and Gladys Longbridge, private secretary to Bustamante and later, in 1962, Lady Bustamante.

In those turbulent years of the 1930s both ladies were to play pivotal roles in the lives of their husbands, who themselves were destined to emerge as the leaders of modern Jamaica.

A little-known story is that for want of one shilling and sixpence. Manley may never have got the message in time that Kingston was in riot following the arrest of Bustamante. On May 24 he was in Westmoreland carrying a legal brief at the trial of the Frome workers, unaware of what was happening in the city. It was a famous telegram sent by his wife Edna that brought him back to town. As Sir Herbert MacDonald tells this story, on the day of Busta's arrest he saw Edna at a neighbour's gate, and she asked him to drive her downtown to see what was happening.

They got as near as they could to the Royal Mail Wharf and she decided she wanted to send a telegram to her husband (no telephones available). They went to the Cross Roads Post Office but discovered that neither of them had any money; they had given away every penny they had. MacDonald asked the postmistress if she would trust him one shilling and sixpence and she said yes. The telegram read: “Riot. Come back.” He replied later, telling her that he didn't understand the telegram, but nevertheless he came back the same evening. The rest is history.

Lady Bustamante tells us that Edna was very involved in the waterfront strike. She and Aggie Bernard, a washerwoman who took in clothes for workers on visiting ships, helped to look after the relief meals for the workers on strike. With contributions they were able to supply meals for 1,500 people daily, no easy task.

But politics was not the only development occupying the minds of the people at that time. It can be studied how the emergence of the West Indies as a Test-playing region in the late 1920s and 1930s coincided with the political and cultural movements that marked the early moves towards independence across the British Caribbean.

And, while the labour movement was stirring, George Headley, the little batting master, was representing the hopes and aspirations of thousands of his countrymen whose dreams of Independence and nationhood were slowly being defined by his exploits and achievements on the cricket field.

For example, Headley's centuries in his first two international series resonated well with Garvey's call for dominion status (political independence) for Jamaica in 1929. And the political movement, on the one hand, and the advancement in cricket on the other, continued to grow in the 1930s. Fittingly, it was an epochal moment in cricket history that capped that eventful decade with Headley's unprecedented and immortal 106 and 107 at Lord's in the famous first Test vs England in 1939.

Finally, I give a story with an interesting twist. People's National Party members today may not have known that the headquarters of the party was first located at Edelweiss Park, former headquarters of Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association, it moved to South Camp Road, then lodged on Old Hope Road.

Perhaps more significant is the original plan, in 1938, was to name the party the Jamaica Labour Party. In fact, just one day before the actual launch, on September 18, a weekly newspaper came out with that announcement. Apparently it was felt that party would be incorporating both a political movement and a labour movement.

On reflection at the last minute, however, senior members felt that under the circumstances of the labour unrest, and since most of Jamaica was not familiar with political parties, the term 'labour' would be misleading and seen as a party solely for the working class. Instead, the words 'national' and 'people' would be seen as more all-embracing, and that's how the PNP got its name.

Over on the other side of the street, Bustamante had no such qualms about the word 'labour'.

Well what do you know, this week we are sharing the story of two party names. We got diverted from the story of the two houses in 1962. That interesting story must be saved for another column.

Lance Neita is a historian and public relations consultant. Send comments to the Observer or lanceneita@hotmail.com.

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