Coral Gardens risingTuesday, June 15, 2021
BY HOWARD CAMPBELL
ONE of the defining incidents in Jamaican history, the 1963 Coral Gardens stand-off between police, Rastafarians and landowners, remains a sensitive topic for the Jamaican Rasta.
Singer V Merchant and Sizzla recall the Holy Thursday event in St James with the song We Will Rise. That incident resulted in eight deaths, including two police officers and three Rastafarians.
In an interview with the Jamaica Observer, V Merchant said he learned about Coral Gardens from Rastafarian elders who were victimised in its aftermath. He addressed the importance of the Internet generation being aware of their country's past.
“The richest part of Jamaican history has not been told and can only be found on the lips of the locals who share their testimony with anyone who is willing to listen,” said V Merchant. “During one of the many reasoning sessions I had with Rastafari elders I learned of the Coral Gardens incident. I was overwhelmed with their stories, the evidence of their physical and emotional scars, and their ability to still carry on living with a positive attitude.”
We Will Rise is written and produced by V Merchant, who brought Sizzla on the project because he has similar beliefs about Jamaica's history and the role Rastas played in shaping the country.
It was after getting a warts-and-all description of what transpired at Coral Gardens 58 years ago, he decided a song was appropriate.
“As a Rastaman it hurts to learn of such brutality against humanity but it also gives hope to Jamaicans marginalised by society and how they were able to establish themselves into an organised, thriving community,” said V Merchant.
Among the dead at Coral Gardens was Rudolph Franklin, leader of a Rastafarian group that set the Ken Douglas Shell service station there on fire. They killed three civilians as well as Corporal Clifford Melbourne and Inspector Bertie Scott.
The previous year, Franklin was arrested by police for farming illegally on land owned by the prominent Kerr-Jarrett family.
He and two colleagues, Lloyd Waldron and Noel Bowen, were killed by police in the Coral Gardens tragedy.
The incident summed up the level of discrimination against Rastafarians in Jamaica which can be traced to the infamous Whoppy King crimes of 1951.
In the days following the bloodletting at Coral Gardens, many Rastafarians were beaten and had their locks cut.
Two Rastafarians, Carlton Bowen and Clinton Larman, were charged with murder and hung in December 1964 for their roles in the Coral Gardens drama.
V Merchant is originally from Trelawny but has lived in Canada since the 1990s. He has been recording since 2006. Several of his songs, such as War Zone, recall life-changing incidents like the West Kingston incursion of 2010.
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