THE Hon Dudley Thompson OJ, QC who died on Friday in New York at the age of 95 was a genuine Jamaican hero whose important contributions extend beyond this island to the Third World, Africa and the African diaspora.
Indeed, his years of service and advocacy on behalf of the African people influenced the Organisation of African Unity to name him an ‘African Legend’.
War veteran, lawyer, politician, government minister and Ambassador, his stature is not fully appreciated because he was a controversial politician associated with the Green Bay operation in which he said “no angles died”. However, he later issued a public apology, a precedent which others who have far more to apologise for should follow.
He was a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force during World War II, a rare distinction for a black man from the colonies. After his war service he returned to Jamaica, joined the People’s National Party and was among the leaders who championed the cause of the disgruntled returning servicemen.
He was a graduate of Mico College and his academic brilliance won him the coveted Rhodes Scholarship which he took up at Oxford University, graduating with an MA in Jurisprudence and was called to the Bar at Gray’s Inn in London in 1950.
While in England, Mr Thompson was a colleague of Messrs George Padmore, CLR James and Kwame Nkrumah.
Ambassador Thompson, who was president of the Jamaican Bar Association and was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1963, established his early legal practice in Tanganyika (later renamed Tanzania) and Kenya where he defended Messrs Jomo Kenyatta during the trials for leading the Mau Mau rebellion and Julius Nyerere.
Fortunately, he chronicled these exploits in his 1993 book: From Kingston to Kenya. The Making of a Pan-Africanist Lawyer. These efforts were the start of his life-long anticolonial, anti-imperial struggle which characterised his tenure as minister of foreign affairs during the Michael Manley Government of the late 1970s when he defended Cuba’s right to self-determination and the countries of the Non-aligned Movement.
A distinguishing highlight of Dudley Thompson’s career was his return to Africa as Jamaica’s first Ambassador to Nigeria.
But outside of his service to Jamaica and the world, Ambassador Thompson will be remembered most for his sharp mind and ability to take the most complex brief in a few minutes and then expound on it authoritatively at length.
He was articulate and had a flair for the dramatic. His timing and changes of expression and tone of voice carried over to all his social interactions. He was also a very witty raconteur and story teller who always held his audience in rapt attention.
The appellation ‘Burning Spear’ by which he was known was apt as he was fearless in his fight for justice and human rights. In recent years he was a passionate reparations advocate and was a member of the Group of Eminent Persons of the Movement for Reparations to Africa and the Diaspora.
Ambassador Thompson’s goals, spirit, conduct and accomplishments were heroic. His life is an inspiration to all who seek justice and development for the people of Jamaica and the African diaspora.