Carrying propaganda too far


Thursday, March 22, 2018

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Around the time of political independence in 1962, the Jamaica Information Service published a booklet on six great men in Jamaica. Included in that book were George William Gordon, Paul Bogle, Edward Jordan, Marcus Garvey, Sir Alexander Bustamante, and Norman Manley.

In the biography of Bustamante, the story of being adopted by a Spanish governor while a child and carried to Spain, hence the name “Bustamante”, drew the ire of his first cousin, Norman Manley. He wrote a stinging letter that was published in The Daily Gleaner. In that letter he wrote that putting that false story in an official document at political independence was “carrying a joke too far”.

Norman Manley knew, in the words of his son Michael, that Bustamante “did not cross the Atlantic before 1950”, when he was 66 years old. In his unfinished autobiography, Norman Manley wrote that Bustamante's life story would have been far more interesting had he told the truth. In his book Alexander Bustamante and Modern Jamaica, George Eaton also dispelled the myth.

I am reminded of this by the response coming from Orville Brown to Ewart Walters, who wrote a letter entitled 'Father of which nation?' in reaction to Prime Minister Andrew Holness referring to Edward Seaga as such. In the Sunday Gleaner of March 18, 2018 Brown wrote: “Even if the PNP [People's National Party] president had some valid claim to the birthing, he surrendered it when he chose to pursue his dream of a federation of the West Indies.”. That to me is carrying not a joke but political propaganda too far.

True, Jamaica was not yet politically independent while we were a federation, just as we were not yet independent when we achieved universal adult suffrage in 1944 and upgraded self-government in 1953 and 1957. But Britain's idea was to give us political independence as a federation. Norman Manley was in favour of federation but, in the referendum he called, the people of Jamaica voted against it. The United States of America is a federation and it is politically independent. So is Canada.

Bustamante was in favour of federation initially until he saw political advantages in opposing it. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) had no money to contest a by-election to the Federal House, so the excuse given was that the JLP was opposed to federation. Norman Manley 'swallowed the bait' and called a referendum, which he lost. And the PNP also lost the general election of April 10, 1962.

But before the PNP lost the election, Norman Manley, as premier, went to England in February 1962 to seek political independence as a single nation in accordance with the wishes of Jamaicans as expressed in the referendum. And, having done that, he did not surrender any claim to being called “Father of the nation”, contrary to what Orville Brown wrote.

Norman Manley advocated self-government when the great labour leader, Bustamante, was saying that self-government was slavery. Norman Manley opened up the high schools to poor children when members of the JLP were stating that “salt fish is better than education”. Indeed, Jamaica Welfare was the model on which the PNP Administration led by Norman Manley carried out its work. Orville Brown understated Jamaica Welfare in a great way.

I agree with Ewart Walters that “Jamaica Welfare had a much more profound impact on the island than did the small increases in wages that the trade unions arranged.” It was much more than just an organisation that “taught homemaking skills and encouraged social life”, according to Orville Brown. There were also self-help housing, as well as the promotion of co-operatives and each-one-teach-one-adult literacy. The social skills mentioned by Brown were wide and varied, which included making clothes and learning how to work together.

By the early 1940s Jamaica Welfare became an arm of the colonial government and was called Jamaica Social Welfare Commission. It was so efficiently run that it was the best way to organise farm produce for the Second World War when the soldiers in Europe were running out of food supplies.

When Norman Manley came to power in 1955 he added the youth camps, later upgraded to youth training centres in the 1970s, and later renamed HEART in the 1980s by Edward Seaga, who also renamed Jamaica Social Welfare Commission as Social Development Commission in the 1960s.

In terms of culture development, underplaying the role of Jamaica Welfare would have been frowned upon if Louise Bennett-Coverley were alive. Jamaica Welfare hired a language professor from England to come to Jamaica and record the folk songs throughout the rural areas of Jamaica. Given Edward Seaga's propensity to build on the work of Norman Manley it would not surprise me if Edward Seaga included all of this in his research while a university sociology student in the 1950s. Louise Bennett (later Coverley) worked at Jamaica Welfare. It was Jamaica Welfare that hired Harry Belafonte to record Jamaica Farewell and The Banana Boat Song, which is on the label of the old 78 RPM records. Did you know that, Orville Brown?” Jamaica Welfare did much to promote local talent and local dance in the rural areas. It would also have been frowned upon by many local entertainers of the 1930s and 1940s who played a role in Jamaica Welfare.

Michael Manley wrote in his book A Voice at the Workplace that his father, Norman, created the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation primarily because the only other station Radio Jamaica and Reddifusion, then a private company, did little if anything at that time to promote local entertainment.

The fact that the PNP adopted the Marcus Garvey programme does not in any way negate the work of Norman Manley, nor does the fact that J A G Smith called for a new constitution before the advent of either the National Reform Association or the PNP.

I will not underrate the voluminous work of Edward Seaga just because so much done by him was built upon Norman Manley's concept of Jamaica Welfare. Where the PNP should thank Orville Brown is in his reminding everyone, along with Ewart Walters, that there was a sort of evolution between Marcus Garvey's People's Political Party and the PNP.

I have pointed out to many readers that whatever quarrel Norman Manley had with Marcus Garvey that nearly led to fisticuffs does not mean that Manley was against black power or, for that matter, Garvey was against socialism. In Norman Manley's valedictory address to the PNP in November 1968 he said, “I salute black power.”

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

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