Jamaica has had a long history of persons lobbying for the rights of Black people, as this issue has always been of great concern from the time of Slavery. Consequently, over the centuries, there have been several activists in Jamaica who have made significant impacts both locally and internationally. Of course, one of the most popular of these was Marcus Garvey. However, there were activists in Jamaica before Garvey, some of whom may have influenced Garvey to follow that path. Persons like Robert Osborn, Richard Hill, and, the focus of this piece, Edward Jordon.
Jamaican, Edward Jordon, was a free coloured of mixed ancestry. He was born into the Jamaican slave society circa 1800. Though he was a free coloured and enjoyed certain privileges, he grew to realize that he, and those like him, did not enjoy the same privileges as their white counterparts. For example, free coloureds could not be hold any public office, be members of the jury or magistrate, in fact, they could not even give evidence under oath in court. In addition, they could not vote or put themselves up as candidates in any elections and could not hold any managerial positions on the plantations, not even their own. They were also restricted as to how much property they could acquire or even inherit.
At the age of twenty, Jordon joined the free-coloured campaign for civil rights so as to help in the fight to obtain full civil rights for people of his class. He quickly accepted the post of Secretary for the civil rights group. As word spread about the “secret society” formed by Jordon and a group of young men, like himself, there was much backlash. The ruling class saw the group as a threat and considered its efforts to be a conspiracy against authority. So, several strategies were employed to dismantle the group. However, Jordon and the others were relentless in their efforts and eventually filed a petition with the House of Assembly to have free coloureds participate fully in the political life of Jamaica. Not surprisingly, the petition was rejected, however, certain rights were eventually granted in 1824.
In 1828, Jordon and his close friend and political ally, Robert Osborn, established a newspaper called Watchman and Jamaica Free Press which they used to support the civil rights campaign and demand change. Jordon was arrested and charged with sedition and treason, as a result of an editorial published in the newspaper. Though he escaped the charges, he spent six months in lock up on a libel charge.
After his incarceration, Jordon never stopped agitating for the oppressive laws and practices of the island to be repealed. In a bold move, following the Christmas Rebellion led by Sam Sharpe in 1831, Jordon penned a circular in which he demanded the instant repeal of the oppressive laws and practices and threatened that if the demands were not met, then the slave population would “rise arms, … until the streets of Kingston should run blood. ” Supposedly out of fear, the Legislature granted all the demands. This was a significant victory for Jordon and the civil rights society and as a result, his people called him, The Untitled Ruler of a Ransomed Race.
In 1835, Jordon ran for a seat in the Assembly and had a convincing win. He served in that capacity until 1864. Jordon held several positions, which were at one time exclusive to whites. He was appointed to the Legislative Council in 1852; he became the first non-white Mayor of Kingston in 1854 and Speaker of the Assembly in 1861. In 1864, he was appointed Receiver General and then in 1865, Island Secretary. Jordon was also bestowed the honour of Companion of the Bath by Queen Victoria in 1860.
Edward Jordon died in 1869 and, in 1875, a statue was built in his honour at Victoria Park, now St. William Grant Park.