“Pride of Place” for Garvey on Jamaica’s Money

Since Jamaica started using dollars and cents as its currency, the designs of the notes and coins have included portraits of National Heroes and showcased Jamaican flora and fauna, scenery and people. Marcus Garvey has always been featured on Jamaican money ever since this shift to the decimal system of currency in 1969. In the initial minting, he appeared on the fifty cent (50¢) bill. He later appeared on the fifty cent (50¢) coin. Then, in the 1990s, when the value of the money began to depreciate and new notes were introduced, his image was placed on the twenty dollar ($20) as well as the twenty-five cent (25¢) coins. Please note the fact that Garvey’s image was the only one to appear twice on any Jamaican money in circulation at the same time and the fact that the twenty dollar coin bearing his image was the first bi-metallic coin to be produced by Jamaica.  

With the approach of the 60th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence, the Minister of Finance, Dr. Nigel Clarke, announced the upgrading of Jamaica’s banknotes. In his presentation in Parliament recently, he noted that Jamaica’s National Heroes no longer appeared on banknotes. Consequently, he stated, “In this 60th year of our Independence, this aspect of the national project must be restored. Our National Heroes must, once again, appear on our banknotes.” So, now, for the first time in Jamaica’s history, all seven heroes will be represented on our banknotes at the same time. The Right Excellencies Nanny of the Maroons and Sam Sharpe will both appear on the new $500 note; the Right Excellencies Paul Bogle and George William Gordon will both appear on the new $50 note and the Right Excellencies Sir Alexander Bustamante and Norman Manley will appear on the new $1,000 banknote.

Of note, is that the Right Excellent Marcus Garvey has been “upgraded” to the new $100 banknote, and, he appears by himself. For many, this raises the question, Why does Garvey’s image appear alone on the note when all the other heroes have to share space? Whilst no reason was given for this by the Minister (not sure if he was asked), one can only make assumptions as to why Garvey is the only hero who has “pride of place” on the new banknotes. It could be because Garvey is one of the most influential persons the world has ever seen, having lead an organization with over eleven million members, at its peak. Or it could be because he is the First National Hero of Jamaica, and as such, he is given prominence over the others. Or maybe it is a symbolic gesture in recognition of his push for economic independence for Black people. After all, the Jamaican currency is a symbol of economic independence for the country (though some may disagree) as it signalled our relinquishing the British currency and fortifying a “Jamaican” economy. In addition, him now being featured on the $100 note is also somewhat symbolic as, this note is arguably the most used of all the Jamaican monies. So, Garvey will be in the hands of all Jamaicans.  

Whatever the reason for the continued “pride of place” Garvey’s image enjoys on Jamaica’s banknotes or coins, the fact that he continues to be recognized is very commendable. Without a doubt, he is deserving of all the acknowledgement, appreciation and respect he gets. His contributions to Jamaica and the wider world have made an indelible impact on almost, if not all, aspects of society.    

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