The Garvey and Manley Face-off

The Right Excellencies Marcus Mosiah Garvey and Norman Washington Manley are arguably two of the most popular of Jamaica’s National Heroes. That may probably be because both shared certain qualities such as eloquence and charisma. In addition, both men fought for the rights of their fellow countrymen; though Garvey took his fight globally for all persons of African descent. They both also entered politics as a means to press for the rights for the people they represented and to be a part of the decision-making process in governing the country. So, with all these like qualities, one would expect that both men would be friends. Often times, persons with shared qualities become friends, or as Jamaicans would say, “Birds of a feather, flock together.” However, this was not the case for Garvey and Manley. These two seemed to have had a long standing feud. In fact, the two came close to having a fist fight in 1932.

The feud between Garvey and Manley seems to have stemmed from the time Amy Ashwood, Garvey’s first wife, retained Manley for their divorce/adultery case. Ashwood alleged that Garvey’s marriage to Amy Jacques was not legal because he and she were not legally divorced. They had a series of court battles in the United States which continued in Jamaica after Garvey’s deportation in 1927. It is during this case in Jamaica that Manley accused Garvey of being a bigamist. From there, the two seemed to always be on the opposite side of the fence.   

Skip forward to 1932, when businessman and land proprietor, Mr. George Penso, obtained a permit from the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC) to build a gas station at the corner of Oxford Road and Old Hope Road. The problem was, this area was deemed an upscale residential area, and, with classism being very prevalent at the time, this decision was met with much resistance from the well-to-do, especially Dr. Godfrey, who resided across the road from the construction site. Dr. Godfrey alleged that the gas station would depreciate the value of surrounding properties. Though the building was near completion, Mr. Penso was asked to reapply for a permit as the meeting at which the first approval was granted was not “properly” constituted. Mr. Penso, under the instruction of his lawyer, refused to reapply and the matter became a hot topic for discussion in the society.

Garvey held a public meeting at the Old Wolmer’s Yard which was located next to the Kingston Parish Church. He sought to get public opinion on the matter and put forward that Mr. Penso had done nothing wrong. As the matter became more heated, the Mayor at the time, Mr. George Seymour, sought legal assistance and hired the firm, Manton & Hart, which in turn retained Norman Manley, who was the most sought after lawyer of the time. A meeting was requested with all parties involved, including the committee that had initially issued the permit.

Things took a turn for the worse when the Mayor disallowed Garvey from voting at the meeting as he accused him of being biased.  Not only was Garvey and Penso friends, but the Mayor alleged that the hosting of the public meeting might have prejudiced the case. Garvey fired back by emphatically denying any conflict of interest. However, the Mayor insisted that Garvey was not qualified to vote as he had solicited the public’s opinion on voting to keep the gas station. To that, Garvey responded: “Well, I know the legal mind and I know there are always subterfuges … I am going to bow to your ruling only, but I am going to differ from your counsel who does not seem to know that an elected representative always possesses the right to consult the people who elected him on any matter; and I am sorry for the legal intelligence, the political intelligence of counsel, if he does not know that that could not disqualify one dealing with a public matter representing the people. But I bow to your ruling.”

Apparently, Mr. Manley took offense to Garvey’s statement and quickly rose to his feet and stated that he was not going to stay and listen to Garvey’s offensive statements. He went further to say that Garvey knew nothing about law. The war of words continued as follows:

Garvey:            I know as much as you about this matter.

Manley:          I have not been invited here to listen to any impertinence from Mr Garvey

Garvey:           Neither from you, too.

Manley:          I have given my opinion and he has not the decency and intelligence …

Garvey:           You are most irresponsible.

Manley:          And you are a positive disgrace.

Garvey:            Look here, Manley, I don’t care about you. You fellows seem to assume some right that is not justifiable.

At this point, the Mayor tried to intervene and quell the argument. However, Garvey was so upset, he continued to lash out.

Garvey:           How dare him call me impertinent, Sir, when I have only exercised my right to say what I understand about the matter. You must be one of the socially drunk people who think that.

Manley:           Look here, you are a loud-voiced person and I am not going to answer you in any way. If you insist on being rude and impertinent …

Garvey:           You are not physically well enough to be loud-voiced.

Manley:          Do you really think so? Then step outside.

Garvey:           I would be sorry for what would happen to you.

Manley again invited Garvey to step outside, but the latter remained seated. However, the argument continued.

The extent of the feud between Marcus Garvey and Norman Manley was so far-reaching that there was a legend of Garvey placing a curse on Manley. The story is told that both men had a run in with each other at another court case where Manley was representing one of Garvey’s foes. While on the witness stand, the judge had asked Garvey if he sails a flag and if an emblem was on it, to which he responded yes. When the judge asked Manley if he saw a flag, Manley responded that he had only seen a dirty piece of cloth. So, Garvey is said to have placed the curse on Manley by saying, “That same piece of cloth, you shall use it when you roll up your shirt sleeve and fight for the same people you are fighting against. But you shall be ten years late!” The curse is said to have been manifested when Bustamante won a landslide victory in the 1944 elections and it was not until 1955 that Manley came to power, approximately 10 years later.

Such a pity two of Jamaica’s son’s were at odds for so long. Can you imagine what a formidable force they would have been working together?

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