Garvey’s New Jamaica

In 1964, when Prof. Rupert Lewis was Deputy Head Boy at Calabar High School, he wrote an article entitled, “Marcus Garvey, He Opened the Minds of Negroes” which was published in the school’s magazine where he described Garvey as being, “… one of the architects of our new Jamaica.” Garvey had often spoken about a new Jamaica in his writings and speeches, but do we know what was idea of a ‘new Jamaica’? What was his vision for Jamaica? On the eve of our Emancipendence celebrations, we ought to take time out to reflect on what we have achieved since gaining independence and if this was what Garvey had envisioned. However, we must first know what he desired. As such, below is an excerpt from a speech entitled, “The New Jamaica and how we can build it” that Garvey had delivered at Edelweiss Park in Jamaica on July 10, 1932.

“Just at this time the whole world is undergoing a campaign of national inspiration in the respective countries, because the different peoples of the world’s national groups realize that if they do not take interest in themselves, no other group will, and so whether it is Germany, France, China, Japan and England or Russia or America you will find at this time the strong keynote of national preparedness …

You will see that the American group is seeing only from America’s point of view, Germany, from Germany’s point of view, the English group from England’s point of view, and so, those of us who love our country cannot but interest ourselves in this desire to see our country taking a place and standing second to none in the world. When I say second to none, I mean it only in a limited sense, because our country is small, our country is not independent. I mean it from an economical, industrial, social, educational point of view…

There is no reason why any country, whether it is subject to another or not, cannot be self-sustaining in itself, but it rests entirely upon the people who live in it to feel and act. As Jamaicans we claim Jamaica for our native home, we should therefore have the same feeling of love for Jamaica and interest in all things Jamaican as Englishmen have for things concerning England, as the Americans have for all things concerning America and are always on the look out to do everything for the development of their country.

There is no reason why we should not do everything for the development of our country to make Jamaicans the happiest people in the world … Jamaica should be second to none in the world – in the establishing of happy homes, in the contact of smiling people, self-satisfied and contented. Nature has blessed us with everything conducive to this, but by wrong education we have not taken advantage of these natural opportunities.

We have been submitting ourselves to the thought that we can do nothing by ourselves, which is wrong. As soon as we get rid of that thought and become self-reliant, we will be able to build a country sufficiently satisfactory to us and we will not have to leave the country for places abroad, for there is no other country (I can safely say) outside of Ireland where there has been such a continuous flow of depopulation as Jamaica. I hold that there is no other country, within three-quarters of a century, that has driven its citizens abroad more than Jamaica.

As regards pride of country, the Jamaican has none, and that is why his country is in such a terrible state and he himself is subordinate to everybody. It insults the pride of the proud Jamaican who would like to see his country standing alongside of others, and that is why I, along with others, have selected to do the things we know, are right …

Arise Jamaicans and do! The Americans have built up a great commonwealth, the envy of the whole modern world. How long are you going to keep your country back? Jamaica is as old as America, Jamaica is as old as France, Jamaica is as old as England, the Creator made it the same time with all things, animate and inanimate. How long are you going to let your country lie in ruinate while other countries make use of the things around them? How long are you going to be in your lethargic state?”

Garvey’s vision of self-government has since been realized through Jamaica gaining independence from colonial rule. However, we seemed to have failed to realize his dream of a better Jamaica through comradeship as he said, “We want the spirit of national comradeship, let us unite to accomplish this, and Jamaica will indeed become a better place for all of us.” We still have a far way to go, but let us all commit to trying. This is the only way we can reignite our nation for greatness as the theme for Jamaica 60 charges us to do.

The Influence of Maroon Heritage on Garvey

The Maroon culture in Jamaica has long been recognized locally and internationally for being able to outsmart the English and eventually force them to sign peace treaties. Consequently, several events/activities have been planned over the years “to honour and draw national and international attention to the unique history, cultural heritage and practices of Maroon communities in Jamaica”.  Two such popular events are the Accompong Maroon Festival in St. Elizabeth held annually on January 6 and the International Charles Town Maroon Conference and Festival in Portland held annually around June 23.

The story of the Maroons in Jamaica is often shrouded with controversy. However, one cannot deny or ignore the impact of this exclusive set of persons on the history, and politics, to some extent, of Jamaica, thereby making Jamaica’s Maroons, arguably, the most popular and recognized Maroons in the English-speaking Americas. It is this distinction that has resulted in many persons claiming Maroon heritage. They want to be a part of this rich legacy and embrace this unique ethnic identity. Personalities such as Vivian Crawford, Executive Director of the Institute of Jamaica, Buju Banton, internationally-acclaimed singer and songwriter, and Dr. Harcourt Fuller, Assistant Professor of History in the Department of History at Georgia State University are examples of proud descendants of Maroons. Marcus Garvey is said to have been a descendant of Maroons as his father, Malchus, proudly claimed Maroon heritage. However, if Garvey was in fact a Maroon descendant, to what extent did his Maroon heritage help to shape his ideology?

According to Dr. Fuller, a part of the Maroon legacy is the feeling of never being subdued and always seeking justice. We could say that Garvey’s entire life was spent seeking justice. From seeking justice for his co-workers at P.A. Benjamin’s in his early life, to his global push for equality and justice for Black people. Other characteristics of Maroon legacy are said to include ingenuity, fortitude and mysticism.  These are all qualities that Garvey displayed. He showed ingenuity or initiative in forming a movement that sought to represent Black people and ensure their welfare at a time when this would have faced much resistance. He showed resilience over and over again in his fight for justice for his fellow Blacks and, in order to accomplish all he did, he often had to draw on his spirituality. 

Other aspects of Maroon culture that seemed to have shaped Garvey’s ideology are the concepts of self-rule and self-reliance. Just as how the Maroons continue to govern themselves by making their own laws, so did Garvey advocate for Black people to choose who should lead them. Here in Jamaica, he pushed for the right of the citizenry to elect its own government. Garvey also strongly believed that Black people should be self-reliant. This meant not just forming part of the labour force but also to own enterprises. Through the UNIA, Garvey either established or encouraged the setting up of various black-owned businesses in the United States and here in Jamaica. These included the Edelweiss Amusement Company in Jamaica, the newspaper companies: Negro World, The Blackman and New Jamaican, as well as the Negro Factories Corporation. Of note, is that Black people were not allowed to own their own businesses here in Jamaica at the time that Garvey established these enterprises. So, again, he showed initiative and was a pioneer.

Whilst we could draw other similarities between Garvey and maroon heritage, the final one that will be discussed here is the tenet of Anti-colonialism. Garvey spoke extensively about the exploitative nature of colonialism. Consequently, he supported nationalists’ movements that opposed colonial systems. So, without a doubt, Garvey would have supported the enslaved Africans who had fled their European masters and set up their own communities. It is important to note however, that while he criticized imperialism, Garvey did point out that he was respectful of the colonial constitutional authority and lobbied for changes under the colonial system while at the same time, supporting eventual self-government.  

So, it could be argued that Garvey’s Maroon heritage may have had some influence on his tenets of Garveyism. Whatever your take on the matter though, it is undeniable that both Garvey and the Maroons in Jamaica have helped to shape our history and have allowed us to be able to enjoy some of the privileges we do in present times.   

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?


When Jamaica gained independence in 1962, the idea of self-government was realized and guided by the Jamaican Constitution of 1962. This very important piece of legislation was the result of the hard work of many individuals; in fact, it was drafted by sixteen (16) men and one (1) woman who were members of a Joint Independence Constitution Committee. However, the foundation to the constitution which affords all citizens equal rights, responsibilities and liberties was laid long before its drafting. In an article entitled, “The Architects of the Jamaican Constitution 1962” Marcus Garvey was named as one of three National Heroes, the other two being Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante, who helped to shape the foundation of the political landscape in Jamaica. This is understandable, as he made a significant impact on politics in Jamaica. One of his most notable achievements in this field was his forming of the first political party in the island, the Peoples Political Party (PPP), in 1929.

However, it can be argued that Garvey’s most notable achievement to the political landscape was his ideology of self-government. Self government refers to a government of a former colony that comprises its citizens.  When Garvey returned to Jamaica in 1927, it is documented that he had not intended to get involved in local politics. However, when he observed the inequality in the political system of colonial rule, he ventured to bring about a change. The first step was to create a political party so that persons who shared his ideology could come together and help in changing the political scenery. The PPP was formed with the aim to bring about a “better Jamaica under a happier populace”. Essentially, what Garvey was saying was that if citizens had a say in the governing of the country, it would make them more comfortable and as a result, the country would be better off. Forming the PPP fostered a sense of nationalism which aided the push for self-governance. His bold step to form the party served as a catalyst to the formation of other political parties, including the two major parties, the Jamaica Labour Party and the People’s National Party which were formed in the 1930s. It is this very action which eventually led to Jamaica gaining independence and being governed by her own.

Attaining self-government was a priority for Garvey. This was evident when the manifesto for his party was published. The first point on the manifesto read, “Representation to the Imperial Parliament for a larger modicum of self-government.” So, he saw that it was important for Jamaicans to have more say in how they were governed and have more representation in the Government. He reiterated his view through his newspapers The New Jamaican and The Blackman where he continually rallied Jamaicans to take an active role in politics, and more specifically, political reform. Garvey always urged national self-determination and comradeship which were vital to realizing self-governance.

So, we Jamaicans are truly indebted to our National Heroes for the privileges we now enjoy, and some take for granted. Garvey sowed the seed, and Manley and Bustamante nurtured this seed to maturity.

“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.    

The Exoneration of Marcus Garvey

Talks have begun once again about the exoneration of Marcus Garvey in the United States. In the past few weeks, a petition has been circulating, seeking the signatures of 100,000 supporters. This is not the first time such an effort has been attempted. Several other petitions have been circulated before, including one in 2016 lead by Dr. Julius Garvey seeking President Obama’s pardoning before he demitted office.

For those of you who don’t know, Marcus Garvey had been imprisoned in the U.S. for allegedly attempting to use the postal system to defraud persons. J. Edgar Hoover was an agent of the State who seemed to have been obsessed with taking down Garvey. So, he arranged for agents to infiltrate the UNIA to spy on Garvey. Eventually, one of them reported that the Negro World was going to run an advertisement offering shares in the Black Star Line for sale. The problem with that was, a picture of a ship that the UNIA had not finished paying for was used for the advertisement. So, this was considered false advertising, and the offer of sale of shares was construed as fraud through the use of the postal service.        

Garvey, along with three UNIA officers, was brought to trial in 1923. Despite the lack of credible evidence, Garvey was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison, in addition to being fined $1,000 and having to pay legal costs. The three officers were acquitted of the charges.  Garvey filed an appeal, and for over a year, he fought the false allegations whilst the Immigration Department sought to deport him. His appeal was denied and so he was arrested again and taken to the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary in February 1925 to serve his original 5-year sentence.      

It is evident that Garvey’s arrest and subsequent imprisonment was in an effort to silence him. The authorities were afraid of how he was empowering Black people in the U.S. and of the power he had garnered. So, they began to track his activities until they came up with a plan that would discredit his legitimacy as a leader and visionary in the eyes of his supporters. President Coolidge recognized this, after he and his lawyer reviewed the case.  Consequently, he commuted Garvey’s sentence in November 1927, but ordered him deported back to Jamaica.

Garvey’s family and the wider Jamaica have always maintained Garvey’s innocence, and as such, have been seeking to clear the hero’s name by seeking exoneration. Of note, as stated by former Prime Minister of Jamaica, P.J. Patterson, pardoning is different from exonerating. “Pardons are to grant immunity or to remove any legal disabilities such as the right to vote, which convicted felons do not have. Exoneration is for the innocent, those who should have been acquitted at trial because there was no wrongdoing. It is my contention, there was no evidence given during the trial on which a conviction could be based.” Therefore, Garvey should be exonerated and this should be of great importance and priority, first and foremost, because it is the right thing to do as he was not guilty. In addition, being a National Hero of Jamaica, we would love if our hero did not have a criminal record. Garvey had a great impact on the world, especially Blacks worldwide, and for that, he should be honoured and his efforts lauded and not criminalized.

Recently, the Governor General of Jamaica, Sir Patrick Allen, announced that efforts to push for Garvey’s exoneration in the U.S would be stepped up. He said,  “The 60th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence and the establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States of America, provide a fitting context for advancing the process of clearing the name of the Right Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jamaica’s first National Hero.” He further added, “To that end, the Government will utilise the avenues available to intercede with the Government of the United States of America, building on past and existing efforts to lift this stain of his wrongful conviction.”

 It is admirable that our Government has decided to steer the push to clear Garvey’s name. This coincides with the most recent initiative by Dr. Julius Garvey to petition for his father’s exoneration. However, we should also push to have Garvey’s criminal record here expunged, as well, as he had not committed a crime when he was convicted for Contempt of Court, on two occasions in 1929. The first conviction resulted in him paying a fine of £25 because he had refused to turn over some records of the UNIA to the court during the case of Marke vs. The UNIA. However, he was convicted a second time because he called for the imprisonment of corrupt judges. This resulted in him being imprisoned, as well as being fined £100. Though his convictions were pardoned, on the 100th anniversary of his birth by then Governor General, Sir Florizel Glasspole, his records were never expunged. In 2018, Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Olivia, “Babsy” Grange, submitted a Bill to absolve National Heroes of criminal liability.  Whilst the Bill was approved by the Senate after some amendments were made, it is not certain what happened when it was returned to the Lower House as there has been no formal announcement that the Bill was carried through.

So, with 60 years of Independence upon us, let us assist every effort to clear the name of Marcus Garvey.   

Liberty Hall Remembers …

In the month of January, Liberty Hall (LH) remembers two very notable persons: Dr. Donna McFarlane and Prof. Tony Martin.

Dr. McFarlane was LH’s beloved Director/Curator for over 14 years who went to join her ancestors on January 25, 2018. She was a formidable Pan-Africanist who challenged the racial status quo that existed not only in Jamaica, but also worldwide. She was unrelenting in steering LH on a course that positioned it as one of the foremost educational institutions in the world, focused on Garvey. She achieved this by conceptualizing a community-based space that catered to the practical and educational needs of the persons in the surrounding communities.

Dr. McFarlane always championed “blackness” and often challenged how “blackness” was represented in museums. Consequently, she curated the Marcus Garvey: The Movement and Philosophy exhibition, the permanent exhibition of the Marcus Mosiah Garvey Multimedia Museum. For her, the Museum was a Black space that helped to provide a transformative narrative for members of the Pan-African community and post-colonial societies. She was also very passionate in her advocacy for equality for Blacks and an appreciation of African involvement in the world’s development.

Prof. Tony Martin was a scholar on Garvey, African History and Caribbean History who died on January 17, 2013. A Professor Emeritus of Africana Studies at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, Prof. Martin was also a prolific author. He authored, compiled or edited fourteen books including Literary Garveyism: Garvey, Black Arts and the Harlem Renaissance (1983), The Pan-African Connection: From Slavery to Garvey and Beyond (1983); The Progress of the African Race Since Emancipation and Prospects for the Future (1998) and the classic study of the Garvey Movement, Race First: the Ideological and Organizational Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (1976). He also published Amy Ashwood Garvey, Pan[1]Africanist, Feminist and Mrs. Marcus Garvey no. 1 or, A Tale of Two Amies.

Professor Martin was a continuous supporter of the growth and expansion of Liberty Hall and had donated copies of his publications to the Garvey Research/Reference Library at Liberty Hall. In August 2012, Professor Martin delivered the 3rd Annual Marcus Mosiah Garvey Lecture on the 125th anniversary of the birth of Marcus Garvey.  The presentation was entitled, “If Garvey Dies, Garvey Lives”. He also used the occasion to launch his latest work, Caribbean History: From Pre-Colonial Origins to the Present (2012).

The loss of these two Black activists has had a major impact on LH and the wider community. In addition, the cause to advance Black people and propagate accurate Black and Caribbean History has lost two large voices. However, their work and legacies remain as motivation to those left behind.    

EDWARD JORDON: The Untitled Ruler of A Ransomed Race

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.


There seems to be a common thread among the stories of freedom fighters, regardless of their nationality, as they often share similar characteristics and experiences. Freedom fighters are synonymous with liberating an oppressed group, whether on a national or international level. The freedom fighter themselves usually face ridicule and abuse of all types. Consequently, aspects of the story of anti-apartheid activist, Steve Biko, seem to mirror aspects of Marcus Garvey’s life story.

Steve Biko was the founder of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) and was one of the main players in the fight against apartheid during the 1960s and 1970s. His involvement in the struggles began when he was in medical school where he founded the South African Student Organisation (SASO), a Blacks-only group, in 1968. Like Garvey, Biko saw the need to bring about awareness in his fellow Blacks that their race was equal to all. He founded the organisation to empower Black students and reinforce their economic and political power. Through this organisation, Biko reinforced the idea of “Black Consciousness” and self-empowerment, just as Garvey did with the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). He travelled all over South Africa spreading the notion of black consciousness through his speeches and his writings, similar to how Garvey promoted the ideologies of the UNIA when he toured the various states in the United States in 1916.

The tenets of the SASO resounded among Black students in tertiary institutions as they all shared the same experiences with segregation and racism. So, SASO provided a medium for them to organize themselves as a formidable force against the system of oppression, which was Apartheid. The organisation grew quickly and significantly. So, much so that it spread beyond the walls of the universities in South Africa, and into the general population. As a result, a new arm of the organisation was established in 1972, The Black People’s Convention (BPC). This new arm attracted persons from all walks of life, including labourers, church leaders, artists, and other prominent members of the Black community. In support of his ideology of self-reliance, Biko established several community projects that would motivate Blacks to be their own bosses and determine their own economic wealth. This was also what Garvey did when he established various enterprises through the UNIA.  

However, with the rapid growth of the BPC came increased attention from the very persons that they were opposing. Just as in the case of the UNIA’s development, the authorities in South Africa were wary of the collective power of the organized Blacks, and as such, they imposed bans which would restrict their movement and muzzle them. Biko was singled out. He was expelled from medical school in 1972 and banned in March 1973 from participating in any gatherings, over 2 persons, including social gatherings. He was also deported to his home town of King William’s Town and had to seek permission from the police to leave the area.

It was as a result of the violation of the latter restriction that caused him to be arrested on August 17, 1977, the 90th anniversary of Garvey’s birth. He was tortured and beaten while being interrogated for 22 hours and suffered severe brain damage from the blows he received to his head. The severity of his injuries resulted in his lapsing into a coma for about three weeks. He succumbed to his injuries on September 12, 1977. Biko is seen as a martyr for his cause, not only in South Africa, but globally. His death brought much attention to the situation in South Africa and resulted in much backlash against the South African government.

Biko and Garvey fought a similar battle and suffered similar fates. Though Garvey was not physically killed by his oppressors, he too was a victim of those who were not in support of his philosophies and opinions. Both men sought to uplift the members of the Black race through educational, social, economical and political liberation. They fought for racial equality and championed self-reliance of the Black people through the establishing of a Black identity, the building of Black value systems and the recognition of Black worth.

Though their paths never crossed, Biko and Garvey travelled similar paths and their impact on black conscious thought is far-reaching and should never be ignored or trivialized.

Garvey’s Interracial Involvement

This blog was initially going to explore the similarities between the two Amys in Garvey’s life; Amy Ashwood Garvey and Amy Jacques Garvey, his first and second wives, respectively. However, while doing some reading on these remarkable women who were both instrumental in the establishing and promoting of the UNIA, a rather interesting fact was stumbled upon. That is, that Marcus Garvey had first been engaged to a European. In a letter dated March 2, 1914, Garvey wrote to his godfather, Alfred Burrowes, the following, “I am now breaking the news to you as the only person in Jamaica, that I am engaged to a Spanish-Irish heiress whom I had the pleasure of meeting during my tour on the Continent.” No more details seem to be available about this fiancée.

Now this revelation would come as a shock to most, as Garvey was an ardent proponent of the purity of race. He stated, “I believe in a pure black race …” He went further to say that, “I am conscious of the fact that slavery brought upon us the curse of many colours within the Negro race, but that is no reason why we of ourselves should perpetuate the evil …” So, for Garvey to have been involved with a non-Black woman, so much so that he intended to marry her, would seem a deviation from his principle on race purity. One can only wonder what was going through his mind when he made that decision. Was there an ulterior motive to such a move? However, one can only imagine, because, the deviation was quite short-lived.

On Garvey’s return to Jamaica in July 1914, he met Amy Ashwood, and the rest, as we know it, is history. Though in his letter to his godfather, he had said, “I hardly think I can change my mind in marrying her [the Spanish-Irish heiress]”, after being smitten by Amy Ashwood, he penned a “Dear Jane letter” to his fiancée, with Amy’s full knowledge. In it he said, “Marriage between us is now impossible. You will be far happier with a member of your race; so will I be with one of mine. I have seen a girl, blood of my blood, and of my own race. Forgive me, but if I marry you now that you know the truth, I shall revert to my own kind every time the opportunity presents itself …”       

The break-up would seem inevitable because that union would not have been in keeping with Garvey’s push to create a truly pure Black race. He, himself, recognized this and had stated to his godfather that the relationship was somewhat destructive of his principle. He also seemed to fear that the Press may have portrayed him as a hypocrite and would have ridiculed his relationship as he had commented on how British press had often sensationalized interracial relationships between Black men and White women. This may have been the reason behind him hesitating to announce his engagement both to the British and Jamaican press.   

Marcus Garvey constantly condemned interracial relationships and did not encourage “bastardy”. However, for a brief moment, he stepped out of the race and contemplated marriage to a woman who was already biracial.