At the beginning of this month, I got an opportunity to travel to Kingston, Jamaica, to write about the island’s history and also cover the island’s 47th Independence Day celebration. Below is Part II of the travel series. The publication I traveled on behalf of did not post all the articles written in the travel series, so I figured I would post them on my blog. Hope you enjoy! — Alan King
KINGSTON, Jamaica – Located at Heroes Circle in the capital city, the National Heroes Park became a permanent place to honor the country’s national heroes after Jamaica’s Independence in 1962. Among its national heroes are Marcus Garvey, Alexander Bustamante, Nanny of the Maroons, Norman Manley, George Goodwin, Paul Bogle and Samuel Sharpe.
With his rallying cry, “Up you mighty race, you can accomplish what you will,” Marcus Mosiah Garvey inspired Black people throughout the world to have a sense of pride in their African heritage. As a Black nationalists and political thinker, he was deeply concerned about the living and working conditions of his people. He decided to do something about it when he established the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), which has offices in Jamaica and New York City.
Garvey died in England in 1940 and was buried there. In 1964, his remains were brought to Jamaica and re-interred at the site of his monument in National Heroes Park. An aspect of Garvey’s life that’s not mentioned much is his journalism, according to Nicosia Shakes, senior researcher at Liberty Hall in downtown Kingston.
“When he died, Garvey’s birth certificate actually said that he was a journalist. That was his career…People don’t often speak about that side of him,” Shakes said. “You had the Negro World Newspaper – it was widely circulated – the Black Man Magazine.”
She added that when he was younger, Garvey started a weekly called “The Watchman,” which only ran for a couple of editions.
“It’s one of the areas that I think more research needs to concentrate on…because people focus on his political activism,” Shakes said. “Even though they mention journalism, I think it’s something that needs to be studied more.”
For his works and the awakening he brought to Black people, he was proclaimed Jamaica’s first National Hero in 1964.
A statesman, astute politician, brave-hearted labor leader and defender of the poor, Sir Alexander Bustamante was the first Prime Minister of Independent Jamaica. He was also one of the architects of modern Jamaica and a founder of the Jamaica Labour Party.
Like Garvey’s rallying cry, Bustamante went around the island encouraging the burdened to shake off the shackles of oppressions. He was a champion of the working class and advocated the cause of the masses. Through the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), he led the fight for workers and their families, and won them better living standards, job security and a wide range of social benefits.
He was instrumental in launching the social and political movement of the 1930s that ushered in a new era of Jamaican history.
For his courage, bravery and service, he was named Jamaica’s National Hero on October 18, 1969. He was the only person given that honor while he was still living. Bustamante died on August 6, 1977.
In the 18th century, Jamaican Maroons were slaves who ran away from the Spanish and intermarried with the native islanders in the rugged, mountainous region of the Jamaican interior. Under British rule, some more slaves were able to escape from plantations to join the two main bands of Maroons in Jamaica: Leeward and Windward Maroons, headed respectively by Nanny of the Maroons and Captain Cudjoe.
Nanny’s story is much like that of the African-American abolitionist and humanitarian, Harriet Tubman. Due to the cruel treatment of female slaves by plantation owners, Nanny made her decision to escape along with her five brothers. She made her way to Portland.
By 1720, Nanny had organized and gained control of this town of Maroons located in the Blue Mountains. It was around this time that the town was given the title of Nanny Town, more than 600 acres of land for the runaway slaves to settle.
The settlement was an ideal location for a stronghold since it overlooked Stony River via a 900-foot ridge making it impossible for them to be ambushed by the British. The Maroons at Nanny town also organized look-outs for such an attack as well as designated warriors who could be summoned by the sound of a horn.
Nanny was very adept at organizing plans to free slaves. For more than 50 years, Nanny has been credited with freeing more than 800 slaves. Nanny also helped these slaves remain free and healthy due to her vast knowledge of herbs and her role as a spiritual leader. She died in 1733.
The government of Jamaica declared Queen Nanny a National Heroine in 1975. Her portrait is on the $500 Jamaican dollar bill, which is colloquially referred to as a “Nanny”.
Often referred to as the “father of nationalist movement” and “founder of the People’s National Party,” Norman Washington Manley was a statesman, lawyer, visionary and stalwart.
In addition to dedicating himself to the cause of the workers during the 1938 labor troubles, Manley is credited with leading the team that negotiated Jamaica’s independence from Britain.
And for that, he became Jamaica’s National Hero in 1969.
George William Gordon, a wealthy mulatto politician, and Paul Bogle, a Baptist Deacon, emerged as defenders of the rights of the poor and oppressed in the Post Emancipation era. Hardships and injustice resulted in a series of protests, culminating in the 1865 Morant Bay rebellion. During that rebellion, Bogle led 200 to 300 Black men and women into the town of Morant Bay, parish of St. Thomas in the East, Jamaica.
When the group arrived at the court house they were met by a small volunteer militia who panicked and opened fire, killing seven Black protesters before retreating. The black protesters rioted, killing 18 people (including white officials and militia) and taking control of the town. In the days that followed some 2,000 black rebels roamed the countryside, killing two white planters and forcing others to flee for their lives.
Both Bogle and Gordon were arrested and executed for their role in the protest. Both men were named National Heroes in 1969.
Prior to the abolition of slavery in 1838, Samuel Sharpe, a deacon in the Baptist Church in Montego Bay, believed freedom was non-negotiable, and that every man, woman and child deserved that right.
In 1831, he came up with a plan of passive resistance that involved slaves refusing to work on Christmas Day unless their grievances were addressed.
After spreading to the parishes of St. James, Trelawny, Westmoreland, St. Elizabeth and Manchester, the non-violent resistance escalated to armed rebellion and a seizure of property.
More than 500 slaves lost their lives, most as a result of trials after Sharpe was hanged on May 23, 1832. The rebellion, which became known as the Sam Sharpe Rebellion, led to the British Parliament passing the Abolition Bill in 1833, and the abolition of slavery in Jamaica.
Sharpe was declared a National Hero in 1975.
The land of the National Heroes Park, which was purchased by Lord Mayor and City Council in 1808, was the center for horseracing between 1816 and 1953. The park was renamed National Heroes Park after Jamaica’s independence in 1962. Monuments were erected in honor of the nation’s seven National Heroes in an area known as the Shrine.
Adjoining the Shrine area to the north, is a section reserved for the interment of former Prime Ministers and other individuals who have contributed to Jamaica’s political, educational and social development.
This article was written using the information from the plaques in National Heroes Park, additional research and interviews.