Commentary Jamaica Magazine

Jamaica’s National Heroes: Their Legacy 50 Years Later

Jamaica is a country in the Caribbean that is well noted for its beautiful surroundings, warmth and magnificent cuisine. However, Jamaica is much more than a sparkling gem within the Caribbean community. The island has been blessed to have been home to notable Jamaicans who fought long and courageously to bring awareness to conditions that still plague our world today. Citizens such as The Right Excellent Sir Alexander Bustamante, The Right Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey, The Right Excellent Samuel Sharpe, The Right Excellent Nanny Sharpe of The Maroons, The Right Excellent George William Gordon, The Right Excellent Paul Bogle and The Right Excellent Norman Washington Manley. These individuals have been memorialized in Jamaica’s History as National Heroes, not because they created one, death defying act of heroism, but because they made it their life’s work to promote Heroism each and every day of their lives. Many of us may have forgotten their contributions to society and some of us are too young to remember, however, here are a few highlights of their greatness to keep us all inspired: Sir Alexander Bustamante was born William Alexander Clarke on February 24, 1884 to Robert Constantine Clarke and Mary Clarke nee Wilson. He was born in a town in Jamaica called Blenheim located in the parish of Hanover.


Sir Alexander Bustamante gained notoriety due to his voracity for writing letters to the Daily Gleaner objecting to the ills that had befallen the lower and middle classes in Jamaica. Bustamante was the spokesman for workers during the 1938 labour rebellion. He was a champion for the masses, usually exclaiming, “They have confidence in me!” When massive unrest and unemployment was rampant in Jamaica, he found resolutions for labour issues. He fought for Dock Workers, Labourers, Railway Workers, and caused the Police to take industrial action. He served as Mayor to Kingston in 1947 and 1948, becoming Jamaica’s first Prime Minister in 1962, remaining in office until 1967. Sir Alexander Bustamante founded the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), where he was affectionately known as “The Chief” because he gave hope to struggling workers. During his lifetime Alexander Bustamante was known as a man who walked the walk, and talked the talk. He wore many hats working as a Store Clerk, Bee Keeper, Wall Street Speculator, Money Lender and Trade Unionist. His other achievements included Founder and Chief of The Jamaica Labour Party, Chief Minister, Patriarch, Politician and Knight Grand Cross of The British Empire.

Sir Alexander Bustamante travelled the world extensively; however during his travels to Cuba, Panama and other Latin American countries, he developed an affinity towards the culture and people. It was during these travels that he was prompted to change his name from William Alexander Clarke to Alejandro Bustamante. Some of his personal accomplishments include being married to Gladys Longbridge in September of 1962. He also made a vast fortune speculating on the Wall Street Stock Market, which lead him to develop a Money Lending Business in Jamaica.

Sir Alexander Bustamante has been loved and revered by Jamaicans and people all over the world because of his courage to fight for higher wages for workers and he often told the public that he was willing to die for their cause. When Security Forces revolted against the Police during times of great unrest, He was best remembered for unbuttoning his shirt and commanding the Soldiers to leave the people alone and shoot him. It was through his labour struggles and uprisings that he decided to organize the Labour Movement, beginning a new Political Movement called The Peoples’ National Party (PNP). Sir Alexander Bustamante died at 93 years old leaving a legacy of courage and fortitude behind.

He received the order of National Hero in 1969 and his image can be seen on the Jamaican gold dollar coins. In honour of his contributions, Jamaica is proud to be home of the Bustamante Museum and Bustamante Childrens’ Hospital.

Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born on August 17, 1887 in Saint Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. His father Marcus Garvey, Senior was a Stone Mason and his mother was a Domestic Worker/Farmer. He was the Founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, bringing awareness regarding the exploitation of migrant workers and plantations. He also formed The Universal Negro Improvement Association for Blacks in Harlem, USA to promote social, political and economic freedom for black people. Marcus Garvey also published and distributed the newspaper “Negro World” to spread his message of racial injustice.

He was a Civil Rights Activist who inspired the Nation of Islam as well as the Rastafarian Movement. Although Marcus Garvey was a stalwart and brave leader, he was not without opposition. There were some black leaders who found his ideologies evil. Even though he was a well known, respected leader and member of the NAACP, they considered him to be the enemy of the Negro race in America. The Liberia Act of 1939 was promoted and supported by Marcus Mosiah Garvey in order to relieve unemployment of 12 million African Americans, however, the act was not approved by Congress and that failure caused him to lose credibility among the black population.

Throughout his life Marcus Mosiah Garvey continued to fight for Human and Civil Rights Causes, emphasizing pride and dignity. In 1940, Marcus Mosiah Garvey died after experiencing many strokes in London, England. In 1964, his remains were exhumed and brought back to Jamaica for burial, where the Government declared him a National Hero and commemorated his good deeds with a shrine at National Heroes Park. He has been remembered by “The People” for creating love and acceptance for black pride within the community.

Samuel Sharpe was born in Saint Thomas, Jamaica in 1801. He was a slave most of his life, but he became educated, which earned him the respect of other slaves. He utilized his wisdom to educate other slaves about Christianity and Freedom. In 1831 he organized the largest peaceful protest, where slaves rebelled against Plantation Owners by burning their crops in the name of Emancipation. The rebellion resulted with the hanging of Samuel Sharpe in 1832. However, the rebellion instigated inquiries which lead to the Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Empire. In 1975 the Jamaican Government bestowed the order of National Hero, posthumously to Samuel Sharpe. Sam Sharpe’s Teachers College was also founded in Granville, Montego Bay in his honour, memorializing his efforts as an Advocate of Education. His image can also be seen today on Jamaica’s Five Hundred Dollar bill. Nanny Sharpe, Queen of the Maroons, considered a folklore legend.

Nanny Sharpe reigned in Jamaica during the 18th Century when Jamaica was still under Spanish rule and called Xamayca. It is believed that the name maroon came from the Spanish word “cimarron” meaning wild. She was a Freedom Winner, a female warrior and symbolized hope in times of dissension and warfare. The legend of Nanny includes stories of her being a high priestess possessing extraordinary powers. She was known to trap unsuspecting British Soldiers, and then putting them to their deaths. Many speak of her deflecting bullets with various body parts, which makes her a courageous and resourceful heroine.

Nanny Sharpe is best known as the sister of great maroon leaders such as Cudjoe, Accompong, Cuffy, Quao, and Paro. Nanny died in the 1750’s and is buried in Moore Town in Portland. She received the order of National Hero for her wisdom, fortitude and affinity to freedom fighting and independence. Her image can also be seen on Jamaica’s $500 dollar bills.

George William Gordon was born in Saint Andrews on Cherry Gardens Estate. He was a mixed race Jamaican, Businessman and Landowner, who was known as “The Voice of The People” because he spoke up for blacks and coloureds in Jamaica. He organized and educated people all over Jamaica on the importance of voting. He emphasized that voting made a small man become more significant because of the power he wielded with a vote.

George William Gordon encouraged Jamaicans to own land and informed them of their rights to work for decent wages, a fair justice system and their right to vote. He counseled citizens of Jamaica on the importance of being entrepreneurial, when other leaders were busy dissuading Jamaicans, urging them to give up their dreams of self employment. He pushed the resentment of the Establishment by conducting rallies and protest meetings throughout the island. He was also instrumental in establishing Baptist Chapels throughout Kingston and Saint Thomas, ordaining fellow National Hero Paul Bogle as the Deacon of the churches. In 1865, George William Gordon became responsible for the Morant Bay rebellion, where the people revolted against socio- economic and political unfairness. He was then accused of Treason and collaboration with the rebels. He was hung on October 23, 1865. It was later disclosed that he had no involvement in the planning or execution of the Morant Bay Rebellion. George William Gordon was declared a National Hero in 1969.

Paul Bogle was born in Saint Thomas. He was an emancipated slave who became a Farmer and Landowner. He also had the right to vote and became Deacon in the Baptist Church. His chapels became a place where political activities, military trainings rallies were held. In 1865 he organized protests against corruption within the Jamaican Legal System. Paul Bogle commanded the Stony Gut demonstrations that rebelled against Jamaica’s Court System. He and 400 of his followers marched 50 miles to Spanish Town to protect their honour.

The Governor insulted them by refusing not to meet with them or hear their plight. A few days later, in October of 1865, Bogle and his supporters marched to Morant Bay and raided the Police Stations, attacked the court houses, killing officials and soldiers. A revolution broke out between black soldiers, white soldiers and the maroons. Paul Bogle escaped to the hills of Jamaica, where he was eventually caught and hanged in front of the Morant Bay Courthouse on October 25, 1865. For several weeks after his death violence continued in Jamaica and the name “Bogle” became associated with rebellion and destruction. People who had the surname “Bogle “changed their names to avoid persecution. Even after many years, the name “Bogle” is hated by many Jamaicans. Once Jamaica received their Independence in 1962, Paul Bogle’s efforts for economic justice, and a fair government were fully recognized. He was given the order of National Hero in 1969.

Norman Washington Manley, born in Roxborough, Manchester to Thomas Albrecht Samuel Manley, an English Merchant and former slave. His mother was Margaret Shearer, the daughter of a Pen-Keeper of Irish Ancestry and his mixed race wife. He was a Lawyer, Member of the Peoples National Party, Advocate for Universal Suffrage, Jamaican Statesman, Rhodes Scholar, Member of Alpha Phi Alpha and the Fourth Prime Minister of Jamaica.

He married Edna Manley, his cousin and led the National Workers Union together with his other cousin, Sir Alexander Bustamante in 1938. Mr. Manley fought to win self government for Jamaica. He felt that political power was the ultimate and final power of the black masses. He was successful at redeveloping the social and economic life in Jamaica. He also reinforced prosperity by renegotiating contracts with Bauxite Companies in order to revive Capitalism in Jamaica.

Norman Washington Manley also organized regulatory boards and governmental authorities to regulate fair play and trade in Industry. He died on September 2, 1969 of a respiratory illness. He was ordained National Hero shortly before his death. After reviewing the exceptional lives of these great men, I realized that the common denominator that binds their reputations is the fact that they all rallied for the people. Their intuition and compassion for changing economic times prompted them to commit to action in order to create positive changes. Today, as we compare the leaders of our current society to these phenomenal figures; we will find that our leaders today are not as selfless and will not put themselves on the line for the betterment of the people. The leaders of the millennium will preach hope and change, but only a few will fight alongside the people to get them the fairness that they are desperately seeking. As we celebrate Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary of Independence, may we remember that on August 6, 2012, it will also be the 35th Anniversary of Sir Alexander Bustamante’s death? We should also give thanks and homage to the seven National Heroes who campaigned, rallied and fought valiantly for the quality of lives that we are living today.

 Research Credits:

The Jamaica Gleaner

Government of Jamaica, Office of The Prime Minister




About the author

Margaret J.Bailey