Commentary Jamaica Magazine

Keeping History Alive

Michael Manley (Dec 10, 1924- March 06, 1977)

If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”….Cater Woodson…(founder of Black History Week which later became a month.)

By not keeping our history alive, we in essence dishonours the virtues of our martyrs and our freedom fighters, and stifle the call for fairness and justice, while creating a wave of dormancy in what should have been a vibrant continued struggle. Conversely, by keeping our history alive, we no doubt will inspire others to assume the roles of our heroes and leaders and pay homage to them that made the ultimate sacrifice through defiance, bravado and courage.

The late former Prime Minister of Jamaica the Hon. Michael Manley on January 12, 2008 was inducted in the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame. Comrade Manley had long bore the insignia of the ideals of revolutionary struggle. As early as 1972 he challenged the International Courts to redefine the word terrorism, stressing it should not apply to the ‘freedom fighters’ of South Africa and later at the 27th Session of the United Nations General Assembly called for a “universal moral foundation” for the conduct of world affairs.

Throughout his life, Michael Manley was an icon for the liberation of Africa as much as he was for humanism, the poor and the down trodden in Jamaica. He was a keen supporter of the African National Congress and was very instrumental in securing the release of Nelson Mandela in letters written to Desmond Tutu. Mandela upon his release, after 27 years political imprisonment visited Jamaica in 1997. (A tribute definitely to Manley.)

The legacy of Manley can never die, a man who was fundamentally concerned and strongly believed in and promoted self-determination and the democratic control over the natural wealth of his country. He was always adamant for the need to empower the masses through education and proper healthcare, gainful employment and edifying leisure. He changed the status quo.

Slavery was never abolished from a goodwill gesture of the British… (Denis Brown…. “Do you know what it means to have a revolution, fighting against oppression?” but by the prolong resistance of a united force such as the 1831 Rebellion, neither was apartheid dismantled in South Africa by singing, “We shall overcome someday,” but with the assistance and camaraderie of Cuban troops fighting in Angola and on many other fronts.

Few years aback when Nelson Mandela visited Canada one MP labelled him a former terrorist. I can never forget how Mandela’s response drew a standing ovation in the legislature with applauds that lasted never before so long in Canadian parliament. Mandela said, “When the oppressor tightens the screws of oppression and uses force to suppress the legitimate aspirations of a people, history has always shown that the people must take up arms to free themselves.”

Approximately forty years ago on April 4, 1968 American Civil Rights Legend the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. On Sunday June 20, 1965, Dr. King arrived in Jamaica as the Guest Speaker at the valedictory service for the University of the West Indies graduates. Dr King also visited the grave of Marcus Garvey and laid a wreath, honouring him in the words that (he) Marcus Garvey gave Negroes in the US a sense of dignity, a “sense of personhood, a sense of manhood, a sense of somebodiness”.

In keeping Dr King’s historic visit alive, Jamaicans who heard him spoke the day on his arrival have long remembered his speech, “If it falls to your luck to be street sweepers, sweep the streets, like Raphael painted pictures, like Michelangelo carved marbles, like Shakespeare wrote poetry, and like Beethoven composed music. Sweep the streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth would have to pause and say… Here lived a great Street Sweeper.”

While the message of Dr. King’s statement had its relevance, and that his observation is even much more valid today, the comparisons should have been drawn from Black Achievers. Paraphrased to say like how Kappo or Edna Manley carved images, as Claude Mc Kay and Miss Lou wrote poetry, as Marcus Garvey inspired a movement and as Bob Marley and the Wailers composed music.

Part of knowing is to research the truth and separate the facts. This must include an understanding of why we hold certain values dear, or do and say things a certain way. It is of utmost importance to uproot certain historical myths which have been implanted in the minds of our people. This is an essential first step in keeping our history alive.

The great Jamaican patriot Marcus Garvey has left his words and deeds indelible in our thoughts and in our minds, and in our blood. His vision of us being a liberated people is still with us today and has roots in the tradition of our struggles, our aims and ultimately in keeping our history alive. “Of all our studies, history will best reward us for our research.”…Malcolm X.

About the author

Kharl Daley