“It  begs the question -'Why successive governments of Jamaica, with over 75% African population, always found it difficult to fulfil their own plans to honour Garvey in St Ann?”

Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller

Marcus Mosiah Garvey 1887-1940


Will Jamaica’s Government begin to deliver the goods for the Nation’s First Hero and World Icon?

By Devon Evans

Devon Evans

On Friday August 17, 2012, Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Portia Simpson-Miller, will be in St Ann's Bay, as special guest at Marcus Mosiah Garvey’s 125th Anniversary birthday celebrations.

Born in St Ann's Bay, the North Coast of Jamaica,  on August 17,1887 and  renown internationally for his fight for equality and justice for people of African descent, Garvey was honoured by the people of Jamaica in 1964 when the Government declared him the Nation’s First National Hero.

At the time of that declaration, I was told that there was heightened expectations from Jamaicans both locally and overseas of a revival of the Spirit of Garvey in the life of the country. Two years earlier, in 1962, Pan Africanist Dudley Thompson (1917-2012) had enlightened the people of the importance of the life and works of Garvey in the development of the country, and so this move to name him the First National Hero was seen as a step in the right direction.

But as the years went by the type of honour and respect that should be accorded to a person such as Garvey had not been done.

For instance, let's just take a look at St Ann's Bay and the major projects announced by governments over the years to honour Garvey   and how they have progressed or not progressed.

Interestingly, since 1977, no less than three prime ministers of Jamaica have personally shown their respect for Garvey by taking part in functions held in his honour in St Ann's Bay. All three - Michael Manley (1924-1997), Eddie Seaga and Bruce Golding -  did not fail to acknowledge the important role Garvey played in the development of this nation and the need for certain developments to take place in St Ann's Bay to ensure that both the town and the country as a whole benefit from this rich legacy.  Unfortunately, all the proposed plans failed to materialise.

 Here in 2012, the 50th Anniversary of Jamaica’s independence, Portia   Simpson-Miller,   the fourth Prime Minister will visit St Ann's Bay to pay homage to Garvey, and no doubt the people will be waiting to hear what new plans the Government have to preserve the memory and show case the great legacies of one of Jamaica’s most celebrated sons, Marcus Mosiah Garvey.

However, judging by the way things were easily said in the past and hardly anything accomplished, Prime Simpson-Miller is now given the task to deliver what her predecessors failed in doing. If she delivered, Prime Minister Simpson-Miller would certainty add value to her historic status as Jamaica’s first female Prime Minister.

It must be noted that after 1964 there were little activities to remind the people about Garvey except for the annual wreath laying ceremony in Kingston.  In 1971 a group of Rastafarians in St Ann's Bay started a Garvey Organisation and began to speak out about the absence of monuments in the town to honour the First National Hero.

In August 1972 the ‘Brethrens’, including myself, and with the assistance of then Youth Organiser O G Davis, organised the first major public birthday celebration for Garvey in the Parish’s Capital. This celebration was to be an annual event, but in 1974, when the Government decided to hold an annual civic function in the town for Garvey, the Rastafarians joined in because their objective had been realised.

It was also during that period of the early 1970s when the Government was contemplating naming the St Ann's Bay Secondary School  in honour of late Educator and Politician AGR Byfield.  Strong representations from the Rastafarians and other interest groups and individuals in the town persuaded the Government to name the school in honour of Garvey.

 In 1977, St Ann's Bay got more recognition for giving birth to Garvey with the erection of a statue on the grounds of Lawrence Park.  Prime Minister Manley who was present for the unveiling ceremony, promised to do all within his powers to ensure young Jamaicans are able to learn more about this great son of the soil.

While he did not make the teaching of Garveyism in schools a reality, Manley did make good use of some of the thoughts and ideas in Garvey's 1929 Peoples Political Party manifesto. These included  the ‘Equal Pay Act, Land Reform, Maternity Leave With Pay are just a few’.

Late July 2012, I was informed that Minister of Education Ronnie Thwaites would be visiting Marcus Garvey Technical High School in St Ann's Bay on August 17,  the same day as the Prime Minister, to launch an initiative for the life and work of Garvey, to be taught at that institution.

 While I hail this as a bold move by the Minister, I am very worried that this could be another of those announced Garvey’s projects that will never be completed.

 I, along with others,  have cause to be concerned, since Manley's visit in 1977, two other prime ministers followed behind making big promises to the people of St Ann's Bay to improve Garvey's stocks in the town. These promises are yet to be fulfilled. I am optimistic that things will change this time round.

In 1986, the Seaga-led government rolled out an attractive package to mark the 100th anniversary of Garvey's birth.    The year-long celebrations were scheduled to climax with the official opening of the Marcus Garvey Study Centre, to be located at the corner of Wharf and Bravo Street in St Ann’s Bay. 

Approximately 500 thousand Jamaican dollars of Government funds were used to partially renovate the old Cottar's Wharf building to house the Centre, but that project was halted in September of that year, ‘due to a shortage of funds’. The work was never restarted. The building is in ruins presently. Gone with it is the plan to develop heritage tourism in this historic town.

 More recently, in October 2011, Prime minister Golding raised the hopes and aspirations of the people, when he and other officials, including his son Steven, visited St Ann's Bay and officially broke ground at 32 Marcus Garvey Way for the restoration of the Hero's childhood home.

At that ceremony, Mr Golding assured the gathering that all the plans for the project were in place along with funding from the CHASE Fund.

That project was scheduled to be completed in time for 2012 Heritage Week activities in October. Nothing else has been heard about that project. Not even the Member of Parliament for the area, Shahine Robinson, has been showing any interest.

This observation is based on Shahine’s muted response to public concerns about this important project. Surprisingly, Steven Golding the President of the Kingston chapter of the  Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) is also silent on the matter.

Even the local authorities in St Ann are guilty of treating matters relating to Garvey with scant regard.     In the year 2006, retired banker Miss Sybil Christie wrote a letter to the St Ann Parish Council, requesting that the Council rename Market Street in St Ann's Bay to Marcus Garvey Way in honour of the town's most illustrious son. The request was approved by the Council that same year, but was not acted on until three years later in 2009.

 At the official renaming ceremony on August 17 ,2009, I had the privilege to be one of the platform speakers.  The high point of my address was an appeal to the authorities to make that stretch of road visible and very inspiring to the people by painting the red, black and green colours of Garvey’s on all utility poles.

I also encouraged property owners along this road to highlight the colours on their perimeter fences or have portraits of Garvey painted on them to improve looks of the road.

While no one has taken up that challenge, I noticed in recent weeks, black, green and gold fabric is being used to decorate utility poles in celebration of Jamaica’s 50th Year of Independence.

Now as we await for Prime Minister Simpson-Miller's visit on August 17, it is only fair if people continue to  ask –‘Will she  deliver on Garvey?’

In 1987, the authorities denied the whole nation  the opportunity of celebrating Garvey's Centenary by granting a public holiday to the Parish of St Ann alone. This is clearly a fundamental affront to Garvey and his national and international legacies. 

His Excellency Marcus Mosiah Garvey is a NATIONAL and not a ‘Parish’ hero. This is the sort of challenges Garvey faced in his home land during his life time, which probably drove him into exile. These challenges should not be repeated in  the Twenty First Century or beyond.

It  begs the question -'Why successive Governments of Jamaica, with over 75% African population, always found it difficult to fulfil their own plans to honour Garvey in St Ann?’

We witnessed this in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s and the first decade of the Twenty First Century, in spite of  the then Prime Minister Golding’s telling the gathering in St Ann's Bay,  that  "we must do more to honour Garvey".

Garvey’s birthplace, 32 Marcus Garvey Way,  was officially recognised in 1987 and  declared by the Government in 1993 as a National Shrine.  But that was all.

In 2010, it was reported that the Jamaica Government initiated a process to compulsory acquire the property and the owners were promised by various Government representatives, including the local MP, that they would be resettled appropriately elsewhere.  However, as time goes by, the people are still living on the land, and on the face of it, their resettlement by the Government is nowhere close to  be completed. 

It must be noted that Garvey’s place of birth is now in poor state of repairs. How can this be, when Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT)  has responsibility in this area. Moreover, tourists and others visiting St Ann’s Bay and wanting to visit Garvey’s birth place are likely to have difficulties finding the place. There are inadequate directional signs pointing them to that place.  Is this not another shame? Which other National Hero in Jamaica is being shown this level of scant respect?

Yet, in spite of difficulties, many people from various parts of the world continue to find their way to the First Hero’s birth place. Proper and adequate street signing would make their ‘pilgrimages’ easier and of a better experience.

A significant number of people are willing to work with the Government, on a non-patrician basis,  to ensure that Garvey’s life and works are given the honour and  lasing respect befitting a National Hero.           

We must begin to create economic opportunities from Garvey's worldwide popularity. This could include  development of special tours to his monuments in  St Ann's Bay. This can also be complemented by the many historic buildings in the town and the nearby Seville Heritage Park. What a fine example of Heritage Tourism.

Click here to see pictures of Garvey’s birth place and other of his monuments at St Ann’s Bay.


Editor’s notes:

Devon Evans is an Award Winning Journalist based in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, who writes and broadcasts for Jamaica’s media. 

Devon may be contacted at devonevans@hotmail.com. Telephone: 1-876-855-8623     


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10 August 2012