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Our Great Jamaicans
This page contains information about Jamacians which have been very succesful or icons in History:
Alvin Curling / Beres Hammond / Cecil Baugh / George Gordon / Louise Bennett-Coverly / Marcus Garvey / Micheal Manley / Nanny of the Maroons / Paul Bogle / PJ Patterson / Professor Sewell / Samuel Sharpe / Sir Howard Cooke / Sir William Bustamante / Una Clarke
Alvin Curling was always encouraged to strive for excellence. His leadership skills were recognized early at Seneca College where he became president of the Student’s Council.
Curling was first elected in 1985 to the provincial riding of Scarborough North, now Scarborough-Rouge River, amassing the highest total vote in Canadian history.
Throughout his career, Curling has displayed a strong commitment to public service, youth, and adult literacy. As a member of the Liberal provincial government in 1985-1990, Curling served as Minister of Housing and Minister of Skills Development with special responsibility for literacy.
Curling also served as the Parliamentary Assistant to the Premier and was Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. He has held the position of Deputy Opposition House Leader.
Curling has served on numerous advisory boards and committees including as Chair of the Advisory Board to the Caribana Cultural Committee, member of the board of directors of the World Hunger Project, president of World Literacy of Canada, and member of the Advisory Board to the Chinese Cultural Centre. His strong community involvement has been recognized through numerous awards. Most recently, he was honoured by the Government of Jamaica with the Order of Distinction, in the rank of Commander.
Born in St. Mary in 1955, the ninth of ten children, Beres Hammond is recognized as one of Jamaica’s most prolific artistes, with a career spanning over 30 years.
Hammond ’s interest in music began at an early age. Influenced by ska and rock steady, the antecedents of reggae music, Hammond found inspiration from local artistes such as Alton Ellis and Ken Booth, the Melodians and the Heptones, as well as Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder and Otis Redding.
Beres Hammond moved to Kingston in the late 1960s. At a chance audition with Winston Blake’s Meritone Music in 1973, Hammond so impressed his listeners that he was selected to participate in an amateur talent series.
Hammond later joined the group Zap Pow in an attempt to enter mainstream local entertainment. While the group performed in many local shows, they still lacked the recognition and fame necessary to succeed in the business. Hammond then joined with famous Jamaican guitarist, Dwight Pinkney, and his band, Tuesday’s Children, through which opportunity he was exposed to the fusion of reggae, jazz and soul.
After leaving Tuesday’s Children in 1979, Hammond launched his solo career, producing several chart toppers in his first two albums. He experimented with the production side of the business, forming his own label, Harmony House. After a short stint in New York, Hammond returned to Jamaica and released three of his most successful albums Putting Up Resistance (1989), Have a Nice Weekend (1990), and Love Affair (1992).
Beres Hammond has worked with the best in the business including such artistes as Buju Banton, Wyclef Jean, Marcia Griffiths, Maxi Priest and the late Cynthia Schloss. Hammond's success has reaped significant rewards. His latest album, Music is Life, gained popularity in the international market, earning him a Grammy nomination in 2002. To his credit, Hammond has produced 17 albums. Among them Full Attention (1993), In Control (1994), and Love From a Distance (1996) all produced international hits. (Top of Page)
Cecil Baugh, Jamaica’s master potter, was born of humble parentage, on November 22, 1908 in Bangor Ridge, Portland.
Baugh was educated at Bangor Ridge All-Age School. At the start of World War II, he joined the British forces serving as Sapper and Craftsman with the British Royal Engineers and the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers from 1941 – 1946.
In 1948 Baugh, having won a British Council scholarship, returned to Britain and studied with Bernard Leach, one of the greatest master craftsmen/potters of the twentieth century. Leach’s studio in St Ives, Cornwall, provided an exceptional training ground for Baugh, who had already experimented with several varieties of Jamaican clays to produce unique glazes. Under Leach’s tutelage, Baugh was able to develop unique stoneware-firing methods for his craft.
On his return to Jamaica, Baugh tutored at Mico College. In 1950 he co-founded with Edna Manley the Jamaica School of Arts and Crafts (later renamed the Jamaica School of Art). He headed the pottery department and was tutor at that institution until 1974.
Baugh is recognized internationally for his craft and has exhibited his work in the United States, Europe and the Caribbean. He has also demonstrated his techniques to colleges and artistic groups worldwide.
Cecil Baugh’s achievements include the building of Jamaica’s first and only updraught pottery kiln and developing several indigenous glazes, including a brown glaze from rust sifted with lead, which he called the Hope Slip, and a blue glaze, which, as later discovered, had been used by the ancient Egyptians. Baugh was commissioned to make a commemorative bowl for Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Jamaica in 1953 and Jamaica’s largest ceramic mural for the Bank of Jamaica in 1954.
Cecil Baugh has received several national awards for his work including the George William Gordon Award for Excellence in the Visual Arts in 1994, the Institute of Jamaica’s Centenary Award in 1981 and a Gold Musgrave Award from that same institution in 1984. Additionally, one of the halls at the National Gallery is named in his honour.
Baugh published his autobiography, co-authored with Laura Tanna, entitled Baugh: Jamaica’s Master Potter. He was featured prominently in The Leach Legacy, a book which includes the profiles of craftsmen tutored by the late Bernard Leach.
Baugh passed away on June 29, 2005. He was 96. (Top of Page)
George William Gordon
George William Gordon was born to a slave mother and a Scottish planter, Joseph Gordon, at Cherry Gardens in St. Andrew. As a self-educated and astute businessman, he made a significant contribution to the progress of our nation.
Gordon married Lucy Shannon, the daughter of an Irishman, and made his residence in Kingston. A store proprietor, he collaborated with several business colleagues to form an insurance company, the Mutual Life Assurance Society.
George William Gordon lived in a period of Jamaica’s history when white planters controlled the land and political power, and Negroes were slaves or freed peasants who endured inhumane conditions and poverty. Gordon recognized the injustices faced by the populace and his concern spurred him to take a more active role in local politics.
Gordon joined the Jamaica House of Assembly. He subdivided his own lands and sold them cheaply as farm lots to those who really could ill afford them. Gordon also wrote to Queen Victoria, expounding upon the conditions faced by the populace. His active protest of the social and economic systems of the day made him unpopular with his peers, and particularly with the Governor, Edward Eyre. (Top of Page)
Louise Bennett- Coverley
BENNETT-COVERLY, The Honourable Louise Simone, OJ, OM, MBE.
For Jamaicans, the name Louise Bennett- Coverly, cultural icon, folklorist and writer, elicits happy childhood memories of country outings, ring games and festivals in “the good old days”.
Jamaica ’s most inspired storyteller, Miss Lou (as she is popularly known) was born on September 7, 1919 in Kingston. Educated at Kingston’s Excelsior College and at Friends College in St. Mary, she later received a British Council Scholarship to study at the Royal Academy ( London).
For many Jamaicans, our most vivid memories of Miss Lou come from her performances in Ring Ding, a cultural hour for children on local television; in Comedy Hours, when she teamed with Ranny Williams, “Maas Ran”; and in several national pantomimes. A patron of the arts, Miss Lou was active with Jamaica’s Little Theatre Movement (LTM) and the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC).
Ms. Lou was, and still is, a favourite of Jamaicans both locally and abroad. Her fame propelled her from the Caribbean onto the international stages of Europe and North America, where she performed and lectured. She served as the British Broadcasting Commission’s (BBC) resident artiste in London hosting Caribbean Carnival from 1945 to 1946 and from 1950 to 1953. After BBC, Ms. Lou worked with the Jamaica Social and Welfare Commission as a drama officer and later as the director.
During her career, Miss Lou has published several books including, Jamaican Verses and Folk Stories, Laugh with Louise, and her most famous Jamaica Labrish. Miss Lou has made several records of Jamaican folk songs and ring games, and is also the subject of a documentary, The Drums Keep Sounding.
Miss Lou is the recipient of two of Jamaica’s highest national honours – the Order of Jamaica (OJ), and the Order of Merit (OM). The Institute of Jamaica has bestowed on her the Silver and Gold Musgrave Medals and the Centenary Medal. Ms. Lou has also received the Norman Manley Award for Excellence and, from the Chilean Government, the Gabriella Mistral Commemorative Award.
Ms. Lou was married to Eric Coverly (who died in 2002) and the union produced one son. (Top of Page)
Marcus Garvey created a revolution of black nationalism and consciousness, unparalleled in his day. Born on August 17, 1887, the youngest of 11 children, Jamaica’s first National Hero overcame opposition in his own land to inspire millions and challenge the status quo of white supremacy worldwide. His motto and that of the UNIA, was "One God, One Aim, One Destiny".
At the age of 14, Garvey moved to Kingston where he became an apprentice in a printery. In Kingston, he came face to face with the plight of the labouring classes. Later, he used his publication, The Watchman, to advocate the cause of the island’s working classes. Garvey also travelled to Central America where similar conditions for labourers existed and, on their behalf, made several appeals to the colonial government in Jamaica.
His appeals bore no fruit and so in 1914, Garvey formed the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and the African Communities League. In 1916 he took these institutions to the United States, opening offices in the Harlem district of New York and attracting popular support. Garvey also established the Black Star Line and the Negro Factories Corporation, in an attempt to inspire black industry, racial pride and self-reliance. Garvey used his platform as the UNIA’s leader to counter then current Darwinian theories that deified whites and relegated Africans to the equivalent of apes.
For his radical actions, Garvey was imprisoned in New York, where he served two years of a five-year term before being deported to Jamaica in 1927. In Jamaica, Garvey formed the island’s first political party, the People’s Political Party, in 1929. However, his party was unsuccessful because many of his supporters, under the colonial system, did not have the right to vote.
Garvey let for England in 1935 and died on 10 June 1940, near West Kensington. His body was finally returned to Jamaica in 1964 and re-interred, with full honours, as a national hero at National Heroes Park.
Garvey’s name is synonymous internationally with black nationalism and racial pride. His teachings were instrumental in the fight for independence in several African States as well as in social reform in the United States during the 1940s and 50s. (Top of Page)
Michael Manley, trade unionist, past Prime Minister and human rights activist, was born on December 10, 1924 in Kingston. His parents, Norman and Edna Manley had distinguished themselves in Jamaican society, Norman as an eminent lawyer, trade unionist and founder of the People’s National Party, and Edna as an accomplished artist and sculptor. Michael grew up in his family home at Drumblair, sharing childhood memories with Douglas, his elder sibling.
Manley was educated at Jamaica College in Kingston until 1943. He then left for Canada to train as a gunner in the Royal Canadian Air Force and later studied at the London School of Economics. On completion of his studies in 1951, Michael began a career in journalism at the London Observer. He returned to Jamaica in December of that year and worked with the Public Opinion, a weekly journal produced in Kingston.
Described as a “controversial and charismatic leader”, Manley championed the cause of the working classes in Jamaica. He worked in this capacity from 1952 – 72, as an advocate of sugar, bauxite, broadcast and other workers. Manley entered the field of politics in 1962 in the Senate. His first campaign for elective office was in 1967, when he won a seat by a narrow margin. From these beginnings he went on to become the President of the People’s National Party in 1969 and Prime Minister of Jamaica in 1972.
Among the accomplishments of his political administration were the institution of free secondary and university education, equal pay for women, and maternity leave with pay; the introduction of the minimum wage, the Jamaican Adult Literacy Programme (JAMAL) and the National Youth Service; the revision of the Rent Restriction Act; the establishment of sugar cooperatives, the National Housing Trust, and the Jamaica Public Service (Electricity) Company Ltd.
Michael Manley passed away on March 6, 1997 at the age of 72. He was given a state funeral and is buried at National Heroes Park. He is survived by five children. (Top of Page)
Nanny of the Maroons
The maroons have played a controversial yet integral part in the history of Jamaica. While many of the slaves on the plantations engaged in passive resistance as well as uprisings and open rebellions, the maroons hold pride of place in constant, unyielding attacks on the British planters and militia. These guerrilla warriors – slaves who escaped from the plantations and made their homes in the woodlands of the island’s interior – were a thorn in the flesh of the British colonialists.
Arguably the maroons’ most revered leader, Nanny was political and spiritual head of the maroons in the eastern parishes of Jamaica. Under her guidance, the group actively raided and plundered sugar plantations, and gave slaves their freedom. They also openly attacked and ambushed in ingenious traps the militia and planters, with little harm to their own numbers.
Both her followers and the British feared Nanny; probably because it was believed that she dabbled in obeah and black magic. Many folk tales and songs in the oral tradition of the maroons tell of her exploits. There are also documented accounts of her prowess as a military strategist in the First Maroon War, 1720 to 1739.
Although the facts surrounding Nanny’s death are somewhat vague, Jamaicans recognize her unique contribution to the struggle for full freedom of the enslaved population, finally achieved in 1838. Nanny has been given Jamaica’s highest honour, National Hero (Heroine). A portrait of Nanny can be found on the Jamaican five-hundred-dollar bill. (Top of Page)
Paul Bogle was born circa 1822 in the parish of St Thomas. Born a free man at the height of slavery, Bogle sought to advance the cause of his race by actively protesting against the system of bondage. Today, Jamaica honours Bogle with the title of National Hero.
Bogle was a Baptist deacon ordained by preacher George William Gordon. He firmly believed the poor social and economic conditions of his people could be improved by better governmental policies. He became the leader of a group which believed that, if they challenged the authorities, they could force them to implement well-needed changes to relieve the harsh conditions faced by Negroes, both enslaved and free. To this end, Bogle organised a protest march from his hometown in Stony Gut to the Morant Bay courthouse.
Unfortunately that peaceful march on October 11, 1865, turned violent and in the confrontation, the Custos and several of his officers were killed. Governor Edward Eyre, who brooked no dissension, firmly put down the revolt with the militia. The Morant Bay Rebellion, as it became known, initially conceived as a peaceful protest, resulted in the execution of over five hundred persons and harsh punishment for countless others, including Bogle, who was hanged on October 24, 1865.
Paul Bogle has been immortalized in Jamaica with a commemorative bust at the Morant Bay courthouse and a shrine at National Heroes Park. His portrait can also be found on the Jamaican ten-cent coin. (Top of Page)
Prime Minister of Jamaica since 1992, PJ Patterson was born in Dias, Hanover on April 10, 1935. Educated at Calabar High School and the University of the West Indies, he later went on to the London School of Economics where he won the Leverhume Scholarship and the Sir Hughes Parry Prize for excellence.
Patterson’s involvement in politics began while he was a student at the University of The West Indies (UWI). He joined the People’s National Party (PNP) in 1958 and, on his return from his studies in the United Kingdom, campaigned formally for the party. He was nominated to the Senate in 1967 and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1970. During his career of public service, Patterson has held several ministerial posts including those of Minister of Industry & Tourism (1972 – 77), Minister of Foreign Affairs & Foreign Trade (1978 – 80), Deputy Prime Minister (1978 – 80) and Minister of Finance & Planning (1990 – 91). He was Chairman of the People's National Party from 1983-92 and their National Campaign Director in 1972, 1976 and 1989.
Patterson has gained the respect of his colleagues, locally and regionally and is well respected internationally for his work towards Caribbean economic and political integration, making representations on behalf of the Caribbean region to bodies such as the United Nations, the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group (ACP) and the European Union. Patterson served as Chairman of the Eleventh Summit of the Group of 15 (G-15), and of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). He is currently Chairman of CARICOM’s Prime Ministerial Sub-committee on External Negotiations.
Patterson has been the recipient of several international awards including the Order of Liberator Simon Bolivar (First Class) from the government and people of Venezuela in 1992, the Order of Jose Martí, from Cuba, 1997, the Order of Volta from Ghana, 1999, and the Juan Mora Fernandez Great Silver Cross from Costa Rica in 2001. He is also the recipient of Honorary Doctor of Laws degrees from Northeastern University and Brown University, in the USA. (Top of Page)
Herb Fitzgerald Sewell was born in Spanish Town in 1949. He migrated to England in the early 1950’s with his parents.
Sewell attended the University of Birmingham in 1968 graduating with BDS, MSc, PhD with honours and numerous prizes over a nine year period. He qualified in Medicine (MB ChB) from the University of Leicester in 1983.
Professor Sewell has served on a variety of public and professional bodies concerned with Health Care, Medical Science and Education, Training and Practice. He has been a representative for the UK at the World Health Organisation Consultation on Xenotransplantation and a member of the UK regulatory authority overseeing developments in Xenotransplantation.
Sewell is currently a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and is a Commissioner for the UK Medicines Commission. He was made a Founding Fellow of the UK Academy of Medical Sciences 1999, and awarded the honorary degrees of DDS by Birmingham University in 2001 and D.Sc by the University of the West Indies in 2003. (Top of Page)
Caribbean history attests to the fact that Jamaica led the way in the fight for the abolition of the cruel system of slavery, with the most frequent slave uprisings and revolts. Samuel “Sam” Sharpe, one of Jamaica’s seven national heroes, was instrumental in the fight for freedom as the main instigator of the Christmas Rebellion of 1831.
Sharpe was born on a sugar plantation in the parish of St James. He became a Baptist deacon and was leader of the slave congregations in the area. He used this platform to condemn slavery and the inhumane conditions existing on many plantations. Sharpe believed slaves could achieve success and improve the harsh conditions with which they were treated. He encouraged the participation of slaves from neighbouring estates.
Planning the Rebellion of 1831, Sharpe encouraged slaves to withdraw their services in a peaceful protest against the plantocracy on Christmas Day. Thousands of slaves in the parishes of Trelawny, Westmoreland, St Elizabeth and Manchester joined in the protest, which turned bloody with the burning of the Kensington Great House. Fourteen whites perished, and in the aftermath nearly five hundred slaves were executed. Despite Sharpe’s best intentions, the Christmas Rebellion, also called the Sam Sharpe Rebellion, evolved into the largest, bloodiest rebellion in Jamaica’s history. For his role as instigator Sharpe was hanged on May 28, 1832.
The Christmas Rebellion proved to be one of the main events to catch the attention of Britain, thus hastening the process of full emancipation of slaves in the British West Indies in 1838.
Sam Sharpe has been honoured by Jamaica for his role in the fight for the freedom of this nation and its people. A shrine commemorating his life can be found at Heroes Park in Kingston. A teacher’s college in his native parish of St James is named in his honour and Sam Sharpe’s portrait can also be found on the Jamaican fifty-dollar bill. (Top of Page)
Sir Howard Cooke
His Excellency the Most Honourable Sir Howard Felix Hanlan Cooke, ON, CD, GC, MG, Governor-General of Jamaica, was born in Goodwill, a small district in the parish of St James on November 13, 1915 to David and Mary Jane Cooke. He was educated at Mico College and at London University.
On his return to Jamaica, Sir Howard taught at Mico College and Practising School. In his twenty-three years of teaching, Sir Howard served as Headmaster at Belle Castle All-Age School, Port Antonio Upper School, and Montego Bay Boys’ School. He has also acted as President of the Jamaica Teacher’s Association.
Sir Howard’s sense of social responsibility led him to politics. In 1938 he became one of the founding members of the People’s National Party (PNP) and was, during his political career, a senator as well as a member of the House of Representatives. He held several portfolios during his political tenure. He was a minister of government, holding various positions including Minister of Pensions and Social Security, of Education, and Labour and the Public Service.
An extraordinary sportsman, Sir Howard captained several teams in cricket and football. He has also worked extensively with the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission and was responsible for establishing several community centres to encourage the development of community talent and self-reliance.
Sir Howard married Ivy Tai on July 22, 1939 and the union produced three children, Howard, Richard and Audrey.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth bestowed a knighthood on Sir Howard (GCMG) in 1991. He has also been honoured for his work by several organizations including the Government of Jamaica and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. (Top of Page)
Sir William Alexander Bustamante
William Alexander Clarke was born in Blenheim, Hanover, in 1884 to an Irish planter, Robert Constantine Clarke and his coloured Jamaican wife, Mary Clarke. At the age of fifteen he was adopted by a Spanish seaman and spent several years abroad in Cuba, Panama and the USA. Having changed his name by deed poll, he became William Alexander Bustamante.
On his return to Jamaica in the mid-1930s, Bustamante set up a loan company. During this period, recognizing the plight of the working class, Bustamante began writing letters to the media both locally and in the UK, expressing dissatisfaction at local working conditions. Frustrated by the level of representation accorded to workers, he founded and led the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union in 1938.
During a period of unrest in the 1930s Bustamante worked closely with his cousin, Norman Manley, St William Grant, Noel Nethersole and others, to change the social and political status quo. He was a member of the People's National Party (PNP) founded in September 1938 by Manley. In 1943 disputes between himself and Manley led Bustamante to form the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Both parties contested Jamaica's first general election under universal adult suffrage in December 1944. The JLP won, a victory they repeated in 1949, but not in the 1955 elections. In 1955, the Queen honoured Bustamante, then leader of the Opposition, with a knighthood.
Sir Alexander Bustamante was a member of the Joint Parliamentary Committee that drafted the Jamaican Constitution. His signature appears on the independence agreement concluded in London. When in April 1962 the JLP won the elections, Bustamante was appointed Premier. On August 6, 1962, he became the first Prime Minister of an independent Jamaica. But just two years after taking office, Bustamante became gravely ill and retired from active politics in 1967. He died on August 6, 1977 at the age of 93.
Sir Alexander Bustamante has been designated a National Hero. A monument erected in his honour stands at National Heroes Park. His statue also stands at South Parade and his image appears on the Jamaican one-dollar coin. A port in the Newport East area of Kingston, a highway in the parish of Clarendon and the Kingston’s children's hospital, which Sir Alexander converted from an old army hospital, are also dedicated to his memory. Even a hard, local confectionery made from coconut and molasses bears his name, in testimony, it seems, to the great man’s legendary toughness and spirit.
Sir Alexander is survived by his widow, Lady Bustamante. (Top of Page)
Una Clarke has been a strong force in US-Caribbean politics for more than fifteen years.
Born in the parish of St. Elizabeth in 1936, Clarke went to the USA in 1958 to pursue a degree in Accounting & Business Management.
Clarke became the first Caribbean-born person to be elected as Councilwoman. She served for 10 years as the representative of the 40th District in Brooklyn to the New York City Council.
Clarke founded the Association of Caribbean-American Officials and Leaders, an organization that has helped New York’s West Indian community gain more clout by standing together on issues and getting involved in the political process.
The Governor of New York, George Pataki, has appointed Clarke to direct the Empire State Development Corporation. Her immediate goals include trade initiatives as well as increasing job creation for Caribbean nationals in New York. Her new assignments with the State Governor’s office include that of being liaison to the Caribbean.
Clarke is passionate about Caribbean peoples and has inspired many to become active in their communities.
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