Celebrating My Jamaican and Caribbean Hero: Michael Manley
by Jason Walker
Michael Manley was born on December 10, 1924, so of course I was reminded of my hero as soon as his birthday came around. Manley made a big impact on on me from a very early age. The charismatic former Prime Minister of Jamaica had shined a light on the plight of the less fortunate and those who did not have a very prominent voice in Jamaican society. These consisted of the majority of the population (and also mainly those of African descent). Manley’s accomplishments are well documented and I list some below.
Manley came up in the era of Mandela, Nkrumah, Nehru, King, Castro, Marley and Tosh and as such became a part of a collective voice of leaders that cried out against colonialism, racism, imperialism, apartheid, Zionism and other forms of oppression. Manley’s commitment to social change in Jamaica (as evidenced in his speeches and legislation) and his call for a new international economic order that was more sustainable to developing and underdeveloped nations around the world, South-South cooperation, the fostering of the non-alignment movement and justice internationally and economic justice between states only through peace and equality helped to propel him as one of the major populists leaders of his time.
For me though my heroship started in a more personal space. I was only 5 years old, my father was taking me to a football game at the national stadium. Prime Minister Michael Manley had decreed that there should be no toy guns in Jamaica. This decree had upset my 5 year old mind very much. I loved to guns and had been waiting for a new one with blanks.
I digress, at the national stadium there was a large crowd on hand. I do not remember what teams were playing, but I do remember once in the stadium, I saw Manley was seated in the Royal Box and surrounded by police. I also remembered there was a lot of gunshots being fired all around the stadium. I would learn later that the gunmen were trying to kill the Prime Minister. In the moment though I did not care about any of that, I wanted to know why my favourite toy was banned from store shelves! I broke away from my father and ran towards Jamaica’s Head of State.
A police officer grabbed me as I reached the security circle around Manley. He held onto my shoulder very tightly until a bemused Manley waved him off and told me to come, like some celestial being beckoning from on high. I came over and he promptly hoisted me to his lap and asked me what can he do for me. I quickly glanced at my father who was by the police officer and jumped at my chance. I asked him how could he make such an unjust decree against the most wonderful toy in existence, without which I could not take the playing of police and tief to a higher level. I quickly followed with a question about when would this anti-toy gun law would end.
Manley laughed and what would follow would be one of the most surreal moments I ever experienced. I did not appreciate the irony then, that would come in later life, however as he leaned over me (I would realize later that he was shielding me), he proceeded to explain how he was trying to turn back the tide of violence that was growing throughout the country, instigated by outside forces, and he was trying to remove the thought process of using gun violence from the minds of young Jamaicans. While he was going through this explanation shots were ringing through the stadium at a more rapid rate and definitely coming closer. I do not remember too much after this except that we were separated and I went with my father and he went with the police and unfortunately, I would hear a man silenced by gunshots.
3 years later I met Mr. Manley again and he remembered who I was. I later met him at different times throughout my life and he was always welcoming, warm, and he always remembered! Another time we were in front of each other was in 1991 at the National Stadium, near the same Royal Box when Nelson Mandela made Jamaica the first country he would visit after leaving Jail because of the great Anti-Apartheid stance that Manley, many Jamaican artists and the whole country had taken. The last time I saw him I was in my twenties in Atlanta and he was lecturing at Emory University and the Atlanta Jamaican Association along with the Consulate for Jamaica in Atlanta had put together a small function for the former Prime Minister and guess what? Manley remembered. My earliest memory has become one of my most treasured memories and also has helped to shape the narrative of how I look at the hero Michael Manley with his heroic legacy that positively impacted people in Jamaica and throughout the world. Personally he has always felt like a loving, strong and powerful uncle who really cared and I will forever appreciate that. Happy Birthday Michael Manley and I thank you.
Here are some of Manley’s accomplishments:
Jamaica’s Order of Merit (OM) and
Order of the Nation (ON)
Order of the Caribbean Community (OCC)
UN Gold Medal for “significant contribution in cooperation with the United
Nations and in solidarity with the South African liberation movement in the
international campaign against apartheid”
World Peace Council’s Juliot Curie Peace Award for “contribution to the
struggle of the Jamaican people and all people of the non-aligned world
fighting for economic independence”
Socialist International’s citation for “contribution to the world economic
debate on the New International Economic Order and for contribution to
the deepening of democracy in Jamaica and the Caribbean”.
South Africa’s Order of the Companions of Oliver Tambo (Gold Award) for promoting the interests and aspirations of the Republic of South Africa “at the higher levels through excellent cooperation and active expression of solidarity and support”.
Induction into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, for “the outstanding contribution he made during his life, his powerful enduring legacy in civil rights and his prominent voice in raising international awareness about the great civil rights issues that continue to resonate around the world”
Renaming of the headquarters of the National Housing Trust (NHT) as “The Michael Manley Building” in recognition of his role as the principal architect of the Trust
A monument has been erected in National Heroes Park, in Kingston, to
honour his memory.
An endowed Michael Manley Chair of Public Policy has been established
at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona, Jamaica.
The UWI has announced the establishment of a Michael Manley Centre for Global Dialogue, on its Mona Campus, to include a Michael Manley Scholar in Residence programme, an annual distinguished Lecture and interdisciplinary undergraduate course titled ‘The Michael Manley Legacy’ and a co-curricular programme of cultural activities in Mr Manley’s name.
A Memorandum of Understanding jointly signed in 1998 by the
Government, the bauxite/alumina companies operating in Jamaica
and the trade unions was named The Manley Accord in recognition of
work done by Mr Manley in the last eighteen months of his life in the
effort to work out rules of engagement to secure industrial peace at
The Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) has set up a
CTO/Michael Manley Memorial Fund, through which it provides
scholarships and other forms of subsidy for outstanding
Caribbean students pursuing courses in tourism.
A produce market, a housing estate and a major thoroughfare on
the principal route linking Kingston with the Norman Manley International Airport bear his name.
His image appears on the $1,000 bill.
Honorary Doctor of Laws, MorehouseCollege , Atlanta(1973)
- Order of the Liberator,Venezuela (1973)
- Order of the Mexican Eagle (1973)
- Order of Jose Marti, Cuba (1976)
United Nations Gold Medal (1978) for significant contribution in the co-operation with the United Nations and in solidarity with the South African Liberation Movement in the international campaign against Apartheid
Juliot Curie Peace Award of the World Peace Council (1979) for contribution to the struggle of the Jamaican people and all people of the non-aligned world fighting for economic independence
Appointed to the Queen’s Privy Council (1989)
Honorary Doctor of Letters, Claremont University , California (1989)
Conferred the Order of Merit of Jamaica (1992) for distinguished service in the field of international affairs
- Carlton Alexander Memorial Award (1992) for contribution and service in politics
Jason Walker is a freelance writer for Caribbean Today Magazine who has had an award winning journalism career that spans 20 years. He can be followed on twitter at www.twitter.com/jasonwalker_ or emailed at email@example.com