July 4, 1893
September 2, 1969
Norman Washington Manley stood in the forefront of modern Jamaican public life from the late 1930s until his death in the late 1960s. He advocated the cause of workers, founded the People's National Party (PNP), and planned and guided the transfer of power from colonial rule. He prepared his compatriots for independence, which came in 1962, and left a legacy of faith and confidence that allowed the people of Jamaica to be the architects of their destiny. After almost five centuries of colonial rule, three of these under slavery, this was no small accomplishment.
Manley laid foundations for Jamaica's two-party system, and with it an enduring form of democratic governance. He taught the Jamaican people the sanctity of the rule of law and imbued them with a will to freedom via self-government and nationhood. In addition, he left them with an understanding of the interdependence of politics and labor, of immigration and race, and taught the significance
of intellect and imagination, of formal knowledge and artistic culture, to the shaping of a people emerging out of slavery and still struggling against colonialism. In his final public address, in 1969, he charged his Jamaicans to meet the challenge of "reconstructing the social and economic life of Jamaica," a charge that was to take on enduring relevance in the decades that followed, particularly with the hegemonic presence of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and globalization.
Manley was born in rural Jamaica, the son of a produce dealer who was "the illegitimate son of a woman of the people" and a mother who was a postmistress (postal clerk) and an "almost pure white woman" (a "quadroon" in the color-coded hierarchy of postslavery Jamaican society). He had two sisters and a brother. During his primary and secondary schooling he developed into a brilliant, hardworking, argumentative, articulate, and intellectually curious young man, with (in his own words) "an unquenchable belief in excellence." He was "almost wholly unconscious of my country and its problems…. colour meant little to me. I did not, could not, allow it to be an obsession since I was totally without any idea of 'white superiority.' It was not so much arrogance but a highly developed critical faculty. The only superiority I accepted was the superiority of excellence and I suppose I knew what I was good at but found it easy to recognise and respect quality even when I knew I could not equal it."
This spirit and intelligence, as well as his prowess as a schoolboy athlete, helped to earn him a Rhodes Scholarship in 1914 to study law at Oxford. This was to lead to an illustrious legal career in his native Jamaica, as well as in the British West Indies, where his peers soon recognized in him "a lawyer learned in the law, a man honest in his presentation of a case and an effective but eminently courteous cross-examiner." His learning and versatility were epitomized in the 1951 Vicks trademark case, when the British Lord Chancellor described his submissions as "the best argument I have ever heard in a trade mark case."
In 1914, before joining his two sisters and brother in London, where they were already studying, Manley went to visit with a maternal aunt in Penzance. She had been married to a Methodist parson from Yorkshire, who had spent almost five years in Jamaica but had since died, leaving her with nine children. There he met Edna Swithen-bank, his cousin and future wife. He described her as "a little girl of 14, a strange, shy and highly individualistic person, quite unlike the rest of her family and unlike anybody I had ever known."
His studies at Jesus College, Oxford, were interrupted by war service from 1915 until 1919. He enlisted as a private in the Royal Field Artillery, refusing to be made an officer and fighting instead with the rank and file of "cockneys with a view of life all their own." To these men, he was to become something of a referee and sage. Three years of active service on the Western Front (including the battles of Somme and Ypres) brought him both sorrow (his brother was killed in action) and glory (he was decorated with a Military Medal for bravery in action).
Manley resumed studies at Oxford in 1919, and he was called to the bar on April 20, 1921. That same year he married Edna, who was to become a well-known sculptor. He then spent some time in the London chambers of S. C. N. Goodman, followed a number of famous advocates "all over the Court," and "learnt not only technique but style; and I learnt that to watch a man in action—good, bad, or indifferent—was the quickest and surest way to learn what to do and what not to do and how to do it." He returned to Jamaica in August 1922, "with a clear sum of £50, a wife, a baby and a profession." He was to develop a legendary expertise in the practice of his profession, rising to prominence as an advocate and acknowledged leader of the bar in Jamaica and the British West Indies. Manley's legal career was, however, to be subordinated, at great personal sacrifice (according to his colleague Vivian Blake), "to the major effort of his life, securing the independence of Jamaica and earning for him[self] the popular title Father of the Nation. " Indeed, Norman Washington Manley is clearly the foremost architect of modern Jamaica.
None of his accomplishments, as Norman Manley so well knew, were achievable without the establishment of appropriate and serviceable institutional frameworks to facilitate and foster the growth and development of individuals in communities. Such communities, he felt, had to be informed by a civic responsibility that would render citizens proud to be citizens, so that they would be imbued with the knowledge and understanding not only of the rights of individuals, but also of their obligations as part of a community, society, or nation.
As is evident in his numerous speeches and informal utterances, Manley possessed a deep understanding of the need to shape institutions that could cradle, nurture, and finally develop a vision of freedom, self-reliance, self-worth, and opportunity for all Jamaicans. It is no surprise, then, that he provided a transformational leadership (which included the enduring idea of being part of a wider Caribbean) that put into place the relevant institutions that could serve as an infrastructure for shaping a new society. That society, he believed, would in time liberate itself from what he said was the sort of "dependency which allowed no definite economy of our own, with no control over our own markets, no representatives of an authoritative character that can speak for ourselves and our own interest in the councils and debates that will take place" in the world at large.
Between 1955 and 1962, when the People's National Party held power, Manley (first as chief minister and then as premier), gave priority to agriculture, education, and industrialization. Thousand of small farmers received subsidies, and new markets were opened. The democratization of the once elitist system of secondary education was begun, along with an increase in scholarships. Primary schools were built; public library facilities were extended to all parishes; and the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation was established. A stadium was built to help foster sports, and the Scientific Research Council was established.
Manley was also the first political leader in the English-speaking Caribbean to give arts and culture a portfolio. He wanted to reverse the systemic denigration of African culture and the force of the Eurocentrism that had frustrated native expressions and threatened the quest for cultural certitude among the majority. As far back as 1939, Manley is recorded as saying "The immediate past has attempted to destroy the influence of the glory that is Africa, it has attempted to make us condemn and mistrust the vitality, vigour, the rhythmic emotionalism that we get from our African ancestors. It has flung us into conflict with the English traditions of the public schools and even worse it has imposed on us the Greek ideal of balanced beauty." Interestingly, this speech came in the wake of his wife's prophetic and iconic piece of sculpture titled Negro Aroused.
Other transformational institutions were also established. The Agricultural Development Corporation and the Industrial Development Corporation were a part of Manley's vision, and they survive in one form or another to this day. So were the financial institutions, including the Bank of Jamaica, which were conceived by Noel Nether-sole, Norman Manley's trusted chief lieutenant. A legislative program produced the Beach Control Act, the Facilities for Titles Act, the Land Bonds Act, the Land Development Duty Act, the Jamaica Standards Act, and the Watersheds Protection Act. Manley's empowerment of Parliament as the forum of the people's accredited representatives and as a major instrument of democratic discourse and of intellectual vigor was one of his great achievements. The Farm Development Program and the Jamaica Youth Corps, which both addressed the needs of rural and urban youth, made it possible for unemployed young men and women to realize their potential and become active citizens of their country.
Manley's institutional devising went beyond the outward signs of formal physical structures into the inward grace of human development. The neglect of this aspect of good governance since his death has presented a challenge as his successors to return to the blueprint he prepared for a self-respecting nation and a regenerative society, which he envisaged his country had to become in order to cope with the turbulent changes of an unpredictable world.
Manley's vision can be seen in Jamaica Welfare Limited, a community development modality for social and individual human development, established in 1937. The people, "the mass of the population," were a priority for Manley, and all institutional frameworks were intended to foster their retreat from the marginalization of the colonial era. Jamaica Welfare was to be nonpartisan, people-centered, and national. Unfortunately, Manley felt he had to resign his chairmanship of this institution when the People's National Party—itself transformed by the early 1940s from a movement into a full-blown political party—demanded his full attention. He was therefore disappointed greatly when, after 1962, Jamaica Welfare was replaced by a new community development program named the "Hundred Village Scheme," which he felt betrayed the principles on which the institution was founded.
If Jamaica Welfare Limited (later the Social Welfare Commission, and still later the Social Development Commission) demonstrated an institutional breakthrough towards the creative shaping of a new Jamaica, so did the founding and development of the People's National Party (PNP). Envisioned as an instrument of organized politics, political continuity, and democratic governance, this institution has stayed its course, if only because it was firmly rooted in some of the finest attributes the Jamaican people have shown themselves to possess. The PNP was a genuinely new beginning for Jamaica, and it has served as a model for similar political organizations, both at home and in the wider Caribbean. The party itself, thanks to its articulated mission statements, the vision of its founding leader, and the rationality of its internal organization, has survived the vicissitudes of being both in power and out of power (as the "Opposition").
The remarkable thing about the institutions Norman Manley helped to found was that they were neither monuments to self nor cold edifices of steel and mortar parading in high-rise splendor. Rather, they were created on the organic idea of the ultimate "independence of a self-governing Jamaica, which to him meant the liberation of the Jamaican people from centuries of psychological and structural bondage, the non-negotiable claim to human dignity and self-respect, self-definition as (full-fledged) members of the human race, and the attainment of power which comes to a people only on the conviction that they are the creators of their own destiny."
Paradoxically, Manley's efforts to have the British West Indies integrate into a federation failed after a short trial run from 1958 to 1961, when he was forced to call a referendum that resulted in the rejection of the short-lived West Indies Federation. "The people have spoken" was his immediate response of respectful concurrence, as it always was on his losing subsequent national elections. Nonetheless, Jamaica achieved independence in 1962, ending 307 years of British colonial rule. And Manley's vision of an integrated region, with a common history and contemporary problems, was to find a continuing manifestation in what is now the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM).
Manley gave to Jamaica and the wider Caribbean (itself a part of the African diaspora), the full power and force of a giant intellect and the sense and sensibility of a fertile creative imagination. His personal courage and profound decency transcended narrow partisan politics, though he admitted to having a quick "flaming temper" which took him "half a lifetime to learn to control … with its place … taken by a sort of arrogant indifference which was constantly mistaken for the real me." He nonetheless remains a role model for all leaders of African ancestry in the Americas, if only because of his single-mindedness and dedication, his financial disinterestedness in the pursuit of public duties, and his personal integrity. His remarkable intellectual powers and gift of advocacy underlay his total commitment to the betterment of the material and spiritual welfare of the people of Jamaica. It is small wonder, then, that the government and people of his country bestowed on him the rare honor of "National Hero" soon after his death.
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Eisner, Gisela. Jamaica, 1830–1930: A Study in Economic Growth. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 1961.
Jamaica Journal 25, no. 1 (October 1993—special issue to mark Norman Manley Centenary).
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Manley, Rachel, ed. Edna Manley: The Diaries. Kingston, Jamaica: West Indies Publishing, 1989.
Nettleford, Rex M., ed. Manley and the New Jamaica: Selected Speeches and Writings 1938–1968. Kingston, Jamaica: Long-man Caribbean, 1971.
Ranston, Jackie. Lawyer Manley: First Time Up. Barbados: University Press of the West Indies, 1998.
Reid, Vic. The Horses of the Morning. Kingston, Jamaica: Caribbean Authors Publishing Company, 1985.
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rex m. nettleford (2005)