Of seven national heroes honored in Jamaica, only Alexander Bustamante, maintains the distinction of leading the independent nation as prime minister. That could change if members of the Jamaica Progressive League have their way.
In the eyes of the orange-loving, members of the national political party, no other national – regardless of color preference—is more deserving of elevation to the status of National Hero than Michael Norman Manley, O.M., the fourth prime minister of the island/nation.
They believe the avowed Democratic Socialist most-worthy of recognition to join the short list of distinguished contributors to a history shaped by Nanny, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Paul Bogle, Samuel Sharpe, George William Gordon, Bustamante and his father Norman Washington Manley, the founder of the Party who campaigned for a federated Caribbean.
The Premier leader fathered two sons, Douglas and Michael, the latter followed in his footsteps to lead the PNP and country.
Already one of the island’s seven revered National heroes, the elder died in 1969 and is revered for being the only leader to serve with the title of Premier.
Michael took up the mantle in 1972 to serve until 1980.
Following a hiatus, Michael campaigned again and won reelection nine years later which he completed in 1992.
On the 98th anniversary of his birth, a colorful crowd gathered at the North East Bronx YMCA to celebrate his storied legacy.
“Manley was a true hero,” Jose Richards, founder of Sons and Daughters of Jamaica said. “I am a born Jamaican but I am a child of Africa” and there are two individuals whose vision for Jamaica directly spoke to dismantling the shackles of colonial exploitation, Garvey and Manley.
“He put Jamaica on the map.”
The avowed loyalist of the JPL lauded Manley’s legacy saying “had he survived young people would be different because they would have benefited from his legacy.”
Richards lashed out at the “plantocracy that exists in Jamaica.”
“Manley brought social changes to the island, he terrified the ruling class when he came to the United Nations, he argued with global manufacturers” and fought for an equitable division of profits.
Richards’ comments were echoed by Dorret Aarons who keynoted the celebrations.
“Manley was a messianic leader…a vanguard,” she said. “He penned nine books” and because of his manner the people dubbed him Joshua, the Biblical disciple who stood with Moses throughout the Egyptian exodus and other times of peril.
In explaining a long list of attributes to Manley’s heroism she explained her basis for his elevation to the peak of notoriety.
She punctuated her claim saying according to her perception of the definition, only three individuals have merited the lofty title of hero — Bob Marley (who many referred to as Joseph), Nelson Mandela and Manley.
She described Manley in glowing terms of endearment; a standard bearer in seeking social reforms for the poor — free education, scholarships to quell illiteracy, better housing conditions, health advancements and even advocated for proficiency in playing the sport of cricket.
Aarons retraced Manley’s revolutionary platform which focused on a democratic socialist form of government, a concept which threatened the United States.
That he also aligned with Communist Cuban President Fidel Castro and other revolutionary governments she said proved an uneasy thorn to the traditional system established by the colonial leaders.
Aarons also pointed to the fact instead of business suits Manley wore bush jackets and casual outfits.
The JPL has annually celebrated the legacy of the titan. Founded in 1936 by a group of progressive Jamaicans living in the USA, “they organized and forged forward to change the social and political landscape of Jamaica.”
Their mission was to counter indiscretions inflicted by colonial governments by proposing reforms in education, health, land settlement, taxation, agriculture, industry, census resulting with independence in 1962.
Throughout that time the JPL has been acclaimed, champions of the People’s National Party.
The group will propose a letter-writing campaign to all nationals which they hope will convince the current government that the time has come for a second former prime minister to be honored with the highest order of recognition and that Michael Manley is worthiest.