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2 Jamaican Black Power in the 1960s RUPERT LEWIS This chapter traces the particular manifestations of Black Power in the Jamaican context. In this analysis, the origins of Black Power can be traced to the ongoing legacies of the transatlantic trade and the plantation system, which gave birth to specific manifestations of racism and inequality as well as specific forms of anticolonial black mobilization. Thus while the Black Power movement in Jamaica is linked to the student and youth demonstrations in Kingston on 16 October 1968, the protests had far deeper roots. As Rodney proposed, the slogan of Black Power was new, but it was “really an ideology and a movement of historical depth.”1 In Jamaica this historical depth was rooted in social movements, especially among the urban poor, working class and lower-middle class that drew heavily on the ideas of the Garvey movement and the worldviews of Rastafari. This chapter explores how these currents fed into the Black Power movement of the 1960s, the nature of Black Power mobilization in the period, and the response of the Jamaican state, before reflecting on its repercussions and relevance in the present day. The Jamaican Context Black Power activists engaged a Jamaican state marked by colonial legacies that included a head of state, the Governor-General, who represented the Queen; a Prime Minister, who functioned with a constitution that had been arranged between the British government and the leaders of the two main parties without the input of the people; and a judiciary, civil service, and police system engineered in the era of colonial rule to serve British and sugarplantation interests. By the 1960s, these institutions were being taken over by brown (mulatto) and black Jamaicans. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), whose leader, Alexander Bustamante, emerged as a hero of the 1938 labor Rupert Lewis 54 revolt, led Jamaica to independence in 1962. Bustamante’s successor and prot égé, Hugh Shearer, was Prime Minister when the Black Power protests broke out in 1968. In Rodney’s analysis, the main beneficiaries of the 1938 labor revolts were those of “a narrow, middle-class sector whose composition was primarily brown, augmented by significant elements of white and other groupings, such as Syrians, Jews and Chinese.” In a statement issued after the Shearer government had banned him from reentering Jamaica on 15 October 1968, Rodney noted that, “Of late, that local ruling elite has incorporated a number of blacks in positions of prominence. However, irrespective of its racial or colour composition, this power-group is merely acting as representatives of metropolitan-imperialist interests. Historically white and racist-oriented, these interests continue to stop attempts at creative social expression on the part of the black oppressed masses.”2 Rodney was also highly critical of the administration of justice, particularly police violence against citizens. Between August 1967 and April 1968, thirty-one people were shot by the police, sixteen of them killed.3 Social and economic inequalities and deeply held racial prejudices against the black majority persisted in postindependence Jamaica. The independent Jamaican state, like the colonial state before it, saw black nationalism as culturally and politically subversive. Between 1955 and 1962, when the People’s National Party (PNP) was in government, 128 people were banned from Jamaica; ninety-one more were banned by the subsequent JLP government in the years 1962 to 1968.4 Not all of these bans were on political radicals, but they did become targets, especially in the Cold War climate of the late 1940s. In this climate, publications as well as people were targeted for exclusion from the Jamaican state. In a letter to Amy Jacques Garvey, the Jamaican socialist W. A. Domingo noted that a “formidable list of publications ” had been banned from entry into Jamaica. By this act, he wrote, . . . the government simply reveals its fears. Colonial peoples have a double problem. They have to fight their own reactionaries as well as the naturally reactionary government of the controlling power. The situation is worse when the two elements fuse and work against the masses, one openly as the agent of an alien over-lord and the other concealed as the friends of the people of whom they are a part. The question that the people should ask: of what are the rulers afraid?5 The JLP government, however, did not only respond to black mobilization by recourse to repressive methods. The repatriation of Marcus Garvey’s body from London to Kingston in 1964, the official visit of Emperor...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813048611
Related ISBN
9780813049090
MARC Record
OCLC
870646730
Pages
288
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-15
Language
English
Open Access
No
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