Folks from across the globe occasionally come and visit Jamaica, the land of wood and water. What do you love about Jamaica? Here is a video highlighting what our fellow citizens love about the island: (https://www.facebook.com/winston.steele.12/videos/2074001189282305/)
John Brown Russwurm, Claude McKay, Joel Augustus Rogers & Thaddeus Alexander Kitchener – Black History Month
John Brown Russwurm was an American abolitionist who was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica to an English father and an enslaved mother.
By NAN Staff Writer
News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. Feb. 3, 2017: When Black History Month is discussed, West Indian blacks who have made a significant contribution to the United States’ black history are rarely ever acknowledged. Yet their contribution remains inedible. Here are five Jamaican immigrants – beyond Marcus Garvey – who U.S. Black History has all but forgotten:
John Brown Russwurm
John Brown Russwurm was an American abolitionist who was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica to an English father and an enslaved mother. As a child he traveled to the United States with his father and received a formal education, becoming the first African American to graduate from Bowdoin College and third African American to graduate from an American college. As a young man, Russwurm moved from Portland, Maine, to New York City, where he was a founder with Samuel Cornish of the abolitionist newspaper, Freedom’s Journal, the first paper owned and operated by African Americans. Russwurm became supportive of the American Colonization Society’s efforts to develop a colony for African Americans in Africa, and he moved in 1829 to what became Liberia. In 1836 Russwurm was selected as governor of Maryland in Africa, a small colony set up nearby by the Maryland State Colonization Society. He served there until his death in 1851. The colony was annexed to Liberia in 1857.
W. A. Domingo.
Wilfred Adolphus Domingo was born in Kingston, Jamaica and became an activist and journalist and the youngest editor of Marcus Garvey’s newspaper the Negro World. As an activist and writer, Domingo travelled to the United States advocating for Jamaican sovereignty as a leader of the Black Brotherhood and the Harlem Socialist party. Through this role, he gained the attention of Alain Locke during the Harlem Renaissance. Domingo was a contributor to Locke’s anthology The New Negro. Domingo’s essay “The Gift of the Black Tropics” gave an account of the sudden immigration of foreign-born Africans of the West Indies to Harlem during the early 1920s.
Clarendon-born Festus Claudius McKay, who later became known as Claude McKay, first wrote poems primarily in the Jamaican dialect but switched to Standard English forms after moving to the United States in 1912 to attend Tuskegee University. His militant sonnet “If We Must Die” was first published in 1919 during a period of intense racial violence. The poem noted for its revolutionary tone became popular among African American readers and is considered a landmark of Harlem Renaissance. McKay became involved with a group of black radicals who were unhappy both with Marcus Garvey’s nationalism and the middle-class reformist NAACP. These included other Caribbean writers such as Cyril Briggs, Richard B. Moore, and Wilfrid Domingo. They fought for black self-determination within the context of socialist revolution. Together they founded the semi-secret revolutionary organization, the African Blood Brotherhood. His 1928 novel Home to Harlem became a best-seller and won the Harmon Gold Award for Literature. The following year his novel Banjo was published which was hailed as a radical work that envisioned the black political identity in a global framework. McKay was among the most famous writers of the Harlem Renaissance and an influential figure of the movement.
Joel Augustus Rogers
Joel Augustus Rogers was a Negril, Jamaica-born author, journalist, and historian who contributed to the history of Africa and the African Diaspora, especially the history of African Americans in the United States. Rogers emigrated from Jamaica to the United States in 1906, where he settled in Harlem, New York and became a close personal friend of the Harlem-based intellectual and activist Hubert Harrison. Rogers’ first book From “Superman” to Man, self-published in 1917, attacked notions of African inferiority. From “Superman” to Man is a polemic against the ignorance that fuels racism. In the 1920s, Rogers worked as a journalist on the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago Enterprise. He was a sub-editor of Marcus Garvey’s short-lived Daily Negro Times. He was one of the greatest popularizers of African history in the 20th century.
Thaddeus Alexander Kitchener
Thaddeus Alexander Kitchener, a Kingston, Jamaica-born immigrant, is believed to be the first black graduate of Suffolk Law School, a private, non-sectarian law school located in downtown Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated class of 1913. At the time of his admittance to Suffolk, Kitchener, according to the Suffolk University Archives, was employed as a janitor at Simmons College in Boston. Kitchener was an alumnus of Wolmers High School in Jamaica.
Actor – Author
Part I of II – Documentary on Jamaican National Heroine to Screen at the 24th Annual Pan African Film & Arts Festival.
New York, January 15, 2016 – The legendary Nanny of the Maroons is Jamaica’s only female National Heroine. She was an eighteenth-century, African warrior Queen who led a band of former enslaved Africans in the mountains of Jamaica to a decisive victory over the mighty British army. Despite all this acclaim, Queen Nanny remains a mystery. Her name is mentioned only four times in textbooks. And so most of what we know about her comes through oral tales and legends.
Conceived by veteran movie stuntman and award-winning filmmaker, Roy T. Anderson and History Professor Harcourt T. Fuller, PhD, this landmark, one-hour, documentary film will unearth and examine this mysterious figure that is Queen Nanny: Legendary Maroon Chieftainess.
Sponsored by the Jamaica Cultural Alliance (JCA), a Los Angeles 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, Queen Nanny will have its West Coast Premiere as an official selection of the 24th Annual Pan African Film & Arts Festival on Saturday, February 6, 2016 @ 7 pm, at the Rave Cinemas Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza 15 in Los Angeles, CA. A private, invitation-only reception will precede the film’s showing. Queen Nanny had a very successful World Premiere screening on October 19, 2015 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, as part of the 2015 Remember Slavery Programme of Activities along with screenings of such films as Selma and Book of Negroes (BET). The World Premiere also drew attention to the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). The United Nations is also is considering the film as part of their educational outreach for Slavery Remembrance Day, to be observed Friday, March 25, 2016.
Queen Nanny was filmed in Jamaica, Ghana, Canada, and the United States over the course of two years, and include interviews with Maroons and scholars who are experts in Caribbean history and the study of slavery. As we seek to uncover the history and legacy of Queen Nanny, her intriguing story is told through songs, performances, and a series of reenactments.
This film also looks at Queen Nanny’s legacy and impact on contemporary women in general, with interviews featuring, among others: Jamaica’s current Prime Minister, The Most Hon. Portia Simpson-Miller; double Olympic and World Champion sprinter Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce; the “Queen of Reggae” Rita Marley; U.S. Congresswoman Yvette Clarke; University Professors Verene Shepherd and Linda Heywood. View YouTube teaser at https://www.youtube.com/embed/nF_Os_yW-D4.
On May 23 each year, unless it falls on a Saturday or Sunday, Jamaicans celebrate Labour Day by volunteering their time and energy towards the beautification and enhancement of communities across the island.A national holiday, Labour Day has been officially recognised in Jamaica since 1960. However, it was the events of 1938 which opened a new era in the life of the working man of all classes and brought about a fundamental change in the relationship between the workers and their employers in Jamaica. From this change emerged a new order of effective trade unionism which would eventually lead to the formation of Jamaica’s two main political parties and ultimately to its Independence from colonial rule. Ever since 1939, Jamaica has paused on May 23 to recognise the value of work and the immense contribution of the workers to the development of the country.
The three main objectives of Labour Day are:
- enhancing the dignity of labour by improving the environment
- inspiring the spirit of community development, and
- encouraging the principle of solidarity; Jamaicans working, building and
The Origins Of Labour Day
Up to 1960, May 24 was observed annually in Jamaica as Empire Day, the birthday of Queen Victoria, who was deeply concerned about human liberty and has been credited with granting slaves in Jamaica and the rest of the British Empire their freedom. Instituted in the United Kingdom in 1904, Empire Day extended throughout the countries of the Commonwealth. It gave the Queen’s people a chance to show their pride in being part of the British Empire. School children were required to attend school on the morning of the holiday to participate in flag-raising ceremonies and in the singing of ‘Rule Britannia’, the British national anthem, ‘God Save the King’ and other British patriotic songs.
The Auxiliary Territorial Service in Jamaica put on a
display on Empire Day in 1944.
(Photo courtesy of iwm.org.uk)
By the 1950s however, the British Empire had started to decline and Britain’s relationship with countries that formed the Empire such as Jamaica, had also changed as they began to celebrate their own identity. In 1958, Empire Day was renamed Commonwealth Day, in agreement with the new post-colonial relationship between the nations of the former empire. In Jamaica, by then, May 24th was already being celebrated informally as Labour Day, in commemoration of the labour upheavals which took place between May 23 and June 6 of 1938.
A National Holiday Appeal
In 1960, the then Premier, the late Right Excellent Norman Washington Manley, presented a bill in Parliament which finally abolished Empire Day. On June 15th, a law to amend the Holiday (Public General) Law received unanimous support in the Legislative Council. May 23 was now to be known as “National Labour Day” and officially marked the anniversary of the first wave of working class strikes which took place in 1938.
In 1960, the then Premier, the late Right
Excellent Norman Washington Manley abolished
Empire Day in favour of “National Labour Day”.
The labour movement in Jamaica has its origins in the struggles of the workers in 1938 for better working conditions. After fatal riots in Frome, Westmoreland and the arrest of labour leader Sir Alexander Bustamante along with Garveyite Sergeant William Grant, the time was ripe in Jamaica for political change. It is from this movement that Jamaica’s two major political parties emerged and the journey to Independence began. The focus of Labour Day had now shifted from the tradition of gratitude to colonial masters, to political Independence and the importance of trade unions.
Trade Unions Clashes
In 1938, under the patronage of Sir Alexander Bustamante, the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) was formed and set out on the dedicated task of taking care of the welfare of Jamaica’s workers. Despite minor setbacks, the union, which bears the name of one of Jamaica’s greatest labour leaders, contributed to the rise in the wage structure in the island as well the consequent increase in the standard of living. The benefits of annual vacation as well as sick leave with pay were also introduced to Jamaica by the BITU.
The path to self-government, which was paved since the great 1938 awakening, saw the formation of not only the BITU, which was affiliated with the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), but also the National Worker’s Union (NWU) which had its connections with the Manley-led People’s National Party (PNP). For ten years Labour Day was mainly celebrated in the Corporate Area by the trade unions, in
collaboration with their political parties, in the form of public rally meetings and marches. There were occasions, however, when the marches of the opposing major trade unions and the political parties clashed. In 1962, a JLP-BITU and PNP-NWU clash during the Labour Day march resulted in the death of a woman and the injury of over a dozen police officers who had to resort to tear gas to quell the disturbance. This was contrary to the original concept of Mr. Manley that the day should be a demonstration of unity among workers in Jamaica.
In 1966 the Labour Day marches were banned in the Corporate Area as a result of disturbances which took place in early May of that year. Since then, the police refused to grant permission for marches to either trade union. The following year, workers and employers from every field of activity in Jamaica convened in an atmosphere of conviviality as the then Prime Minister, the Hon. Hugh Shearer, on behalf of the Government of Jamaica hosted a glittering reception at Jamaica House in celebration of Labour Day. Without the grandiose marches which saw the opposing trade unions meeting in the streets of Kingston, Labour Day was marked by services, public meetings and protest rallies and minimal incidents for the next few years.
Putting Work Into Labour Day
The mantra ‘Put Work into Labour Day’ was both an expression of thanksgiving and a call for national unity. In 1972, the then Prime Minister, the Hon. Michael Manley, infused the national holiday with a new dimension by expressing to all Jamaicans the importance of labour to nation-building through voluntary community work. It was the first time Jamaicans were asked to give up a part or all of their public holidays to work on a community project. The Palisadoes Road (now known as the Norman Manley Highway) was selected as the first site where the Prime Minister was seen clearing land and planting trees to beautify the area. His invitation to the nation resulted in a tremendous national response and 600 projects, mainly of a beautification nature, were identified across the island.
When asked about the first Labour Day project, Mr. Manley remarked, “I think…it was probably the first time in all of Jamaica’s history when the people of this country felt a unity, a oneness in working together for the good of the country.” While the new concept enacted by Michael Manley in 1972 revolved around the central theme of
work, it also contained other ideas. It identified and stressed a part of the future policy of the Government – that of appealing to the national pride, interest and dignity of the people and mobilising them on an island-wide basis. Groups and individuals around the island followed the Prime Minister’s lead and planned projects of their own, such as the refurbishing of schools, community centres, state institutions and other public and private buildings.
Since then, Labour Day has not only been a public holiday but also a day of mass community involvement around the country. It has evolved out of the struggle to free workers from the extreme conditions of repression, exploitation and racism. In 1989, after an eight year absence of wide scale island-wide Labour Day projects, the Jamaican government introduced themes as a guide for persons to assist in Labour Day activities. The identification of a theme was meant to foster wider national involvement and solidarity but did not compel citizens to be bound by the theme. These themes have included a wide range of issues such as health and the environment, youth and the community, respect for the elderly and vulnerable, road safety, and the planting of trees. While still managing to maintain its original connection to the trade union movement, Labour Day exemplifies the dignity of labour and the importance of volunteerism towards community development as Jamaicans join together to invest their energies towards the cultivation of a prosperous country.
There is a persistent myth that seeks to suggest that the influence of Caribbean music on the rest of the world is a recent phenomenon, and that prior to the appearance of Bob Marley and Reggae music the Caribbean had no significant presence in the wider world. Not only that, but there is no general awareness of the musical life of Marley during the period when he was just a Wailer along with Peter
Tosh and Bunny Livingstone, and made very successful recordings of R & B ballads
Gospel and Ska.
The other myth is that Rhythm belongs to Africa and melody to Europe, and that any person of African heritage who engages the so-called European musical aesthetic, or seeks to be technically equipped to play a musical instrument is mentally enslaved in Euro-centrism. Together these two persistent myths have been the lynchpins of a social engineering strategy, employed to create perhaps unwittingly, a generation of Jamaicans (since this is not the case in the other English-speaking parts of the region) disconnected from melody as music, incapable of actually hearing and identifying discordant sounds, and has produced a new recording industry, peopled by producers who create a single rhythm track
upon which several, or endless numbers of singers, and this word is used reservedly, perform without concern for differences in quality of voice or range, or even differences in the structure of the work to be recorded. But before there was ‘global cultural diffusion’ a term used by Orlando Patterson in his work ‘Global Culture and the Cosmos’ there was ‘world music’ and before that there was the usual globe-
trotting activities of artistic prophets and musicians from the Caribbean such as Bertie King-Sax, Coleridge Goode-Bass, Joe Harriot-sax, Lord Kitchener-Calypsonian composer, and Lord Beginner, Jiver Hutchinson-trumpet, Dizzy Reece-trumpet, Little G. McNair-flute, Shake Keane, Snake-hips Johnson and Cyril Blake a vocalist-trumpeter and guitarist, whose band was recorded live at Jigs Club
in Wardour Street, by Parlophone records in 1941 during the second world war. Earlier still, during the twenties, Sam Manning and Fred Hall and Carl Berrateau who were major recording stars on what was known as the ‘race records’ circuit. Even earlier still there were recordings by Trinidadian musicians, issued in the UK.
Says John Cowley in his paper on ethnic relations in the UK: ‘ it must be stated that although most of the recordings were of Trinidadian musicians, “mentor” as in the Cole Mentor Orchestra who accompanied Sam Manning in 1926, and used to describe Lionel Belasco’s unissued 1948 recording,
Jamaica Serenade, is almost certainly the Jamaican song/dance form usually spelt mento…..This and other clues such as the presence of Jamaicans inLondon jazz/dance bands in the 1930s indicates they were part of the West Indian musical spectrum at this time.’
Beginning in June 1912, with New York recordings by Lovey’s Trinidad String Band, made both for the Victor Talking Machine and Columbia Gramophone companies, British West Indian music has a long history on gramophone records.Victor and Columbia visited Trinidad in 1914 for on-the-spot recordings; the
former issuing examples of Native Trinidad Kalenda by Jules Sims and Double Tone and Single Tone Calipso by J. Resigna (chantwelle, Julian Whiterose). Victor also discovered and started their many recordings of Trinidad pianist and bandleader Lionel Belasco. ( Who was probably the first black musician to be recorded) Perhaps because all speech is powerful and sacred, and words do not return
to us void but wanders about in the air until they fulfill themselves, we who are African descendants, and bearers of an oral civilization, tend to pay rather more attention to our verbal artists than to the instrument playing musician whose work, by its very nature, is evanescent; even when musical works are recorded, there is difficulty in retaining their pattern without words to lock them into the memory.
For this very reason, simple chants, and short repetitive phrases are favoured. The DJ of Dance hall is the modern day Griot whose praise/curse occupation and pre-occupation, enables him to memorize and speak long lines of speech in his oral presentation, accompanied only by a sustained rhythm which aids the process of recall. It is for the same reason that the Calypso and Mento troubadours were
popular, both forms being storytelling forms whose real currency was words. Nevertheless the instrument playing musician had and continues to have a very important role to play, for no matter how short or how simple the phrase, it is the musician who must create it; every successful calypsonian is a musician, playing either the guitar or the banjo, and every Mento band is made up of musicians playing an instrument and singing, and every one of Jamaica’s popular music stars owes more than 50% of their successes to the musicians who created the music to which they sang, and who helped them in many cases to organize the grammatical content of their songs. There can be no dancing without music; no films, no plays; Why have we come to regard complex musical structures and their creators within a
Caribbean space, with suspicion? There is no lack of evidence of musicianship in Africa; the many instruments of melody that are African in origin speaks to the myth that Africa only had rhythm. The vibraphone has an antecedent in the African xylophone; the many stringed instruments including the Banjo stands as evidence as well as the many wind instruments of African origin. The SANKO is a Zither type
instrument known to the Ashanti and the KOONTING, a 3-stringed plucked instrument, the KORRO an 18 stringed Harp and the Simbing a small 7-stringed harp all known to the Mandingoes as well as a 5-stringed Mandolin known to the Gabon are some of the many instruments of melody known in Africa.
Recently at a presentation ceremony to hand over to Dr. Olive Lewin CDs of her research collection, she remarked in her thank-you speech that she looked forward to the time when the traditional music forms collected and preserved would form the basis of large orchestral works, and I recalled being at a concert of the Jamaica Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Mr. Sidthorpe Becket in 1978 and hearing
the Linstead Market Suite composed by Mapletoffe Poulle, who incidentally, had a hand in the creation of the melody of the Jamaica National Anthem. Perhaps because of Mr. Poulle’s middle class, his work was ignored. But then, what of the works of Ms. Marjorie Whylie for the National Dance Theatre Company, of Mr. Noel Dexter’s religious compositions for the Caribbean church using the Caribbean
musical traditional forms? of Mr. Peter Ashbourne? and of Barry Chevannes?
… chapter 2 coming up soon.