'We want justice,' was the cry of Bogle, followers
Recently, Jamaica marked the 150th anniversary of the Morant Bay protest led by Pastor the Rt Excellent Paul Bogle, national hero. Unfortunately, many Jamaicans are not aware of the motivation for, and the implications of, the protest.
Scholars differed about what was the intent of the protest. Leading British historian Gad Heuman, who was my internal marker at my PhD defence, in his book, Killing Time, argues that Bogle and his followers had murderous intentions. Clinton Hutton, a political scientist who specialises in Afro-Caribbean religions, argues in his PhD thesis that Bogle and his followers were inspired by the Bible and engaged in justified violence.
However, I posited in The Cross and the Machete: The Native Baptists of Jamaica that Bogle and his followers were largely native Baptists and were motivated by a hermeneutic of liberation which saw issues from the perspective of justice for all. Based on the tone and contents of the letter which Bogle and 19 others wrote to Governor Edward Eyre, the protest was a cry for justice. The letter showed a yearning for protection by the British Crown from an oppressive local government and for redress to the injustices they were experiencing: "We, therefore, call upon your Excellency for protection, seeing we are Her Majesty's loyal subjects". They preferred a resolution of the impasse based on dialogue and deliberation. There was no intention of a military sniper attack of shock and awe. Even the British commissioners of the Jamaica Royal Commission acknowledged that the letter laid before them "show the peaceful intentions of the writers".
It was a cry for justice because Bogle and about six other leaders made the 40-mile journey with resolutions to seek audience with Eyre, after the Underhill Meeting chaired by George William Gordon on August 12, 1865. They wanted to proclaim the correctness of their cause to the governor, but he refused to admit them to his presence. They expected Eyre to be their friend, but he turned out to be their foe. They marched peacefully to Spanish Town with a cry for justice and there was no incident.
It was a cry for justice when Bogle and his followers marched on Saturday, October 7. A group of 100 protestors, with their sticks, marched to Morant Bay concerning a case involving Lewis Dick. They went in support of him because they also saw this case as a test regarding their rights to land. Incidentally, we are having similar issues related to access to land and the development of squatter communities.
on behalf of the oppressed
Bogle's speech after the October 11 march was a cry for justice on behalf of the oppressed. He said he marched to Morant Bay to attend the vestry to state their grievances, to agitate for better governance and better working and living conditions.
It was a cry for justice because Bogle, as a native Baptist leader, established an alternative justice system, at the petty sessions level, with their own justices of the peace, rules and regulations (Cross and the Machete, p. 159). Bogle and his followers were way ahead of their time in having confidence in their jurisprudence while we are still debating whether to remove from the Privy Council as our final appellate court.
Reparations is a cry for justice, but it cannot be separated from removing the English monarch as our head of state since the British crown is an undemocratic foreign institution and the Privy Council is a sign of lack of confidence in ourselves to dispense justice.
Bogle's cry for justice has many lessons for today as we claim we want justice.
• Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.