Ewart Walters | Norman Manley: integrity and vision
Integrity and vision. If you could sum up Norman Washington Manley in two words, it would be those two. They are words largely absent from today's politics in a world where we tend to leave vision to external entities like the IMF, the Washington Consensus and the US visa office - and integrity? - well, what is that?
Dictionary definitions include: sound moral character; honesty; adherence to ethical principles. And they associate integrity with probity, rectitude, honour, decency, fairness, scrupulousness, sincerity, truthfulness and trustworthiness, all of which - in short supply these days - were present in our national hero, Norman Manley, whose 123rd birthday is tomorrow, July 4.
Born in Manchester, Manley was a country boy who chopped logwood and carried out the chores of young boys in rural Jamaica at the beginning of the 20th century. Attending Beckford and Smith (now St Jago) High School in Spanish Town, and then Jamaica College, he went as a Rhodes Scholar to study law in England and fought in World War II, where he saw his brother die in battle.
Back in Jamaica, he set up his practice in law as a barrister - in the days before the fusion of solicitors and barristers. His practice thrived and he enjoyed retainers from several large firms, including companies that exported bananas. It was from those associations that he formed Jamaica Welfare.
Many people know of the selflessness with which he went to Half-Way Tree one night in the late 1950s and declared that he was not going to Trinidad to lead his federal party in the Parliament of the West Indies Federation. Although he was a strong federalist, his choice was to remain with Jamaica in Jamaica. More people know of his agonised decision to call a referendum on whether Jamaica should remain in the Federation.
However, not many people know that he insistently declined the repeated suggestion that he accept a knighthood, or that he did so because it would be flying in the face of his principled belief in self-government and independence.
Fewer people know the integrity with which, after losing two elections, he was offered the apple of national leadership and declined. It was like this.
In the 1949 general election, with 63.8 per cent of the electorate voting, Manley's PNP topped the JLP with 43.5% of the votes to their 42.7%. But the JLP won the election with 17 seats to the PNP's 13.
GUIDED BY HONESTY
Temptation then came to Norman Manley when five members of the JLP came to him and dangled an apple. They would cross the floor to make the PNP the government if he would guarantee them ministerial posts in his government. It was an extremely tempting situation. Manley looked at the apple, bit tentatively, and an agreement of sorts was arranged. But having bitten and chewed a bit, he did not swallow. On reflection, and likely after consultation with his wife Edna, he thanked them but declined their offer. His decision was guided by his integrity.
How many of today's politicians do you think would have done that?
Even fewer people know of this other example of this great man's integrity. The small cane farmer and market clerk of the Cave Valley market in St Ann, one James Black of Clarksonville, had been brought to court on some charge, the details of which are obscured by time. However, Mr Black felt they were serious enough to warrant the best defence. He called Norman Manley, who took the case and won it, driving himself back to Kingston from the courthouse in Brown's Town.
When final payment arrived at his office in subsequent weeks, Mr Manley noticed that he had been overpaid and needed to refund Mr Black. He had options. He could have mailed the refund. He could have sent it by messenger. He could have advised Mr Black to come to his office to pick it up.
QUICK TO DO RIGHT
He did none of those things. Jumping into his car, he took the rough, long drive through Chapelton and James Hill on some of the worst roads in Jamaica to go to Clarksonville, where he knocked on Mr Black's door and returned his overpayment before driving back to Kingston.
If you know of any lawyer in Jamaica today who would do that, proclaim his name abroad.
You are wondering how I know this. That market clerk, James Black, was my grandfather.
Yes, people placed their trust in Norman Manley because of his proven integrity. It is on a foundation of integrity that trust can be extended and vision can thrive.
Norman Manley's vision was for a Jamaica unified in self-governing nationhood where rural folk could thrive in their own homes and communities. It was with vision that he launched Jamaica Welfare in 1937. His philosophy was "that communities were a critical part of nation-building, particularly by encouraging the values of self-reliance, development from below, local civic pride, and care for the disadvantaged", as Robert Buddan put it in a Sunday Gleaner article of August 13, 2006.
Jamaica Welfare was, in many ways, the true foundation of
modern Jamaica, its mores and its outlook. An islandwide phenomenon, it created standards of living and behaviour. It did so in a way that did not promote urban drift, but showed people how they could remain in their homes and communities and prosper. It, therefore, had a more profound impact than did the small
increases in wages that the unions arranged. It was the difference between eating a bulla cake and learning how to make one.
Jamaica Welfare was founded through Manley's negotiation with the United Fruit Company and Standard Fruit Company, then the two largest multinationals in the world, and it turned out to be an eminently successful effort to build the Jamaican nation. Out of Jamaica Welfare came farmers' cooperatives and credit unions, all of which came about because of hard times. In 1941 in Jamaica, black people could not get loans in banks and had to rely on loan sharks who wanted 75 per cent interest.
As chairman, Norman Manley hand-picked the staff. The first board had representatives from agriculture, the civil service, business and law, anthropology, land surveying, medicine and education. Thom Girvan, Eddie Burke, Leila James Tomlinson and Arthur Carney were among the main leaders, along with Louise Bennett and Philip Sherlock.
It was partly because of the remarkable success of his legal advocacy, his clear vision for Jamaica Welfare, and the trust people invested in him, that Norman Manley was approached by Osmond T. Fairclough and others in 1938 to lead the People's National Party, which they wanted to start. But Manley never saw himself as a politician, or a labour leader for that matter, and so he declined. However, Fairclough and others persisted, and with the urging of his wife Edna, he eventually relented.
THE CASE OF THE PEOPLE
Norman Manley was 61 when the PNP won the general election of 1955 and he took over the reins of government. The first thing he did was to give up his lucrative law practice. His words on taking up the mantle of national leadership bear commemoration:
"I have spent my life on many cases. Now ... I take up the case of the people of Jamaica."
It was a declaration that underscored his devotion to integrity, and it was cut from the same noble cloth that impelled his controversial decision later on to call a referendum on Jamaica's continuance in the West Indies Federation.
As today's PNP struggles to find its feet again in these days of externally imposed austerity and a dearth of endemic ideas, it could do well to remember one of his sayings.
All efforts will be wasted unless the masses of the people are steadily taken along a path in which they will feel more and more that this place is their home, that it is their destiny ... . It is that spirit which alone encourages the development of our national consciousness and can lead us to anything resembling true native civilisation in this island. That, and nothing else. No amount of mere economic progress will make a real unity in our people.
• Ewart Walters is a journalist and author. His book 'We Come From Jamaica' chronicles the role of people like Mary Morris-Knibb, Louise Bennett-Coverley, Norman and Edna Manley, A. Wesley Powell, Bishop Percival Gibson, Cedric Titus, Eddie Burke, Thom Girvan and Father Hugh Sherlock, as well as Bustamante and Garvey, in the building of Jamaica. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.