Fri | Jul 19, 2019

My Political Journey: Jamaica’s Sixth Prime Minister Pt. 5 |The regional cradle: The UWI

Published:Sunday | December 9, 2018 | 12:00 AMP.J. Patterson
Former Prime Minister PJ Patterson (left) presenting a piece of work from his collection to Sir Hilary Beckles, vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI), during the official handover of the PJ Patterson Collection to The UWI's main library.

P.J. Patterson, ON, OCC, PC, QC, was Jamaica's sixth and longest-serving prime minister from 1992 to 2006. His book, My Political Journey: Jamaica's Sixth Prime Minister, published by The University of the West Indies Press, will be launched this week. The Gleaner will be publishing excerpts every day until the launch. This is Part Five.

Until the start of The University College of the West Indies, most leaders of previous generations had become West Indians in wintry-cold Britain.

Our group became regionalists by living in an environment which taught us that we had much more in common than the differences we had imagined.

Hopeton Gordon, Handel McFarquhar, Roy Johnstone and I formed the Political Club. I was the first president, and Woodville Marshall the secretary/treasurer. Members of the executive committee included Erskine Sandiford, Daphne Pilgrim, Yvonne McCalla, and Thelma Lawrence.

The objectives of the club were to provide "education in the principles of the major political ideologies", and to display "an active interest in the political development of the British Caribbean area by expressing the opinion of the club as a whole on any matter of current interest".

Very soon after our launch, we pulled off a coup by being able to present the distinguished historian Eric Williams. He had been fired from his position at the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission in August 1955 and decided to visit Jamaica to meet with Norman Manley, who had won the elections here earlier that year.

On hearing of his visit in December, the Political Club seized the opportunity to invite him to speak at a special meeting in Arts Lecture Room 3. He readily consented. I was privileged to preside at the lecture he delivered that memorable Thursday afternoon. Because of the limited space, many were seated on the unyielding turf outside, with only their scarlet gowns as a slight shield from the damp grass.

Mesmerised

I vividly recall the spellbinding eloquence and erudite analysis of this celebrated Caribbean thinker and visionary, which mesmerised the overflowing crowd, consisting of virtually every student and lecturer on the entire Mona campus.

He set out his vision of a Caribbean which would be united across the barriers of language and imperial conquests, mobilising its resources to create a new dynamic and forge a strong political and economic unit.

He asserted that the best prospects for the transformation of Caribbean society were to be found in changing the mindset and expanding the mental and psychological horizons of the young. His closing words still resound in my ears: "I shall return to my homeland for the awakening and upliftment of my people and to rid the country at once, and forever, of political rascality and corruption."

Chairing that meeting served me well in later years, when he and Michael Manley were not seeing eye to eye on a number of issues. He had occasion to visit Jamaica during this time to open a ministerial meeting of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) and I was given the task of meeting him at the airport. I was apprehensive and dubious about what his reaction to me would be.

On the way to his hotel, he said to me, "Patterson, I remember you. You presided over my first meeting at the university. You don't understand what this thing is all about, so I won't take it out on you." I said, "Thank you," and breathed a sigh of relief.

The speakers at our meetings were of a high calibre. Among them were: the deputy speaker of the Indian House of Assembly, who spoke on India's march to freedom and its federal constitution; Douglas Manley and George Cumper, who presented on West Indian migration to Britain and its effects; Gordon Lewis spoke on the West Indies Federation; and a senior lecturer in history from the University of Natal, South Africa, enlightened us on the Education Act of 1953 and the pernicious plan for separate universities for blacks and whites in the land of apartheid.