Wed | Mar 20, 2019

A tale of two flags

Published:Thursday | July 1, 2010 | 12:00 AM

THE MONTHS leading up to that first Independence Day, August 6, 1962, was an intense and hectic period of preparation and excitement.

The new Parliament was to be officially opened by Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret, so there was protocol to be studied, the royal curtsey to be practised, and numerous functions and celebrations all across Jamaica to be planned.

While a national anthem headed the list of priorities, there was also the matter of a flag and other national symbols to be chosen.

The search for a national flag ended on Wednesday night, June 20, when all the members of the House of Representatives stood by their seats and shouted "Aye" in an unprecedented manner of approval for the design.

But this was after a dramatic and emotional debate which ended a drawn-out period starting with a national design competition announced on September 30, 1961, and a new flag agreed to on June 6, 1962, but rejected shortly thereafter.

The competition drew 388 entries, from which a short list of 12 were chosen by a joint bipartisan committee of both houses. Out of the 12, the committee selected a design with horizontal stripes, arranged with a centre black band with gold stripes above and below, with outer stripes of green at the top and bottom.

This design was presented to the House in a ministry paper dated June 6, which announced that a joint parliamentary committee had reached agreement on a new flag for Jamaica.

So we were off and running with what many thought would be the new flag.

Back to the drawing board

And there was need for speed. The design had to be sent to the Colonial Office for clearance with the Admiralty Office to ensure that there was no infringement on any existing flag.

It turned out there was, and the original design was rejected because of its similarity to the then Tanganyika flag.

It was back to the drawing board, a new design was drawn, the colours maintained, and the House summoned on June 20 for what turned out to be an interesting and historic debate on the matter.

"You will notice, Mr Speaker," opened House Leader Donald Sangster, "that the design has been changed where instead of having horizontal stripes, it now has a diagonal cross of gold, the top and bottom triangles to be in green, and the hoist and fly triangles to be in black." Sounds confusing, but that's our national flag as we know it today.

The design was passed around and Robert Lightbourne sketched the coat of arms on the sample and suggested that members consider putting the insignia in the centre.

Argument about black

It was then that Felix Toyloy stirred up a hornets' nest by declaring he did not like the design "because black is a sign of distress". He was challenged by Max Carey, who said emphatically that "this country is made up of a majority of black people. I do not see how you can take the black out of the flag".

Toyloy defended himself by saying he was not thinking of people, just of the colour, but B.B. Coke extended the argument with an impassioned plea for the black to remain: "Garvey has black in his flag, the Rastas have black in their flag, a certain gentleman who has a political party has black in his flag. I like black, not for its beauty, but for its significance."

Lightbourne re-entered the argument, pointing out that the "pigmentation of my skin is equally or even darker than my friend, and I am equally proud of it, but", he said, "the question of racial colour should never come into this discussion".

Bustamante ended the debate with his usual incisive comments, stating that "if the colour was to be made significant, then we should not have a flag at all. It is that national feeling that counts. Every one of us cannot like the same colour. Every one of us can like the same woman, but she cannot like us all. If members had thought more deeply, we would not have lost so much time arguing."

Argument done. The design was approved. And Glasspole, in a moment of history, asked that all members stand rather than sit, to say the "Aye".

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