Edward Seaga, Contributor
In this August 1962 Gleaner photograph, a Boy Scout salutes HRH Princess Margaret as she arrives at Gordon House to open the first session of Jamaica's Parliament.
From colony to Independence (Part 2)
Selections from relevant passages from my autobiography, My Life and Leadership, which cover the enactment of Independence.
The final events leading to Independence were the big occasions: the raising of the national flag and the opening of the new Independence Parliament by Princess Margaret, all acts of pomp and ceremony.
By August 5, stores in the main business districts had been decorated in the national colours. Flags were flying and buntings strung across the streets. Strings of lights added lustre. Public-address systems were set up in parks and squares. A huge TV screen, courtesy of The Gleaner Company and Phillips of Holland, was set up in Victoria Park, downtown Kingston, for the public to see the historic events at the National Stadium.
The excitement was high as the crowd began to fill the stadium on August 5. The main event was to start at 10:45 p.m. The combined military bands of Jamaica roused the crowd when they marched into the stadium and took up their position on the field. The Royal Party arrived at 11:01 p.m., greeted by the Royal Salute as Princess Margaret and the Earl of Snowdon took their places in the Royal Box.
The massed bands began a 15-minute interlude of patriotic marches, followed by the combined choir with a rendition of patriotic and Jamaican songs. The crowd loved it all. Then representative detachments of the Armed Forces of Jamaica and Commonwealth countries marched into the stadium. A powerful feeling of strength was sweeping the stadium as martial music resounded throughout the stands. Prayers for the new nation began at 11:51 p.m., offered by the main denominational religious groupings.
At precisely 11:57 p.m, Sir Kenneth Blackburne, elevated to governor general, and Sir Alexander Bustamante, premier, rose from their places in the Royal Box and descended to the field where the flagpoles had been positioned. A Boys' Brigade runner entered the stadium through the far tunnel carrying the Jamaican flag on its last lap of the islandwide run. He handed the flag to Sir Alexander Bustamante, who handed it to the warrant officer of the Jamaica Regiment. Then the governor and premier took up positions alongside the flagpoles.
At 11:58 p.m., the guards of honour saluted the Union Jack, playing the first verse of the British national anthem while it was being lowered. Then, at 11:59 p.m., the guards of honour, saluted the Jamaican flag as it was being raised. With uncontrollable emotions, 30,000 spectators and the combined choir were singing the Jamaican national anthem. The cheering was thunderous as the first governor general and the first prime minister-designate resumed their places.
The Military Band withdrew and at 12:06 a.m., the fireworks display started, drawing oohs and aahs from the delighted crowd. Then the finale, the Jamaican national flag displayed by the pyrotechnic magic of fireworks, a fitting climax to a spectacle which lit up the skies for miles and lifted hearts in unison and joy as one people, "Jamaica, land we love".
For those of us who believed in an independent Jamaica, this was our crowning moment; for others, the moment would override all misgivings. For Alexander Bustamante, it was the fulfilment of a life of public service, the hallowed achievement of his 78 years.
For me, the raising of the Jamaican flag in slow tempo to the resounding crescendo of the Jamaican anthem was the emotional highlight of my life. I was close to tears. To the extent that I helped to realise this national dream for many was one of the achievements of my life, of which I am unreservedly proud.
It remained now to enjoy the national Independence Day holiday of August 6. It was decided that because of the closeness of Independence Day to the traditional August 1, Emancipation Day, Independence would take precedent as the only August holiday, as it represented the future. I was not present at the final conference in London in February when this decision was taken. If I had been present, I would have entered a plea for Independence Day and Emancipation Day to be celebrated on August 1, as both were days of freedom.
August 7 brought the official ceremonies to a close with the opening of the Independence Parliament by Princess Margaret.
Independence night was celebrated by a state ball at the newly opened Sheraton Hotel. Prime Minister Bustamante was a handsome figure in his formal evening coat and tails, regalia he wore well. Indeed, he wore the grey morning-suit version on occasions of the opening of Parliament. He was an outstanding figure of sartorial elegance. He was seated beside Princess Margaret and the Earl of Snowdon.
There is a unique majesty about British royalty that is beyond compare with what remains of the other royal houses. The glamour of the tiara of precious stones bedecking Princess Margaret and the splendour of her royal gown placed the occasion on a transcendental plane.
I was deputised to host United States Vice-President Lyndon Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, at the ball. We spent some of the evening discussing television, as the Johnsons owned a TV station in Texas and I was in the process of entering into discussions on the introduction of TV to Jamaica, a keenly anticipated event by the public. Television for Jamaica would come on stream in 1963.
THE POLITICIAN'S POLITICIAN
But the vice-president's real interest, it was easy to tell, was politics. He was not the usual guest interested in cultural trappings, tourism and sightseeing. It was at that time that I sensed the deep feelings that would later manifest themselves in his Great Society agenda which led the way for one of the most proactive civil-rights campaign and legislative programmes in American history. This was a politician's politician.
The glamour of the state ball impressed the distinguished guests, diplomats and dignitaries. Jamaicans and their guests danced the night away; Princess Margaret and Prime Minister Bustamante took a few steps on the dance floor to give formality to the pleasures of the evening.
The next day was the first working day of the infant nation and it would have to begin with state formalities, the opening of the Independence Parliament. The celebrations of the evening before took a toll on me. I misjudged the traffic, and arrived just a little late, but late enough for me to have to watch from the gallery this grand event for which I had worked so hard. It was painful, but it carried a lesson for me.
Parliament was where the final act in the process of attaining independent status would be achieved.
The West Indies Act (1962) was enacted in the Westminster Parliament of the United Kingdom. This act granted power to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to make provision by a Jamaica Constitution Order in Council, 1962, for the Constitution of Jamaica, 1962, to come into force in Jamaica. The Queen's Order in Council was signed at the Court of Buckingham Palace, the 23rd day of July, 1962.
This order made it possible for the Jamaica Independence Act, 1962, to be enacted in the Westminster Parliament for the attainment by Jamaica of fully responsible status in the Commonwealth. The relevant section of the act reads:
"Be it enacted by The Queen's Most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lord's Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, this present Parliament assembled, and by the Authority of the same, as follows:
1 (i) As from the sixth day of August Nineteen Hundred and Sixty-Two in the Act referred to as, "the Appointed day, Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom shall have no responsibility for the Government of Jamaica."
With this enactment of the United Kingdom Parliament, the opening of the Jamaica Parliament could proceed. This occasion was always the ultimate showpiece of pomp and pageantry.
In the chamber of Parliament, members of the Senate (formerly the Legislative Council before Independence) and members of the House of Representatives were seated by 9:20 a.m. So, too, were the judges of the High Court in their resplendent scarlet robes and wigs. Invited dignitaries and diplomats filled the gallery of the House awaiting the commencement of proceedings.
Part Three next week.
Edward Seaga is a former prime minister. He is now chancellor of the University of Technology and a distinguished fellow at the UWI. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.