Richard Hart - Celebrating a Jamaican historian

Published: Sunday | December 29, 2013 Comments 0
Mr Richard Hart
Mr Richard Hart

Linton P. Gordon, Contributor

We learnt with much sadness of the recent passing of learned counsel Mr Richard Hart, who died on December 21. Mr Hart was 96 years old when he died. He will always be remembered as one of the four Hs who were expelled from the People's National Party (PNP) in the 1950s because of their radical leftist political views.

These four - Frank Hill, Ken Hill, Arthur Henry and Richard Hart - were expelled from the party on allegations that they had communist views.

Hart, throughout his 96 years on Earth, never denied that he was a leftist and he never retreated from his Marxist views. Even when he was readmitted to the PNP in 2001, he remained steadfast to his political philosophy, and he never compromised those views. But there is something else that Hart should be remembered for and it is this: Richard Hart dedicated his entire life to fighting for the betterment of the poor, the downtrodden, and the oppressed. He was the son of a solicitor. He came from a solid middle-class background but he proceeded to commit his life to the struggles of the less fortunate.

His other commitment was the study of the history of the Jamaican people. He recorded his findings in various journals, but perhaps, most important, in volumes One and Two of his books, Slaves Who Abolished Slavery. Ever the controversial figure, in Volume One, Hart recorded the opinion of a Scottish clergyman, one James Ramsay, as follows " After many years of experience of slavery in the West Indies, including nearly 20 years as an Anglican rector in the west Indian islands, that the situation of the slaves was very much worse in the British sugar colonies than it was in the French."

He went on to record that "The French gave their slaves more food, allowed them to acquire more property, permitted them more free days, gave them religious instructions, encouraged them to marry and saw to it that their families were kept together." (Slaves Who Abolished Slavery: Volume One, page 148)

In recording this bit of our history, Hart went to a matter that we should always bear in mind and it is this: the British during slavery not only enslaved the Africans they brought here, but they pursued a policy of destroying the family structure, destroying their culture, destroying their religion, and treating them as lowly animals who were not allowed to enjoy any semblance of human existence.

BODY BLOW TO SLAVERY

Hart has consistently maintained that each slave revolt, even though a failure because of military suppression, in its own way, dealt a body blow to slavery and in no small way hastened the abolishing of slavery.

Hart's view of our history - and he has supported this from various sources of his research - was that slavery was not abolished because of the goodwill of plantation owners. It was abolished because it was neither tactically nor strategically possible to maintain slavery as a result of constant revolts by the slaves and the determined efforts of religious leaders like William Knibb and Thomas Burchell, the Baptist preachers. Indeed, while there were several local plantation owners who were resisting the moves towards abolition of slavery, the British Parliament came to the conclusion that it could not continue with slavery.

As it became evident that Britain would approve the abolition of slavery, several of the local slave owners met throughout Jamaica and passed various resolutions in opposition to the move towards abolition. Some of these slave owners indirectly threatened violence in response to any move towards abolition.

At page 247 of Volume Two of Slaves Who Abolished Slavery, Hart recorded that in St Ann, a resolution was passed which stated, inter alia, " perfidy and determined oppression as far as regards the colonies are the ruling principles of the British cabinet when we see ourselves scorned, betrayed, devoted to ruin and slaughter, delivered over to the enemies of our country we consider that we are bound by every principle, human and divine, TO RESIST." Yes, they were prepared to resist the move towards the abolition of slavery.

In Trelawny, the resolution passed threatened that " the means devised by a faction in the House of Commons to deprive us of our property if carried into effect cannot fail to create a servile war of too horrible a nature to contemplate". The resolution went on to complain that the slave owners were being thrown " as a prey before misguided savages".

Students of history will find Hart's work in the area of the history of Jamaican people to be informative, useful and a foundation for understanding why we have certain lingering social problems in Jamaica today.

Learned counsel Richard Hart has made a worthwhile contribution to our recorded history. May his soul rest in peace.

Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.

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