Orville Taylor | Jamaica’s influence on the black world
Tomorrow marks 59 years since the democratically elected government on this ‘big country’ on a small island signed an agreement with her majesty’s government, to achieve legal independence from Britain. However, our black Jamaican story is much older.
Indeed, as we celebrate the history-making appointment of Kamala Harris and her Jamaican connection, we had better pause and recognise that long before that moment, Jamaicans had not only been making history in the United States, but importantly, we were also writing it. And yes, that is even before the second greatest black man was creating inroads on the continent north of us.
Doubtless, Marcus Mosiah Garvey opened the minds of black people in America and the rest of the world. With his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), founded in 1914, inspired a myriad of persons, including the legendary Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Panthers and the Black Power Party. My colleague Ras Dr Michael Barnett has produced a copious body of work, demonstrating how the Nation of Islam has deep roots in Garveyism. We might be even surprised that many of the modern-day successful economic policies, including that followed by Singapore, and the American economists of the post-World War II era, were influenced by Jamaica-based St Lucian, Sir Arthur Lewis. His ideas, nurtured while at the fledgeling University of the West Indies (UWI), ultimately made him the first black person to receive the Nobel Prize in any other category than peace. Lewis’ father was a strong Garveyite, who took him to many UNIA meetings in his boyhood. America’s popular economic perspective, modernisation theory, developed by W.W. Rostow, therefore has some of its roots in Garveyism.
Yet, most do not know that Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn Jr, whose daddy, along with General Robert Venables, routed the Spanish in 1655. By the way, given the paucity of ‘pure blood’ Caucasians in the early years of the colony, a lot of the early settlers had drops of vanilla and seeds of pimento in their milk.
Long before dancehall influenced rap, Jamaicans, both black and white, had dropped their DNA deep into the states. When the Jamaican plantation owners in the 1800s saw the slave trade coming to an end and the imminent demise of slavery itself, many of them took flight and followed the trade winds up into the Carolinas. If you ever ate Jamaican spinach, pig trotters, tripe and beans and fried chicken, you might be surprised that when you get ham hocks, chitlins and collard greens, it has a very familiar taste. Read, Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia by Winston James. You will be amazed by the long history of Jamaican contribution to the development of the USA. Indeed, James notes that it is because up to 30 per cent of the African-American population between North and South Carolina are our ‘genaration’.
We might also be surprised that Kamala might not be the first Jamaican-originated vice-president. Evidence suggests that George Mifflin Dallas, who served with President James Polk, was the son of Kingston-born Alexander James Dallas. And yes! Dallas, Texas, and Dallas in St Andrew, which interestingly adjoins Constitution Hill, are names after the same clan. True, they were ‘white’ but unless he can show me the DNA test, if a white-looking man is from Jamaica, he is likely to be ‘passing’.
But, let us dig up the black side a bit more. We all know of Garvey’s exploits in bringing knowledge to black Americans. But who knows of Negril-born J.A. Rogers? Journalist and author Joel Augustus Rogers, born in 1880, migrated to the USA in 1906 and shook up ants nests. Some of his works include From Superman to Man, World’s Great Men of Color, 100 Amazing facts about the Negro: With Complete Proof and the must-read Five Negro Presidents published in 1965, the year that black Americans finally got universal suffrage.
These are: Thomas Jefferson, who had children with his slave, Sally Hemmings, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Warren Harding, and Calvin Coolidge. Lincoln, whose 212th birthday is Friday this week, is particularly interesting, not because of his Emancipation Proclamation. Rather, his law partner William Hendon alleged in a book, titled The Hidden Lincoln, that Lincoln was a ‘jacket’ because Daddy Lincoln, Thomas Lincoln, could not have sired him because childhood mumps left him sterile.
Whatever the reason, the current crop of ‘blackademics’ seem to have overlooked Rogers. However, at a minimum, we owe it to ourselves to at least pay attention to the massive body of work of this great Jamaican. When one goes through his books, the information is so overwhelming, it is easy to get light-headed afterwards.
So, given that Carter G. Woodson started Black History Month (Week) exactly 95 years ago today, one full year after Garvey was sentenced in the USA, let’s pay attention to our own.
- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.