THE EDITOR, Madam:
I read with interest the recent article, ‘Manning’s school targets $100 million to restore historic building’, on Friday, June 4. While I was pleased at the reference to a plan to build a monument of honour, I was disappointed that there was no report of an announcement by Manning’s High of a plan to rename the school. I also found offensive the reference to those I know for sure were enslaved people as “Manning’s 14 servants”. Recall that in 1710, enslaver Thomas Manning bequeathed property, cattle and enslaved people to endow a free school. The labour of enslaved people, together with the produce and profits of Manning’s Burnt Savannah property, were used to hire tutors and to maintain the school, now called Manning’s High School.
The enslaved people listed in Manning’s will were not servants. They had no choice of employment, they were not paid by Manning, and their entire existence as enslaved people was one of exploitation, dehumanisation and brutalisation at the hands of Manning/his representatives and enslavers of his ilk. They were chattel, property, and real estate; and narratives and laws evolved to rationalise these injustices. This erasure of the brutal realities of enslavement reinforces the wall of silence that colonial Europe erected after slavery was outlawed. A similar wall of silence was erected around the massacre of an estimated 300 African Americans in Tulsa in 1921.
This is much more than an error. This is a larger issue about how we deal with race and slavery in Jamaica, how we choose to interpret the past, and the attempts in some quarters to sanitise this history. Most important, it shows the urgency of compulsory history education if we are to complete the process of decolonisation, including language deconstruction.
City University of New York
Visiting research fellow
Centre for Reparation Research, The UWI