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Jamaica’s National Heroes: Norman Manley

Norman Washington Manley was born in the parish of Manchester on July 4, 1893. He was a Rhodes scholar and athlete, soldier (First World War) and lawyer.

During the labor unrest of 1938, Manley identified himself with the cause of the workers and donated time and advocacy to the cause. In September 1938, he founded the People’s National Party (PNP) and was elected its president annually until his retirement in 1969.

Norman Manley
Norman Manley

Manley and the PNP supported the trade union movement, then led by his cousin, Alexander Bustamante, while leading the demand for Universal Adult Suffrage. However, when it came, Manley had to wait ten years and two terms before his party was elected to office.

Manley was a strong advocate of the Federation of the West Indies, established in 1958 and Jamaica’s participation in it. But when Sir Alexander Bustamante declared that the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), would take Jamaica out of the Federation, Manley, already well known for his integrity and commitment to democracy, called a Referendum, an unprecedented move in Jamaica, to let the people decide. The vote was decisively against Jamaica’s continued membership of the Federation.

After arranging Jamaica’s orderly withdrawal from the union, Manley set up a joint committee to decide on a constitution for separate independence for Jamaica. He chaired the committee with great distinction and then led the team that negotiated the island’s independence from Britain.

That settled, Manley went again to the people. However, he lost the ensuing election to the JLP and gave his last years of service as leader of the opposition, establishing definitively the role of the parliamentary opposition in a developing nation.

In his last public address to an annual conference of the PNP, Manley said: “I say that the mission of my generation was to win self-government for Jamaica, to win political power which is the final power for the black masses of my country from which I spring. I am proud to stand here today and say to you who fought that fight with me, say it with gladness and pride, mission accomplished for my generation.

“And what is the mission of this generation? … It is… reconstructing the social and economic society and life of Jamaica.”

Norman Manley retired from politics on July 4, 1969. He died on September 2. 1969. His second son, Michael, served as prime minister in 1972 and 1989.

Manley was proclaimed a National Hero in 1969.