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Coral gardens 1963: the Rastafari and Jamaican independence.

A personal recollection

In May 2013 at the celebrations of fifty years of African Unity in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Rastafari brethren and sistren from the community of Shashamane were, for a moment, excluded from the place of the meeting, because in the eyes of some bureaucrats, their presence would diminish the nature of the celebrations of the African Union. The brothers and sisters had been invited to participate in a symposium on Being Pan African as one of the many events celebrating the quest for African Unity. Three terms, dignity, emancipation and unity were repeated and elaborated on by presenters who participated in the celebrations to mark fifty years of Pan Africanism and the quest for African Unity. Those African bureaucrats who were unfamiliar with the history of Africa and Pan Africanism would not have known that the Rastafari movement had been one of the bedrock forces in the struggle for dignity, emancipation and unity. Bob Marley sang the signature song "Africans Unite", putting into music the book of Kwame Nkrumah, Africa Must Unite.

The debate over whether these brothers and sisters could participate in one of the seminal discussions on Pan Africanism brought to the forefront many of the contradictions between the Rastafari movement and mainstream politics whether in Africa, the Americas, the Caribbean or Europe. The standoff, which was only resolved when some members of the meeting held their ground against some lower level bureaucrats, brought to the fore the questions of access to public spaces and how the ideas and practices of the Rastafari challenged mainstream society (called the Babylonian system in Rastafari parlance). This challenge to the right of the Rastafari to participate in an international Pan African conference is reminiscent of the numerous challenges to the rights of poor African descendants in all parts of the planet and to the Rastafari, in particular. The challenges to the poor in 2013 brought the questions of people's rights to the center of international politics. The privatization of public spaces in this era again brings into question the right of citizens to democratically participate in all aspects of public life. Will the next fifty years be dominated by privatization principles and the ideals of individualism, patriarchy and greed?

It was fifty years ago, on 11 April 1963, when the Jamaican state used an altercation at Coral Gardens on the outskirts of Montego Bay to mount a violent campaign against the Rastafarian community in Western Jamaica. The Coral Gardens incident brought to the fore the continuing struggle for the rights of the black poor in Jamaica. At the moment of the celebration of fifty years of independence on 6 August 2012, the Jamaican state published a vision of Jamaica 2030, describing this National Development Plan as a roadmap for Jamaica "the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business." However, this vision reflects the same intellectual poverty which has brought Jamaica to its present point of economic stagnation, food insecurity, massive unemployment and underemployment and criminal violence against the poor. The roots of the current state violence and repression go back to the days of Coral Gardens when the Prime Minister gave the police license to kill by stating, "Bring them in dead or alive." The Coral Gardens struggle involved a number of Rastafarian brethren including Rudolph Franklyn, the Bowen brothers and Felix Waldron along a few others. A confrontation with the police on the morning of Thursday 11 April left 8 persons dead. Of these eight, three were Rastafari, one was an overseer for the Kerr-Jarrett properties, one was an infamous police person, Corporal Melbourne, while other Rastafari brethren were left to die or escaped the scene only to succumb to their battle wounds later.

As in many cases of confrontation between the poor and the powerful, the narrative of the powerful is what gets reported in the mainstream media and then gets imprinted in the popular memory. This has been the case with the Coral Gardens uprising where the popular media represented the uprising as Rastafarians going wild and killing policemen. This narrative of criminalizing the poor when they defend their rights has been taken to a new level with anthropological studies of social movements such as the Rastafari movement which fail to interrogate the conditions of capitalist oppression and racist ideas about the inferiority of Africans.

On deeper reflection, the ways in which the history of the Rastafari is represented in the absence of deep historical research, is much more troubling than limitations of resources or flawed methodologies. The intellectual challenges associated with an understanding of the Rasta are part of the challenge of representing the oppressed in a moment of intellectual crisis. The world is in a period of capitalist crisis (wars, revolution and counter-revolution) and the Pan African movement will have to be at the center of these debates on the way forward. At the African Union there is a call for a united and prosperous African Union by 2063 and it is the responsibility of the progressive Pan Africanists and Rastafari to give meaning and content to that unity.

From the perspective of this writer, the clash at Coral Gardens was one reflection of two world views in Jamaican society, which is also a reflection of two world views in the wider world. On one side there was the view of the planter class and their intellectual wordsmiths, and on the other side were the masses of poor blacks who wanted to transcend the racial hierarchies and idea of the sanctity of private property. Jamaican society, after the genocide of the First Nation people, was organized around plantation agriculture and ideas about individual wealth. The Spaniards, the first conquerors after 1492, organized the production of rum, sugar and tobacco on plantations. When the English military defeated the Spaniards, the land was bequeathed in large lots to English officers and aristocrats. For three hundred years the property relations of the Jamaican society were buttressed by the legal principles of English law along with moral and cultural tropes about the superiority of the Enlightenment and 'modernity.' Ideas of white supremacy were legitimized within the colonial rhetoric about civilizing inferior beings. This worldview included an understanding of the inviolability of private property, the hierarchy of human beings and the right to use violence and divisive tactics to maintain the hegemony of private capital accumulation.

On the other side were humans who believed that human life was more important than private property. Rastafari in Jamaica and all over the world claimed the right to be 'earth citizens', and a core principle of the Rastafari movement was that Rastas had the right and freedom to exist. There is also the core principle of the movement that humans exist as part of a wider universe, and hence, are part of nature. This belief places Rastafari as citizens of the planet rendering them aloof from struggles over residential citizenship and crude materialism. The Rastafari brought forward a level of spirituality to separate themselves from the rituals and religiosity that legitimized oppression.

In the specific case of the Rastafari movement in Jamaica and the confrontations that exploded in Coral Gardens, the Rastafari claimed freedom of movement for themselves and for other oppressed Jamaicans. They were being prevented from walking along areas of the Coast close to the Half Moon Bay Hotel. These areas were being segregated in order to make the Montego Bay area ready for international investments in tourism. The fact that Coral Gardens falls within the area of the historic Rose Hall plantation, which was the scene of major rebellions during the time of enslavement, was not lost on the black citizens at the time.

This writer vividly remembers that weekend because it was the moment when my younger sister joined the ancestors, and on the same Holy Thursday we interred her mortal remains. Our family lived in the same communities as the Rastafari who were to succumb to the violence of the state after the planter elements used coercion and divisiveness to subdue the Rastafari. This writer knew scores of the brothers and sisters who were incarcerated and had their locks trimmed. That weekend is now known among freedom loving Caribbean persons as the weekend of 'Bad Friday.' There is now a documentary named 'Bad Friday' which uses the testimonies of many of the survivors of this repression. (1) One police person has written his account of the confrontation. (2) While the title of the book used the phrase 'uprisings' the book's contents is like a criminal case against the Rastafari who were accused of terrorizing Jamaicans. Within the popular understanding of what took place, there is clarity from within the Rastafari Community that this Coral Gardens killing was one more episode in the long wave of repression against the ideas and philosophies of African Redemption. However, in the wider Jamaican society far more educational work needs to be undertaken to clarify the clash between two world views at Coral Gardens.

The continuities from that period of repression are to be found in many areas of social life of Jamaica and the Caribbean. The children of the class forces that orchestrated that repression are now aligned with nationalists, and even former Rastas, who are conduits for the exploitation of the people. The intelligentsia has joined in the study of the superstructural elements of the Rastafari movement instead of exposing the ideas and institutions that legitimize the oppression of the poor. Today, in all parts of the world, gated communities and the privatization of space are signs of the way private property and the protection of private property has become all pervasive, to the point where the protection of property is supposed to be more important that the protection of human life. In 2012, the killing of young Trayvon Martin in a gated community in the state of Florida brought to the world's attention the disrespect for black life in the preservation of property. David Harvey in his study on the right to the city and the struggles over urban spaces had maintained that:
   The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to
   access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by
   changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an
   individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon
   the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of
   urbanization. The freedom to make and remake our cities and
   ourselves is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most
   neglected of our human rights.

It is this common right to urban spaces and to participate in all spheres of social life which underpins this note on the question of independence in Jamaica and the Rastafari movement. In 2012, Jamaican society celebrated 50 years since the attainment of independence. There were gala celebrations and numerous commentaries about the achievements of Jamaican society after 50 years. This meeting on the commemoration of Coral Gardens falls within the same moment as the commemoration of independence and affords another opportunity to reflect on the meaning of independence from the point of view of the working poor in Jamaica. Since confrontation between the police force and the Rastafari in 1963, Jamaican society has seen the expansion of the Rastafari movement as well as the expansion of repression and extrajudicial killing by the police and military forces. Jamaica has achieved international notoriety as a society where hundreds of poor people are killed every year.

In this presentation, the author wants to use his own relationship with the communities and the Rastafari movement to offer one interpretation of Coral Gardens 1963. One of my objectives is to reflect on Rastafari and their quest for freedom and emancipation, and how the Coral Gardens uprising formed one link in the chain of the struggle for basic dignity in the Caribbean. We will start with the context of Montego Bay and St. James at Independence in 1962, and examine the social relationships between the brethren and the dominant social elements who called on the police to keep the thoroughfare of Coral Gardens and Rose Hall free from the presence of bearded men walking through to Flower Hill and Salt Springs. The spatial segregation and gated communities create conditions of paradise for the rulers and international tourists, and create for the poor a space of violence, hunger and exploitation. It is the radical spirit of the people manifest in every era that has kept the society as a sane space.

Coral Gardens: The setting

The people of Jamaica acceded to Independence on 6 August 1962. The Independence celebrations came after years of struggle and suffering. The people of St, James in Western Jamaica were searching for levers to break the power of the plantation owners. In 1962, the largest landowner was the Custos of St. James, Sir Francis Moncrieff Kerr-Jarrett. Francis Kerr-Jarrett (1886-1968), owner of numerous sugar plantations, traced his ancestry to those Britons who occupied Jamaica and enslaved the Jamaican people. In his book Britain's Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native genocide, Hilary Beckles chronicles the forms of accumulation of wealth by the British planter class in the Caribbean and the criminal enrichment that formed the social and cultural milieu of the Caribbean. In the chapter "Not Human: Britain's Black property/' Beckles documents the ideation system of British colonialism that were refined in the processes of genocide, enslavement and colonialism. (3) Estate owners all over Jamaica were proud of their links to the traditions of conquest and one of the more famous rum factories in Jamaica, the Appleton Estates, could trace the long line of owners back to the period of the struggle between Britain and Spain for the colonial domination of Jamaica.

Kerr-Jarrett was among the most active of those in the planter class in Jamaica who had been born and reared in the period of colonial domination. Kerr-Jarrett opposed Marcus Garvey and Garveyism in the twenties and thirties and carved out a place for himself among the landed gentry in Jamaica. Together with the writer, H.G. De Lisser, who also came from a planter family, these colonial operators opposed Garveyism and nationalist ideas of Jamaica while promoting the Jamaica Imperial Association. In the years prior to Independence, Kerr-Jarrett made numerous appeals to the Governor of Jamaica, Hugh Foot, and later, to the last Governor of Jamaica, Kenneth Blackburne, to crack down on the growing Rastafari movement. Frank Jan van Dijk devotes a large part of his research to the activism of Francis Kerr-Jarret. (4) What is also significant about this study was that it highlighted the role of social scientists in placing a certain stamp and stereotypical image of the Rastafari movement. From the study of the role of anthropologists in the current Global War on Terror it is important for Caribbean researchers to go back and study the role of anthropologists such as MG Smith and his work for their contribution to imperial control and the social science of oppression. (5)

During the 1950s, Kerr-Jarrett continuously petitioned the Governor and the colonial office to clamp down on the Rastafari who he described as 'an undesirable sect' and requested that the governor should do everything to discourage their activities. There had been communication with the Colonial Office in London for the British to use their influence with Emperor Haile Selassie for him to deny his divinity. During the fifties, the Governor, Sir Hugh Foot, came from a social democratic background and did not accede to the appeals of the Custos. During this period, Kerr Jarrett was also behind one of the conservative religious movements to appear in Jamaica under the guise of Moral Rearmament (MRA). (6) In the years 1951-60 he was the principal patron of this conservative cold war pseudo-religious movement. Through the activism of Kerr Jarrett, the colonial Special Branch police placed numerous Rastafari camps under surveillance and used the Vagrancy Laws from the period of enslavement against the camps of the Rastafari.

Barnett Estates was owned by the Kerr Jarrett family and dominated the economy of St James prior to the boom in tourism. Rose Hall, Ironshore and Flower Hill, estates on the other side of the town, were also becoming tourist resorts. Families such as the De Lissers, Kerr-Jarrett, the Pringles and other British land owners were working to transform part of their land into spaces for tourists from Europe and North America. John Pringle, an immediate heir to the De Lisser tradition, had been one of the most active from these families and, after Independence, he was elevated to the position of Director of Tourism (1963-7).

In 1954, a group of leading international capitalists came together to establish the Half Moon Bay Hotel in the bay which was previously the port for the offloading of sugar for the Rose Hall estates. Among Half Moon's original investors were: Donald Deskey of New York City's famous Radio City Music Hall; Harvey Firestone, Jr. of the Firestone Tyre and Rubber company; Richard Reynolds of the Reynolds Metal Company and Jamaican bauxite company Reynolds Jamaica; oil and real estate magnate Curtis Steuart; as well as Mrs. Laurence Armour of US meat packaging giant Armour Packing Company. It was the same Firestone family that had successfully undermined Garvey's project of repatriation to Liberia.

Rose Hall Plantation was the scene of brutality for hundreds of years and H.G De Lisser wrote a novel celebrating Annie Palmer, the so-called White Witch, one of the owners of that plantation. H.G de Lisser had been an activist in the Jamaica Imperial Association and had served as the editor of the Gleaner newspaper. His family owned large parcels of land in the parishes of St James, Trelawny and Hanover. The continuities from the period of slavery was most manifest in the fact that Harold De Lisser was named the first managing director of this plantation turned hotel.

Working class opposition to the planter class and the Rastafari

Opposition to enslavement and colonial domination were the key features of Jamaican society since 1655 but this is not recorded in the official history. Instead, the whims and caprices of governors, their mistresses and of sadistic overseers are what construe the official record. From time to time, the rebellions were of such magnitude, as in the case of Sam Sharpe, that the history books could not ignore these manifestations of popular revolt. The opposition by the poor and oppressed to the planter class took many forms and it was from this part of Jamaica that nationalism took the consistent and clear form of independent working people's organization. Major working class rebellions broke out in the early part of the twentieth century, and one hundred years after emancipation from slavery the wages of the workers were not significantly different from what they had been in 1838. The poor had no means of expressing themselves because the anti-democratic colonial society meant that only 8 percent of the population had the right to the franchise.

From the ranks of the poor there emerged many articulate political leaders. One such leader was Allan George St. Claver Coombs. He was the founder of the Jamaican Workmen and Trades Union (JWTU) along with nationalists such as Hugh Clifford Buchanan. Father Coombs, as he was affectionately called by the workers, was a leading figure in the 1938 uprisings in opposition to colonialism at Frome sugar estate. Alexander Bustamante moved in on this elementary formation and, with his contacts, formed the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU). After Coombs was sidelined by Bustamante, he and his followers joined with the People's National Party, then led by a cousin of Bustamante, Norman Manley. This history of the Jamaican workers' movement in the thirties is well documented by Ken Post in his book, Arise Ye Starvelings. (7) Though an important book, his recounting of the resistance replaced the actual experiences of the workers with the voices of Ken Post and official academia. This tradition of substituting the voice of the people with the words and pens of experts became part of the social history of Jamaica.

Throughout the period after the rebellion of 1938, the brown middle classes joined the movement of the sufferers and sought to direct this movement against colonialism into safe constitutional forms of opposition. (8) Petty chauvinism was encouraged to the point where one section of the middle class leadership mobilized the Jamaican population against the West Indian Federation. On the eve of Independence in 1961, the PNP leadership decided that Coombs was too unlettered for the Drumblair set (9) and moved to remove him from the leadership of Western Jamaica. Coombs took E.B.L Tomlinson and other supporters with him and so on the eve of Independence, the PNP lost Western Jamaica to the JLP. (10) It was this JLP, anchored by elements such as Kerr-Jarrett and Edward Seaga, that went about the planning for the redevelopment of the area around Coral Gardens as a major tourist resort.

The Brethren and Sistren

Montego Bay and its environs were dominated by small farmers who spent half of their time as workers in factories or as seasonal workers in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of these workers were exposed to the ideas of anti-colonialism and antiimperialism through their work and linkages with different parts of the Pan African world. The Rastafari movement emerged from the ranks of craftspersons, fishermen, workers and small farmers who wanted an independent means of self expression in Jamaican society. One such small famer was Rudolph Franklyn, who had tired of a life of mendicancy which was the only one available to most workers, and joined the movement of the Rastafari. As an urban area with a major sugar factory, small farmers from a 50 mile radius around Montego Bay gravitated to the town, especially during the depression years. Franklyn was from Maroon Town and he slowly relocated to the areas around Flower Hill and Salt Spring, just overlooking the Half-Moon Resort. My cousin Clarissa (to whom I dedicated the book Rasta and Resistance: From Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney) was one of the females in the group who had hailed from Springfield. Rastas from Springfield, Maroon Town, Johns Hall, Salt Spring and other rural areas were joining the growing ranks of workers in Montego Bay after 1950. Like Franklyn, she walked around in the Montego Bay area and we would commune with her as she trod up to Greenpond and Glendevon.

Franklyn, like other Rastafari, was continuously harassed by the police in a climate of hostility contrived by Kerr-Jarrett, Walter Fletcher, the De Lissers and the colonial forces. For the owners of the new and expanding hotel properties, the presence of Rastas was a disincentive for investors. Numerous calls were made for barriers to the movement of Rastafari in the Coral Gardens area. The aspiring 'developers' strove to prevent 'undesirables' from walking through private property. In essence, the struggles over the privatization of public spaces in this period were clear examples of the David Harvey dictum that, "the right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city." Montego Bay was being changed and segregated and ordinary workers were excluded from beaches and from public spaces. The processes of urbanization were changing the very nature of Jamaican society.

This analysis by David Harvey was taken further by Don Mitchell who described how geographers, sociologists, lawyers, planners and religious forces all conspire with the rich and powerful to deny the right of public spaces to the poor. (11) Coral Gardens in 1963 was a classic example of contested space where the force of the state and the coercive powers of the police were used to kill and intimidate Rastafari brethren and sistren.

By 1962 Franklyn had mobilized other small farmers who were moving to become part of the Rastafari movement. One way of coercing Rastafari was through the Dangerous Drugs Act, and Franklyn was arrested for possession of ganja. Others such as the Bowen brothers, who were at that time quite young, were constantly harassed by the police. This author lived in an area of Upper King Street in Montego Bay which many of the brethren and sistren passed through. Mr. Mac was one of the movers in this group of Rastafari and his yard at 16 Upper King Street was a staging area that many passed through. There was a thriving carpenter's shop that employed some of the brethren. The working class areas of Montego Bay: Railway Lane, Mt Salem and Barnett Lane were other spaces for the growth of the Rastafari. Every Sunday evening they would gather at Charles Square (later named Sam Sharpe Square) beating their drums and singing songs of freedom and emancipation. With the growth of this movement, Francis Kerr-Jarrett attempted to co-opt one section by exposing them to the ideas and literature of the Moral Rearmament Movement. One of the brethren, Aubrey Brown from the Orange Street area, was even sent on a mission to the USA so that he could be recruited by the Kerr-Jarrett forces. This created deep divisions within the movement. The different spaces from which the Rastafari emerged to form this opposition to Kerr-Jarrett was one manifestation of the failure of the attempts to divide the Rastafari.

Felix Waldron

This author was familiar with one of the followers of Rudolph Franklyn. This was Felix Waldron. Like Rex Nettleford who preceded him to Cornwall College, Felix was one of the brightest youngsters at the Montego Bay Boys School. He was a promising mathematician and was awarded a scholarship to study at Cornwall College. Hailing from the working class, Waldron's parents could not afford to send him to Cornwall and so it was the Montego Bay Boys Club, supported by Charles Agate and Dr. Herbert Morrison, that looked out for the welfare of this promising mathematician. Herbert Morrison, the nationalist doctor with his offices on Market Street had been a patron of Nettleford. Waldron was supposed to follow the footsteps of other poor youths such as Rex Nettleford and Danny Miller, who were also assisted by the Montego Bay Boys Club. On the special notice board at Montego Bay Boys School which lists those boys who had gone on to excel at Cornwall College, the name of Felix Waldron is prominent among with the names of other youths from the black working class.

Felix Waldron had to leave Cornwall College and future research will shed light on the conditions that interrupted his schooling. This author knew Felix and would see Felix walking with Franklyn and others, passing Upper King Street on the way to Salt Spring. It is now known that Franklyn was seeking to farm in the area around Flower Hill and Salt Spring. For the developers, the sight of Waldron, the Bowen brothers and Franklyn and other brethren walking along the road across from the Half Moon hotel was offensive. I know that they often traversed that area because my oldest brother, who was the 'juiceman' for the caddies, often sold juices to Franklyn and his brethren as they passed the golf course opposite the new resort hotel. For the Jamaican state, these bearded men walking with sticks and cutlasses should not have been in the tourist areas at all, so there was constant harassment from the police.

In an effort to remove the brothers and sisters from the areas where they lived, the police and other law enforcement personnel (some called busha) would raze the crops of the Rastafari. At that historical moment, the Jamaican state was quite willing to destroy the small farmer to please 'foreign investors.' These altercations over the right to plant, the right to walk, the right to follow their own culture boiled over into open confrontations. Independence was supposed to give all Jamaicans freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of movement and the right to a decent life. All of these freedoms had been denied to the Rastafari by constant harassment and, after the 1960 uprisings of the Henry brothers, this harassment increased.


There are now journalistic sources as well as the witness of some of the Rastafari brethren and sistren who survived the killings of April 1963. There are court proceedings and legal arguments surrounding the confrontation. There has not been a wider discussion of the two ideation systems that clashed at Coral Gardens. As one who emerged from the same community as some of those who lost their lives in April 1963, I undertook to write about these contradictions from the perspective of those who were being oppressed. In speaking to my brothers and colleagues, one of the features that was not clear was the form of recruitment used by Rudolph Franklyn. He was persuasive enough to have a number of younger Rastas in his group of Rastafari. Brother Mac from Upper King Street, Aubrey Brown (Breda Brown) Rudolph Franklyn and others emerged as com-munity leaders and were under surveillance by Special Branch. The 16 Upper King Street space (Mr. Mac's) was one area they passed through regularly. In this group were the brothers Carlton and Noel Bowen and others such as Clinton Larman. There was a Rastafari formation at Railway Lane, and other Rastafari formations in a rapidly growing area at 12 1/2 Upper King Street called Gulley or Canterbury. The Rastafari always travelled on foot from Railway Lane and Barnet Street up to Salt Spring and through Flower Hill, and sometimes walked to Flankers and White House (a fishing community now blocked off by Sangster International airport). These Rastafarians were criminalized for walking along this road which was being developed for tourists.

The Jamaican government sought to make this area a no-go area for the Rastafarians. Hence, there had been confrontations between the police and this small group of Rastafarians. Detective Corporal Melbourne, who lost his life in the altercation on 11 April, was one of the most energetic enforcers of Francis Kerr-Jarrett's wish that the free movement of Rastafari should be discouraged. The altercations between the police and this band of brethren were so frequent that the Rastafari decided to make bows and arrows to defend themselves. It is not insignificant that one of the first persons to be attacked by the brethren was Edward Fowler, the overseer for Kerr-Jarrett.

On Thursday 11 April 1963, eight months after Independence, Rastafari claimed their right to walk in this tourist area and sought to defend themselves. In the process, a petrol station was torched, Melbourne was killed and, after the initial altercation, the Prime Minister Sir Alexander Bustamante flew to Montego Bay, accompanied by the Commissioner of Police, the top command of the Jamaica Defense Force, the Security Chief, two Ministers of Government, and several police from the headquarters in Kingston. Prime Minister Alexander Bustamante was making a clear statement to the local and foreign 'developers' that this space around Half Moon Bay Hotel would be free from the presence of bearded Rastas. A police manhunt rounded up and killed the other members of the group, prior to unleashing total repression against all of the Rastafari in Western Jamaica. The Jamaican newspapers, especially the Daily Gleaner, whipped up hysteria and demanded that "the Rastafarian problem", described as a problem of "the lunatic fringe", be solved once and for all. Selbourne Reid has written for the Jamaican elite his version of the confrontation and this book now serves to distort the climate of hostility created by the white planter class against the small farmers who had turned to the ideas and philosophy of peace and love. These Rastafari were provoked, harassed and, when they sought to defend themselves, they were shot down.

The aftermath

Thursday, 11 April 1963 was Holy Thursday. This was the day of the funeral of my sister. In the evening we heard the news that Ken Douglas' petrol station was burnt and that a number of brethren had been killed. The next day we saw a massive army and police presence all around Montego Bay. I remember this vividly because it was Good Friday on 12 April, when the police began rounding up everyone with locks and beard. Prime Minister Alexander Bustamante, who had been mostly disengaged from politics, gave the order "Bring in all Rastas, dead or alive." It was this call for the police to shoot and kill poor blacks and Rastafari, which was to become a defining element of independent Jamaica after 1963. From that period until now, the state has given the coercive forces the right to kill unarmed citizens.

The police and army eagerly invaded all working class neighbourhoods and arrested and detained all those who were Rastas. Canterbury was raided and the spaces of the Rastafari violated. The lockup at Barnett Street was so full that people were held in the yard just as the enslaved had been, and from time to time they were hosed down with water. One official reportedly stated "If jail cannot hold the Rastafarians, put them in Bogue (the local cemetery)". The police and military raided all the Rastafari camps and then proceeded to cut the locks off the Rastafari in all parts of Western Jamaica.

Increased support for Rastafari

This wave of repression marked a turning point in the history of Jamaica.

Sympathy and support for the Rastafari grew. Hundreds and thousands of youths identified with Franklyn and Waldron and the right to freedom of movement. In Montego Bay, poor youth such as Billy Griffiths then sought other outlets such as soccer to realize their skills and potential. As Billy Griffiths yesterday, and as Usain Bolt today, youth looked to sports and music for outlets for their energies. The state embarked on a three-pronged approach to coerce and control the growth of the Rastafari movement. There was the police and military rampage. The media and local outlets egged on the police and military so they could declare to the world that Jamaica was safe for tourists. This media campaign by the Gleaner and the radio stations was the second line of attack. The third area of control was through sociologists and social scientists who were deployed "to understand the relationship between violence and poverty".

With the growth of the Rastafari movement, Edward Seaga embarked on a campaign to co-opt the symbols and ideas of the Rastafari, firstly by repatriating the remains of Marcus Garvey and then by inviting Haile Selassie to Jamaica in 1966. Although Seaga understood the potential of the Rastafari, he moved to bulldoze the Rastafari settlements of Back o' Wall to create the garrison community of Tivoli Gardens

Neither of the two mainstream political parties could grasp the full depth of the ideation plane of the Jamaican poor. Walter Rodney grounded with sections of the Rastas in 1968, and the fusion of his ideas of African dignity with the ideas of Rastafari became an explosive combination. Rodney was banned from Jamaica. After Walter Rodney, the Rastafari movement expanded primarily through the ideas communicated through Reggae music. Many middle class elements who did not understand the deep roots of the movement, gravitated to superstructural elements such as the locks and the smoking of ganja without understanding the roots. Peter Phillips, the current deputy Prime Minister of Jamaica, was one such middle class element who joined the movement, temporarily, before he became one of the leaders of the PNP.


Fifty years after the Coral Gardens uprising, Jamaican society is segregated, with the old planter alliance cemented to both mainstream political parties. These two parties mobilize sections of the working poor with crumbs and weapons to the point where the militarization of working class communities makes life unbearable. The introduction of crack cocaine completes the picture of control. Agricultural production has plummeted but there is very little analysis of the linkages between the experiences of Rudolf Franklyn as a small farmer and the repression of small farmers in Jamaica.

Rose Hall, Ironshore and the areas next to the Sangster International airport are now bustling tourist centers while up in the hills of Flankers there is unprecedented gun violence. Upper King Street and Green Pond have seen crack cocaine invasions. In 2010, the mass killings of poor workers at Tivoli Gardens brought to the attention of the world the inner city story of drug dons, politicians and the neo-liberal world of finance. In 2012, two murders of close colleagues brought home to me the insecurity of all. The first murder was that of Clover Graham. Clover was an activist in the black community in Britain and returned to Jamaica in 1990. She worked at the legal aid clinic of the Norman Manley Law School in Kingston; lectured at the University of Technology on land law, a critical aspect of a young country's development, and worked with the UNHCR. In 2007 her son, Taiwo, was murdered in St Andrew. She herself was murdered in August 2012.

The other murder was that of Barrington Dixon. Barry Dixon attended Cornwall College and was in his final year there at the time of the uprising at Coral Gardens. Barry Dixon was trained as an obstetrician and gynecologist at the University of the West Indies. He was killed in his home in September 2012.

The death of Felix Waldron in 1963, and of Barry Dixon fifty years later, highlights the present condition of the Jamaican people. Both had been brilliant students at Cornwall College. Only new forms of politics and community can end the recursive processes set in motion by the planter class.

Fifty years after the uprisings of 1963 a new form of politics is being demanded to transform Jamaica. The members of the middle class who sympathised with the Left in the 70s and 80s, have now joined the political class as entrepreneurs, politicians or commentators. There is a clear effort to cut off Rastafari from progressive Pan African goals so that Rastafari will be pushed to embrace the politics of exclusion. This is against the African principles of Ubuntu. Fifty years ago the Rastafari were the most alert in relation to the social and political movements in Africa. That alertness is required now more than ever. A small group of dedicated Rastafari continues to carry forward the messages of peace, truth and love as a holding operation until new forces emerge to fully overthrow the Babylonian system.

(1) Bad Friday: Rastafari After Coral Gardens, This Film was directed by Deborah A. Thomas, John L. Jackson Jr., and Junior "Gabu" Wedderburn. It is distributed through Third World Newsreel. aspx?rec=1306

(2) Selbourne Reid, Rastafari Uprisings at Coral Gardens 1963, self published. Rex Nettleford wrote the book, Mirror Mirror: Identity Race and Protest in Jamaica, Sangsters Books, Kingston 1970. There are two paragraphs on the Coral Gardens uprising in this book.

(3) Hilary Beckles, Britain's Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native genocide, University of the West Indies Press, 2013

(4) Frank Jan van Dijk. 1995. "Sociological Means: Colonial Reactions to the Radicalization of Rastafari in Jamaica, 1956-1970." New West Indian Guide. Vol. 69, Nos 1/2, 67-101.

(5) Don Robotham, "Pluralism as an Ideology," Social and Economic Studies, Vol. 20, No 1, 1980. For a sympathetic account of the life of M.G. Smith see Douglas Hall, A Man Divided: Michael Garfield Smith, UWI, 1997

(6) One of the best accounts of the relationship between Kerr-Jarrett and the Moral Rearmament Movement can be found in the book by Frank Jan Van Dijk. 1993. Jahmaica: Rastafari and Jamaica Society 1930-1990, Utrecht: ISOR.

(7) Ken Post, Arise Ye Starvelings: The Jamaican Labour Rebellion of 1938 and Its Aftermath, Springer Books, 1978

(8) Trevor Munroe, The Politics of Constitutional Decolonization: Jamaica, 1944-62, Institute of Social and Economic Research, 1972

(9) The PNP elite which met regularly at Norman Manley's home, named Drumblair.

(10) Father Coombs died as a poor and broken person and was buried in a pauper's grave when he passed away in 1969.

(11) Don Mitchell. 2003. The Right to the City: Social justice and the Fight for Public Spaces, Guildford Press, New York.
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Title Annotation:Notes and Comments
Author:Campbell, Horace G.
Publication:Social and Economic Studies
Date:Mar 1, 2014
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