The peoples of Jamaica acceded to Independence on August 6, 1962. The people of St, James in the Western part of Jamaica as in all parts of the island society at that moment 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, had been among the most active of the planter class in Jamaica opposing Marcus Garvey in the twenties and thirties. Together with H.G. Delisser, from another planter family, these colonial operators had opposed Garveyism and the nationalist ideas of Jamaica. In the years prior independence, Francis Kerr-Jarrett had made numerous appeals to the governor of Jamaica, Hugh Foot and later Kenneth Blackburne to crack down of the growing Rastafari movement.
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. One such small famer was Rudolph Franklyn who joined the movement of the Rastafari. 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) was one of the females in the group who had hailed from Springfield. Rastas from Springfield, Maroon Town, Johns Hall and other rural areas had been joining the growing ranks of workers in Montego Bay after 1950.
In speaking to my brothers and colleagues, one of the features that had not been clear was the forms of recruitment of Rudolph Franklyn. He had been persuasive enough to have a number of younger Rastas in his group of Rastafari. Mr Mac from Upper King Street, Aubrey Brown (Beda brown) Rudolph Franklyn and others had emerged as community leaders and had been under surveillance by the Special Branch (Special Intelligence Unit of the Police Forces). The 16 Upper King St space (Mr Mac) was one area where they passed through regularly and was thus under surveillance. In this group were the brothers Carlton and Noel Bowen and others such as Clinton Larman There had been Rastafari formation at Railway Lane and others in an area that was rapidly growing at 12 and a half Upper King Street that was 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 Flanker and White House (a fishing community now blocked by the Sangster airport). These Rastafarians were criminalized for walking along this road that was being planned for tourists and the Jamaican government sought to make this area a no go area for the Rastafarians.
Thursday April 11, 1963 was Holy Thursday. This was the day of the funeral of my sister. In the evening we began to hear the news that Ken Douglas petrol station had been burnt and that a number of brethren had been killed. The next day one saw massive army and police presence all around Montego Bay. I remember this vividly because it was Good Friday on April 12 when the police was rounding up every one with locks and beard. The then Prime Minister, Alexander Bustamante, who had been mostly disengaged from Politics, gave the order “Bring in all Rastas, dead or alive.”
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 rights of 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. Billy Griffiths yesterday, USANi Bolt today, youths looked to sports and music as 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. This rampage was egged on by the media and the local outlets that wanted to declare to the world that Jamaica was safe for tourists. This media campaign from the Gleaner and the radio was the second line of attack. The third area of control was through sociologists and social scientists that were deployed to understand the relationship between ‘violence and poverty.’
Fifty years after Coral gardens, the Jamaican society is segregated with the alliance between the old planter elements cemented with the two mainstream political parties. These two parties mobilized 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 has completed the picture of control.