In Search of Inspiration: Norman W.Manley

In Search of Inspiration: Norman W.Manley

Norman W.Manley

by Spence Finlayson

NASSAU, Bahamas – Norman Washington Manley MM, QC, National Hero of Jamaica ( 4 July 1893- 2 September 1969), was a Jamaican statesman. A Rhodes Scholar, Manley became one of Jamaica’s leading lawyers in the 1920s.

Manley was an advocate of universal suffrage, which was granted by the British colonial government to the colony in 1944.

Encouraged by the Founder of the People’s National, Osmond Theodore Fairclough, who had joined forces with the brothers Frank and Ken Hill, Hedley P. Jacobs and others in 1938, he helped to launch the People’s National Party which later was tied to the Trade Union Congress and even later the National Workers Union.

He led the PNP in every election from 1944 to 1967. Their efforts resulted in the New Constitution of 1944, granting full adult suffrage.

Manley served as the colony’s Chief Minister from 1955 to 1959, and as Premier from 1959 to 1962.

He was a proponent of self-government but was persuaded to join nine other British colonies in the Caribbean territories in a Federation of the West Indies but called a referendum on the issue in 1961. Voters chose to have Jamaica withdraw from the union. He then opted to call a general election even though his five-year mandate was barely halfway through.

Norman Washington Manley was born to mixed-race parents in Roxborough in Jamaica’s Manchester Parish.

His father, Thomas Albert Samuel Manley was a small businessman born in Porus, Manchester, Jamaica in 1852. His mother, Margaret Shearer, was the daughter of a mixed-race woman and her Irish husband, a pen-keeper (animal husbandry). His grandparents were Samuel Manley, a trader who had migrated from Yorkshire, and Esther Anderson Stone.

Manley was a brilliant scholar, soldier and athlete, and studied at Jamaica College as a Rhodes Scholar. He won six medals in the Jamaican schoolboy championships in 1911, including the 100 yards in 10 seconds, an island schoolboy record not broken until 1952. That time would have put young Manley into the final of that event in both the 1908 and 1912 Olympics.

He served in the Royal Field Artillery during World War I, and was awarded the Military Medal (M.M.).

After the war, Manley returned to Jamaica and served as a barrister.

During the labour troubles of 1938, in the years of the Great Depression, he identified with the workers, donating his time and advocacy to assist them.

In September of that year, Manley co-founded the People’s National Party, which was tied to the Trade Union Congress and later the National Workers Union. The PNP supported the trade union movement including the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union, then led by Manley’s cousin Alexander Bustamante. At the same time, Manley worked for Universal Adult Suffrage.

After suffrage was approved in 1944, Manley had to wait ten years (two terms) before his party was elected to office. He was a strong advocate of the Federation of the West Indies as a means of propelling Jamaica into self-government.

When Sir Alexander Bustamante declared that the opposition Jamaica Labour Party would take Jamaica out of the Federation, Manley, already renowned for his commitment to democracy, called for a referendum, unprecedented in Jamaica, to let the people decide.

The vote was decidedly against Jamaica’s continued membership in the Federation. Manley, after arranging Jamaica’s orderly withdrawal from the union, set up a joint committee to decide on a constitution for separate independence for Jamaica.

He chaired the committee and led the team that negotiated independence. And then he called the election that was to see him become Leader of the Opposition instead of Jamaica’s first Prime Minister.

As premier, Manley renegotiated a government contract with bauxite companies, leading to a sixfold increase in revenue. His government also set the dominant economic agenda for the future in Jamaica by establishing statutory boards, government bodies, and quasi-government authorities to regulate and play an active role in industry.

Industrialization, increased agricultural production, and agrarian reform figured large in the People’s National Party’s plan for a great leap forward.

According to Philip Sherlock, five years after he took office, Manley was able to claim that much had been done to correct the imbalance in the distribution of land in Jamaica.

Of the country’s 2.2 million acres of usable land, 1.2 million acres were in the hands of people who owned under 500 acres each, and 0.7 million acres were held by those who owned properties of over 500 acres.

According to a 1954–55 census, there were 198,000 farmers with holdings of under 500 acres. There had been a great shift in land ownership (which was continuing), and steps were also taken to ensure that idle acres were put to use, with Manley repeating a “commonplace thought,” that the ownership of land was a sacred obligation, and that no country could afford to regard land as unfettered private property because the life of the whole community depended on it.

The Manley Government showed that it meant business by passing a Land Bonds Law that gave powers for the compulsory acquisition of land and provided the means for compensation.

Thousands of small farmers were provided with subsidies, while new markets were opened for increase of products in various fields.

The Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation was set up for public education and entertainment as well as to encourage Jamaican creative talent, public library facilities were extended to all parishes, and primary schools were built.

The Facilities for Title Act of 1955 enabled people who occupy land for more than 7 years to obtain credit for development.

The Loans To Small Business Act was passed in 1956 “to provide for the establishment of a board to grant loans and other forms of financial assistance to persons engaged in carrying on small businesses, while the Shops and Offices Act was passed in May 1961 to provide for “the regulation of the hours of business of shops and offices and for the welfare and the regulation of the hours of work of persons employed in or about the business of shops and offices.”

Agricultural aid was also increased during Manley’s time in office. Rather than giving subsidies, as the Jamaican Labour Party had done, incentives were offered and facilities for soft loans were provided.

The money allocated for agricultural credit went up from £182,000 in 1954 to £893,000 in 1959 and to £947,000 in 1961. Money was available for land reclamation, dairy farming, fish farming, water and irrigation, improved land use, fertiliser programmes and the like.

The Jamaica Institute of Technology was established in 1958, and that same year Caledonia Junior College was established under the Emergency Teacher Training Scheme to address the shortage of trained teachers.

The Education Law was amended in 1958 so that the old education department of the colonial period might be integrated into the ministry, and that the constitutional responsibility of the minister for the entire educational system might be fully established.

A five-year education plan f 1955 was expanded into a ten-year plan in 1957, and by the following year 15% of government funds were being spent on education.

Some of this money was allocated towards a programme of grants-in-aids that brought secondary education within the reach of many more children.

In 1958, the Common Entrance examination was introduced, which offered an unprecedented 2,000 free places in high schools each year (previously, most high-school students were the fee-paying children of the well-to-do, with only a handful of parish scholarships available through which the bright poor could gain access). In 1960, a pension scheme for sugar workers was introduced.

Manley lost the next election to the JLP. He 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, he 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.”

He added:

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

Due to respiratory illness, Manley retired from politics on his birthday in 1969. He died later that year, on 2 September 1969. His tomb was designed by the critically acclaimed Jamaican sculptor, Christopher Gonzalez.

As a young man, he married  Edna Manley (1 March 1900 – 2 February 1987) in 1921. They had two children together. Their second son, Michael Manley, went into politics and rose to become the fourth Prime Minister of Jamaica. The elder son, Douglas Manley, became a university lecturer, politician and government minister.

Manley was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Manley’s speech entitled, To Unite in a Common Battle was delivered in 1945 at the fraternity’s Thirty-first General Convention in Chicago, Illinois.

After his death, Manley, and his still-living cousin Bustamante, were proclaimed National Heroes of Jamaica on 18 October 1969, joining the black nationalist Marcus Garvey, nineteenth-century hero Paul Bogle, and nineteenth-century politician George William Gordon.


Spence Finlayson

Spence Finlayson


Spence M. Finlayson is the founder & CEO of The Phoenix Institute For Positive Development & Empowerment, a Human Resources Development firm based in Nassau with a global reach. He can be contacted at his email at or via his website The Phoenix Empowerment

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