Thursday 15 November, 2018

TACKY OMISSION? Floyd Morris bats for hero status for Maroon chief

Senator Floyd Morris on the political front during the South East St Mary by-elections last year.

Senator Floyd Morris on the political front during the South East St Mary by-elections last year.

The Senate on Friday passed legislation absolving four National Heroes – Paul Bogle, Marcus Garvey, George William Gordon and Sam Sharpe, who were ‘freedom fighters’, along with their supporters - from criminal liability in respect of certain specified events.

The Bill before the Upper House was approved in the House of Representatives last year.

But one lawmaker wants to take the matter further. Opposition Senator, Dr Floyd Morris, has made a call for freedom fighter, ‘Chief Tacky’, to be made a national hero.

Morris argued that Tacky, who led the 1760 St Mary Rebellion, is the only known freedom fighters nationally, not to have been named a national hero. He said the time has come for consideration to be given to correcting the ‘anomaly’.

In response, Senate President, Tom Tavares-Finson, said he understood Senator Morris’ reasoning, but the matter would have to be dealt with elsewhere.

The legislation, the National Heroes and Other Freedom Fighters (Absolution from Criminal Liability in Respect of Specified Events) Act, 2017, was piloted in the Lower House by Culture, Gender Affairs, Entertainment and Sport Minister, Olivia Grange. On Friday, she sat in the visitor’s gallery in the Senate as the legislation was approved by the Upper House.

The national heroes aside, the law absolves their supporters, sympathisers and participants by association, and other freedom fighters, of criminal liability arising from their participation in “acts of liberation with moral justification”.

The legislation, which was approved with five amendments, drew bipartisan support in the chamber, with most Senate members acknowledging that a major injustice had been done to the national heroes and their supporters by the colonial masters, and that the time was long overdue to absolve them.

Opposition Senator, Lambert Brown, was perhaps the most passionate in his remarks. Referring to what he called a ‘Babylon system’, Brown said the country's freedom fighters did no wrong and, therefore, should not be labelled as criminals.

He argued that the Bill was deficient, as it failed to condemn the British government for carrying out “heinous acts” against Jamaica's national heroes. He even posited that George William Gordon was framed.

In the end, the Leader of Government Business in the Senate accepted Brown’s argument, and an amendment to the preamble of the Bill led to it reading that: "And whereas the laws enforced during those times were unjust and oppressive and resulted in the acts of those persons being labelled as criminal acts; and whereas the national heroes and freedom fighters exercised their inalienable rights to resist such unjust laws and oppression."

Brown even read excerpts of Gordon’s ‘love’ letter to his wife, roughly an hour before he was hanged for his alleged role in the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865, stating his innocence.

Bogle and a host of his followers were also hanged for their roles in that insurrection against white minority rule.

A copy of Gordon’s ‘Letter to Lucy’ is on display at the National Library of Jamaica.