Norman Washington Manley, National Hero of Jamaica 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.
Norman Washington Manley was born on July 4, 1893, in the city of Roxbury, Jamaica, one of four children of Thomas and Margaret Manley. His parents had both Irish and African heritages. The family was relatively poor but his parents instilled in their son a strong work ethic.
They relocated to Belmont, Jamaica, when Manley was six years old, where he received his primary education. Manley attended Womer's College, a secondary school, and later Jamaica College, an eighteenth-century high school that offered a solid academic curriculum with a strong emphasis on athletics as a means to build character.
Norman Manley also was also a brilliant student who had superb oratorical skills. On his graduation from Jamaica College in 1913 he was offered a position there as an instructor. In 1914 he received a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University. He studied law at Oxford but suspended his studies in 1915 to fight in World War I. He was assigned to an artillery regiment of the British Army and was deployed to France. He received the British Military Medal for his performance during the war. In 1919, Manley resumed his studies at Oxford and graduated with honors in 1921.
He returned to Jamaica in 1922 and established a law practice. He excelled as both a trial and corporate attorney and became known for being a very persuasive orator and a strong litigator. A man of great empathy for the less privileged, he was a champion of the poor and disenfranchised and used the legal system to empower people. Manley's legal expertise was also sought by the sugar and agricultural corporations of Jamaica.
Manley's political involvement in Jamaica started during the 1930s. The economic supremacy and human right abuses of Jamaican corporations controlled by British interests had led to economic oppression and exploitation of Jamaican workers. British control of industry had resulted in a lack of sound social and economic development on the island. Although Manley was initially retained by the West Indian Sugar Company to represent them in their labor disputes, he slowly shifted positions and became one of the leading legal defenders.
By 1938, the social and political climate of Jamaica had deteriorated and Jamaican workers were staging violent strikes to obtain universal adult suffrage. There were many human right abuses. For instance, Alexander Bustamante, Manley's cousin, was one of the labor leaders and was imprisoned for his role in the riots. Manley eventually became a labor leader.
Following his successful attempts to free Bustamante, the cousins joined forces and founded the People's National Party (PNP) on September 19,1938. The PNP adopted a socialist platform to champion the rights of Jamaican laborers. Accord-ing to one source, it became a model for other socialist parties that emerged in the West Indies (Hintzen and Hill 1988). A member of Socialist International, the party advocated better working conditions and social development for Jamaica. At the heart of the success and popularity of the party was the support given by the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union.
By 1942, Manley had developed disagreements with Bustamante, who moved away from the PNP and created the Jamaica National Party. The two cousins were political adversaries for the rest of their lives. In preparation for the 1944 elections Jamaica created a two-party system and granted universal adult suffrage. Manley and Bustamante ran against each other. Manley lost the elections and became the leader of the opposition in the House of Representatives.
It was then clear that Jamaica needed to move toward independence. Manley and Bustamante joined forces in 1961 and asked Great Britain for Jamaica s independence. Elections were held soon after and Manley lost to Bustamante. Jamaica was granted independence in August of 1962.
Despite his defeat in the elections, Manley played an instrumental role in negotiating the terms of the transition to independence. He maintained his position of leadership within the PNP for most of the next decade and continued as a member of the House of Representatives.
Manley appealed to the Jamaican people on a strong nationalistic platform. As an effective and charismatic leader, he won support from Jamaican professionals. He lost the elections again in 1949 but started to change the socialist discourse of his party to appeal to a broader constituency. He also expelled party members who identified themselves as communists. In 1953, Jamaica changed to a ministerial system of government and when Manley won the 1955 elections he became a chief minister.
As chief minister of Jamaica, he gave more power to the labor unions and at the same time transformed the social, political, and economic structure of the country. He created organizations and institutions that allowed Jamaica's society and government to operate effectively. He won his second term of office in 1959.
One of Manley's more passionate goals was to integrate Jamaica into the West Indies Federation, an organization planned since 1947 to maximize the power of the West Indies. Great Britain sponsored and favored the creation of a federation that grouped West Indian colonies into a unified political federation that would bring together resources and facilitate faster development. Jamaica joined the federation in 1958 but the opposition party strongly criticized it for being an illconceived political experiment that was going to deprive Jamaica of its chances to develop more fully as an independent nation. The opposition was so staunch that Manley agreed to hold a referendum in 1961 to decide whether to secede from the federation. The referendum was held in 1961 and the people voted to separate.
During his school years, Manley excelled as a student athlete. He won three track and field championships between 1911 and 1913. He established an all-time collegiate record in track and field by winning the 100-meter race in 10 seconds in 1911, which stood unbroken until 1952. His accomplishments and records as a student athlete sometimes surpassed existing world records of the time. He also served as captain of the cricket team at Jamaica College, was an excellent bowler, and practiced boxing. An avid sportsman throughout his life, he helped to create the Jamaica Boxing Board of Control and the Jamaican Olympic Association.
As a young man, he married his cousin Edna Manley 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.