The Birth of the People's National Party

The People's National Party was launched at the Ward Theatre on September 18, 1938. The formation of the Party was the culmination of the efforts of several persons to harness the progressive ideas of the time and to push for self-government.


1938, the centenary of the emancipation of slavery in Jamaica, had been a stormy year. During May, workers in the sugar industry, on the docks and many unemployed, demonstrated, marched and struck for more work, better working condition and more pay.

The events of May shook Jamaica and brought some to the realization that something had to be done. Norman Manley, offered himself as mediator between the workers and employers. He had some to realize that social work alone, however well planned, could not solve Jamaica's problem and that political action was needed as well.

Manley spent the last week of May interviewing worker delegates and having informal talks with the governor and employers. Through his efforts, Bustamante and St. William Grant, the labour leaders, were released from prison and the workers agreed to return to work after they were granted some concessions by the fruit and shipping companies and other employers.

At a press conference in late May, Manley reported that a number of committees were to be formed to propose solutions to some of Jamaica's pressing problems. He said that he hoped these proposals would be used as the "first planks in a platform for a genuine labour party".

Edna Manley, talking to Clyde Hoyt in 1983, said:
"People often say that Norman was persuaded by someone to go into politics, but that just isn't so .. of course he was under pressure from many people, to take up the leadership of a political movement but in the end the decision would be entirely his."


One of the persons who had been most persistent impressing Norman to lead a political party was Osmond Theodore Fairclough. Fairclough had lived in Haiti where he had managed a branch of the National Bank. When he returned to Jamaica he was refused work at the local banks, despite his experience, because of his colour. It was pointed out to him by one banker that the only black men in the banks were the messengers. Fairclough had returned to Jamaica in 1932, at the height of Garvey's attempts to organize a political party, and although he was not a Garveyite, he was impressed by Garvey's ideas.

Fairclough found a job as an accountant at the Water Commission where he met Frank Hill and, through him, several other young men who thought it was time for Jamaicans to assert themselves. In time they met a young Englishman, Hedley Powell Jacobs, a Fabian Socialist, who taught history at Jamaica College. They came to the conclusion that they needed a platform for their views and for those of others concerned about the future of the country.


Based on the aforementioned, the PUBLIC OPINION weekly was launched by them on February 20, 1937. The first editorial, "New Wines in New Bottles", said that the aim of the paper was to organize public opinion around the question of national aspirations and identity. The paper put forward views on the question of self government and criticized the old order which, it said, stultified and frustrated the legitimate interests of all Jamaicans.

At the same time that PUBLIC OPINION was founded, a group of Jamaicans in New York founded the Jamaica Progressive League to lobby the British Government to grant Jamaica self-government with Dominion status within the British Empire, and to lobby the American Government to help influence the British.

It soon became clear to them that there was need for an effective organization within Jamaica to represent Jamaica directly and in December 1937 two of the founders, W. Adolphe Roberts, a journalist, novelist and historian and W. A. Domingo, a journalist, visited Jamaica and helped to set up the Jamaican branch of the League.

On February 3, 1938, the League, at a meeting in New York, adopted a resolution in which they demanded that qualified Jamaicans be given preference in official appointments. It was just one more sign of the changed temper of the Jamaica people. Only Garvey had been talking like that a few years before.

Another group agitating for self-government was the National Reform Association, founded in March 1938. Among its leaders were Ken Hill, eldest brother of Frank, who was secretary and Noel "Crab" Nethersole, a well-known lawyer and cricketer its president, and H. P. Jacobs, vice president. The Association was a forerunner of the P.N.P. in its conscious attempt to organize on a political level and in its declared aim to push for self-government.


By August 1938, the People's National Party was beginning to take shape. Fairclough traveled all over Jamaica in his small and almost decrepit motor car recruiting people such as Vernon Arnett, a young businessman from Trelawny, to organize study groups outside of Kingston.

At a meeting held at the Silver Slipper Club, Cross Roads on August 28, delegates selected by Fairclough or elected at parish meeting, plus delegates from other organizations such as the Jamaica Agricultural Society, the Jamaica Union of Teachers (JUT) and various citizens' associations met to discuss the formation of the Party.

Some fifty delegates appointed a Steering Committee of seven to draft a constitution and to organize the founding conference on September 18, 1938.

The Committee comprised Manley as chairman, Fairclough as secretary, Howard F. Cooke a JUT representative, H. P. Jacobs, N. N. Nethersole, Rev. O. G. Penso and W. G. McFarlane (an architectural draftsman).

Howard Cooke, later Minister of Education and Chairman of the Party talks about that time:

"When I came to sit with other colleagues to plan the formation of the Party I was greatly excited. Men like Nethersole, Jacobs, Walker, Seivrigh, Ken Hill…they were excited too: for one reason, we were led by one of Jamaica's ablest men, Norman Manley…we all, when we got together, felt almost a missionary urge, we wanted to change things, we wanted to go out and tell people they could have a better life."


And so to the evening of Sunday, September 18, 1938, the Ward Theatre was packed and hundreds crowded North Parade and Victoria Gardens. Norman Manley and Stafford Cripps, a cousin-in-law of Edna Manley, were the two main speakers at the launching. Sir Staford, a brilliant barrister, was a leading member of the British Labour Party. In his speech he fore-saw the founding of the PNP as being regarded as one of the great events in the history of the country and he said that the party represented all that was best and most progressive in Jamaican life.

Manley, early in his speech, put forward what was to become the central theme in the PNP's demand for self-government:

"No amount of benevolent administration, no amount of contribution toward making a happy and contented people, will ever produce a nation unless you have a political organization that shares and marches with the destiny of the nation as a whole."

Norman Manley ended his speech on the stirring call which still applies today.

"I do not underestimate the difficulties that confront us…but if we never desert our own principles, it we believe in what we are aiming at, if we appreciate those who regard this country as their home…if we can do those things and be true to what we believe in…and if we can combine with that hard work and practical intelligence…then I believe that we will have launched tonight a movement which as nothing else started in Jamaica - will make this country a real place to say that "we come from Jamaica."