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15 Facts About Jamaican National Hero - Sir Alexander Bustamante

by Deon Clarke | Associate Writer



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Photo: National Hero: Sir Alexander Bustamante Photo Credit: Jamaica Observer


In celebration of Jamaica’s Heritage Week for the period October 10 – October 18, 2021, we unreservedly make it a duty to highlight our National Heroes. Their invaluable contribution to nation-building is truly appreciated. Today, we introduce the charismatic Sir Alexander Bustamante – “Champion of the Poor and Oppressed”. Just how much do you know about this notable Jamaican National Hero? Let’s take a journey into his life and work at look at 15 facts surrounding this great Jamaican.
  1. Sir Alexander Bustamante was born on February 24, 1884, as William Alexander Clarke at Blenheim in Hanover to mother Mary Clarke (nee Wilson), a woman of mixed race, and her second husband, Robert Constantine Clarke, an Irish planter.

  2. His father, Robert Constantine Clarke, was the half-brother of Margaret Ann Manley, nee Shearer, who was the mother of Norman Washington Manley. This made him first cousins with Norman Manley.

  3. He took the surname Bustamante in 1944 to honour a Spanish sea captain who he claims adopted him in his early years and took him to Spain where he was sent to school and later returned to Jamaica.

  4. He was married four times. On September 7, 1962, at the age of 78, he married his fourth wife Gladys Longbridge. He had no children.

  5. Bustamante extensively travelled the world where he worked in many different places. In 1905, he left Jamaica once again at 21 years of age. He worked as a policeman in Cuba, as a tramcar conductor in Panama, and as a dietician in a New York City hospital.

  6. He returned to Jamaica in 1932 at the age of 48, where he opened a money lending and dairy products office at 1a Duke Street in Kingston and provided these services. He also lived at the location and had his office downstairs, and his living quarters upstairs.

  7. He was a political activist against colonial rule and quickly gained recognition through his writings of frequent letters on these issues to the Daily Gleaner newspaper.

  8. He was elected as treasurer of the Jamaica Workers' Union (JWU) in 1937 which was had been founded by the labour activist Allan G.S. Coombs. He was identified as the spokesman for workers who engaged in striking during the 1938 labour rebellion due to widespread discontent. This heightened his cause as these workers were mostly African and mixed-race descendants.

  9. He formed the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) in 1939 and was seen as the “Champion” of the working class as he was an advocate for the masses and even confronted the power of the Colonial Governor at the time. He was always at odds with the security forces as he was seen as a trouble maker by the authorities while labour unrests were on and off and he sought substantial gains for large groups of workers.

  10. Bustamante was detained at Up Park Camp on September 8, 1940, On September 8, 1940, for allegedly violating the Defence of the Realm Act. He remained there and was released in 1943 after his cousin Norman Washington Manley successfully defended his case.

  11. In 1943 he founded the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), with himself as the leader. The first general election under Universal Adult Suffrage came in 1944 and the JLP won 22 of the 32 seats. He became the first unofficial Government leader and represented his party as the Minister of Communications.

  12. Bustamante's first term as the unofficial leader of the Government was a controversial one. While taking on the role of head of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), he was also the leader of government business.

  13. In 1947 he was arrested with Frank Pixley and placed on trial for manslaughter at the Port Maria courthouse in St. Mary. However, he was acquitted. He was elected as the Mayor of Kingston in 1947 and 1948.

  14. In 1952 while on official business in Puerto Rico, he was arrested by the American authorities.

  15. Sir Alexander Bustamante also became the first Prime Minister of Independent Jamaica in 1962. He retired from active politics in 1967 and died 10 years later on August 6, 1977, at the ripe age of 93. He is buried in the National Heroes Park in Kingston.
His legacy and honours are many and include the below:
  • Bustamante was commended in 1955 for his public services in Jamaica.
  • In 1963 he was awarded an honorary LLD degree from Fairfield University.
  • In 1964, he was made a member of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom (PC).
  • In 1966, an honorary LLD degree was conferred on him by the University of the West Indies.
  • In 1966, he was also awarded the Special Grand Cordon of the Order of Brilliant Star by the Republic of China.
  • On 9 June 1967, Bustamante was appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (GBE).
  • In February 1968, the Jamaican House of Representatives and the Senate paid tribute to Sir Alexander. The Bustamante Foundation was launched simultaneously in four countries, later in the month, as a permanent and lasting memory of Sir Alexander Bustamante’s services to Jamaica.
  • In 1969, Bustamante became a Member of the Order of National Hero (ONH) in recognition of his achievement.
  • His portrait is found on the Jamaican one dollar coin.
One thing is for sure, the legacy that the very charismatic Sir Alexander Bustamante left behind are many truly invaluable but one thing I know, his name is synonymous with trade union and the rights of workers and of the poor and oppressed. Another great and worthy Jamaican National Hero – The Most Honourable Sir Alexander Bustamante.

I also recommend you read Places Named After Alexander Bustamante (Jamaica's First Prime Minister).

Regards,
DC

References:
  • Sir Alexander Bustamante, Jamaica Information Service, https://jis.gov.jm/information/heroes/sir-alexander-bustamante-2/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Bustamante
  • The Rt. Hon. Sir Alexander Bustamante (1884 – 1977), Wikipedia, ttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Bustamante
  • Sir Alexander Bustamante |National Hero &Jamaica's First Prime Minister, My-Island-Jamaica, https://www.my-island-jamaica.com/sir_alexander_bustamante.html

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