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Jamaican National Hero - Norman Washington Manley - 21 Incredible Facts!

by Deon Clarke | Associate Writer

Norman Washington Manley
Photo: National Hero - Rt Excllent Norman Washington Manley | Photo Credit: JIS

Our Jamaican National Heroes have paved the way for many of the luxuries and the freedom we enjoy today. As we celebrate Heritage Week, we take the opportunity to honour their memory and highlight their contributions to nation-building through their life’s work. Today, we introduce the Rt. Excellent Norman Washington ManleyThe brilliant scholar, decorated soldier, recording setting athlete, renowned barrister and respected politician. Let’s take a look at 21 incredible facts about this multifaceted man.
  1. Norman Washington Manley was born on July 4, 1893, in Roxborough in the parish of Manchester to father Thomas Albert Samuel Manley who was a small businessman, born in 1852 in Porus, Manchester. His mother was Margaret Ann Shearer, the daughter of a mixed-race woman (Mrs Ann Margaret Clarke, nee Taylor, a widow) and her Irish second husband, Alexander Shearer, a pen-keeper (livestock farmer). Margaret migrated with her four children to Belmont Estate in St. Catherine after the death of Thomas Manley in 1899.

  2. Norman Manley was known as a brilliant scholar and athlete. He was a student at the Wolmer’s and the Beckford and Smith High Schools (now St. Jago High School) where he attended each for one year. He was later awarded a full scholarship at Jamaica College where he copped six medals in the Jamaica School Boy Championships (now ISSA/GRACE Boys’ and Girls’ Champs) in 1911. This included running the 100 yards in 10 seconds (which remained unbroken until 1952). Astonishingly, a time like that would have qualified him for both the 1908 and 1912 Olympics finals for that event!

  3. After his mother’s death in 1913, Manley and two siblings went to further their studies in the U.K. At only 16 years old, he earned a Rhodes Scholarship to Jesus College at the University of Oxford. Let that sink in! Here he earned a Bachelor of Civil Law degree with First Class Honours.

  4. When Manley got to the U.K., World War I had just begun. He had visited several relatives including his cousin Edna Swithenbank, whom he would later wed. After a while, he served in the Royal Field Artillery during World War I, where he was awarded the Military Medal (M.M.) for "acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire".

  5. After the war ended, Manley was admitted to the bar in England in 1921 and in 1922 he returned to Jamaica and continued his law practice as a barrister.

  6. During the years of the “Great Depression” and all the troubles that came with it in 1938, Manley spent his time advocating for the workers as he identified with them.

  7. In September 1938, Norman Manley co-founded the People’s National Party (PNP) with his cousin Sir Alexander Bustamante. The political party was an ally of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) at the time and later the National Workers’ Union (NWU). The PNP was an avid supporter of the trade union movement.

  8. During his formation of the PNP, Manley also worked for Universal Adult Suffrage. This was achieved in 1944. The subsequent election was won by his now rival Bustamanrte who had headed off in 1943 to form the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Manley had to wait for 10 years before his party was elected to office.

  9. 1955 saw happier times for Norman Manley as the PNP won the national elections for the first time, gaining 18 out of the 32 seats. This resulted in Norman Manley becoming the new Chief Minister.

  10. Norman Manley served as Chief Minister from 1955 to 1959. The PNP secured another victory from the general election held on July 28, 1959. The number of seats had increased to 45 and the PNP secured a wider margin of victory, winning 29 seats to the JLP's 16.

  11. As Chief Minister and later Jamaica’s first Premier (appointed on August 14, 1959), Manley swiftly moved the country towards internal self-government in July 1959 and to achieve independence on August 6, 1962, .

  12. Manley’s government renegotiated contracts with the bauxite industry, which resulted in six-fold revenue earnings for the country. The government also instituted a dominant economic agenda for the future in Jamaica with the establishment of statutory boards, government bodies, and quasi-government authorities to regulate and play an active role in the industry.

  13. He championed industrialization, increased agricultural production and fair distribution of land in Jamaica.

  14. Under Norman Manley’s leadership the The Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) was set up for public education and entertainment as well as to encourage the creativity of Jamaicans.

  15. He built public library facilities that were extended to all parishes, and he also built primary schools for the education of the nation’s children.

  16. Norman Manley was a very strong advocate for the Federation of The West Indies, which he saw as a route to self-government. However, the JLP was in opposition to this and wanted Jamaica out of the Federation. Manley, being a democratic leader, called for a referendum (the first-ever in Jamaica) to let the people decide. When they did it was for Jamaica to be removed from the Federation. Manley arranged for a seamless withdrawal by implementing a joint committee, which he chaired, charged with the responsibility of developing a constitution for an independent Jamaica.

  17. Norman Manley led the team that successfully negotiated independence for Jamaica.

  18. On April 10, 1962, Norman Manley led Jamaicans to the poll, hoping to secure yet another victory for independence but as fate would have it, he lost to Bustamante and became Leader of the Opposition instead of being Jamaica’s first Prime Minister. Manley lost the 1967 general election and consequently spent his final years in politics as Opposition Leader where he defined and established the roles of an effective parliamentary opposition for a developing nation.

  19. You could say that heroes run in the family as Maley’s mother had a half-brother in Robert Constantine Clarke, the father of William Alexander Bustamante, formerly Clarke. This made Norman Manley first cousins with Sir Alexander Bustamante (another of Jamaica’s National Heroes).

  20. As a young man Norman Manley had married his maternal cousin Edna Manley and the union produced two children- Douglas Washington Manley who became a university lecturer, politician, and minister of government, and Michael Norman Manley who became a politician and later the fourth Prime Minister of Jamaica.

  21. Norman Manley retired from active politics in 1969 on his birthday due to a respiratory illness. He died a few months later on September 2, 1969. On October 18, 1969, he was conferred with the nation’s highest honour of Order of National Hero. He is featured on the Jamaican $5 coin which was formerly a note.
What a dynamic man! What stellar accomplishments! Triumphant despite the odds he faced as a youngster and an adult - fatherless at age 6, motherless by age 16, defeated at the polls, yet he rose to become one of Jamaica’s most accomplished men. Definitely well-suited for a National Hero!

I also recommend you read 10 Interesting Facts About The Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA).


  • Norman Washington Manley, Jamaica Information Service,
  • The Right Excellent Norman Washington Manley, My-Island-Jamaica,
    Norman Manley, Wikipedia,
  • National Heroes, National Library of Jamaica,

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