Norman Washington Manley was born in Roxborough, Manchester, Jamaica, on July 4, 1893. His parents Thomas Albert Samuel Manley, and Margaret Ann Shearer, were both of mixed race. He was well educated, attending high school, before going to Jamaica College. He made headlines as an outstanding athlete, as well as excelling in his studies.
After graduating, In 1914 he was awarded the Rhodes scholarship to attend Oxford University. By the time he arrived in England, the First World War had begun. He enlisted as a gunner in the Royal Artillery leading to a promotion to corporal. Manley survived the war, sadly his brother, Roy, didn't, and was awarded the Military Medal. He returned to England where he continued his studies, and became a lawyer. He fell in love and married his cousin, Edna Swithenbank, an artist and sculptress, they later had two sons, Douglas and Michael. Manley returned to Jamaica in 1922, a Rhodes Scholar, and went on to become one of Jamaica's leading lawyers.
Manley's involvement in the political life started with the 1938 riots. Tensions in Jamaica were running high. Workers Unions were organising frequent strikes and demonstrating over poor working conditions and for better pay. It was at this time Bustamante, champion of the workers was arrested after a series of strikes, and Manley was able to mediate and successfully negotiate on his behalf.
Manley founded the People's National Party in 1938 (which he led in every election from 1944 to 1967), and was initially supported by Bustamante. Together they worked towards Universal Adult suffrage (the right of all adults to vote), Self government, as well as workers rights. Their efforts resulted in the New Constitution of 1944 granting full Adult Suffrage.
Bustamante and the PLP won the following elections, and it was ten years since suffrage was granted that Manley and his party (PNP) came to power. In 1955 Manley was elected Chief Minister and served as the colony's Chief Minister from 1955 to 1959, and as Premier from 1959 to 1962.
He was a strong supporter of the Federation of the West Indies, established in 1958, but when Bustamante and the PLP withdrew support, Manley called for a referendum in 1961. The vote was against Jamaica's continued membership of the Federation. Manley was at the forefront of negotiating Jamaica’s withdrawal from the union, and went on to form a committee working towards a constitution for separate independence for Jamaica.
The JLP won the election and led the country into independence. Manley became Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives until he retired. He was succeeded by his son Michael as President of the Peoples National Party, who later became Prime Minister.
Illness forced Manley to retire from politics in 1969. He died on September 2, 1969 at the age of 76. Norman Washington Manley was declared a National Hero, and his dedication to the people can be seen with the memorial on the site of his grave at National Heroes Park Kingston, Saint John, Jamaica. There are statues of him at North Parade, Palisadoes International Airport. The Jamaican five dollar coin bears his insignia.
Find out more about people in Jamaican History.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey
George William Gordon
Sir Alexander Bustamante
Norman Washington Manley
Find out more about the history of the Caribbean Islands