ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
When the JBC presented public affairs programmes that began to expose the realities of the society
many were alarmed. C.L.R. James was astonished by a documentary I did in 1960 about the people
who lived on and off the Dungle, who were allowed to tell their stories as if they were important.
Book by John Maxwell
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A fi we! A no fi dem!
1959 Launch of Jamaican Broadcasting Corporation
By John Maxwell
Fifty years ago last Monday, an event occurred which transformed Jamaica. The launch of the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation [JBC] transformed the Jamaican culture, theatre, music, politics, journalism and the Jamaican language.
In its periods of independent existence the JBC transformed the Jamaican idea of Jamaica, of Jamaican personality.
I am one of the few survivors of that day. Most of that small band is dead and most of those who aren’t are scattered to the four winds. The JBC was Jamaica’s real entry into the modern world and it excited enthusiasm and animosity in equal degree, provoking a struggle which persists to this day between those who know themselves to be Jamaican and those who charitably patronise things Jamaican and other pastiches of a Jamaica which never existed outside of travelers’ tales.
On June 14, the day before the official launch, the new broadcasters of the JBC presented an ambitious showcase of their talents, programmes ranging from a major radio drama, a concert by the JBC Orchestra playing Jamaican music, Jamaica comedy and high-class soap opera, Jamaican news and a Jamaican newsreel bringing Jamaicans for the first time face to face with themselves and their work, the commonplace and the sublime.
Two of the items for which I was responsible on that day were an interview with Hollywood star Errol Flynn and an interview recorded on a mule-drawn dray carrying supplies for fishermen on the road to Portland Cottage.
We stunned Jamaica.
The papers and the verandahs for weeks afterwards could talk of little else but the Jamaican accents which had never before been heard on radio. Until then two kinds of diction were permissible on Jamaican radio: the clipped BBC accents of Dennis Gick and his ilk with their J.B.Priestley plays, or the real (and occasionally fake) American accents of the announcers on Radio Jamaica. Jamaicans heard instead, for the first time, at last, the voices of Miss Lou (Louise Bennett) Mass Ran (Ranny Williams) Charles Hyatt, “Pro Rata Powell” (Ken Maxwell, Jack Neesberry (Carrol Reckord).
But what amazed everyone was the fact that the newsworld news and Jamaican news were written and edited in a Jamaican newsroom, and read by Jamaicans like Reggie Carter, Joy Gordon and Richard Harty. And, for the first time at last, it wasn’t really necessary to listen to the BBCwhich we continued to broadcast once a day to calm the nerves of those who could not believe that Jamaican journalists could possibly compete with English journalists. When I went to work for the BBC News eight years later I realised that we had been working twice as hard for half the pay and delivering a product at least as good as our august competitors and often better.
A decade and a half later, in 1975, I was congratulated for my handling of Britain’s deputy Prime Minister, James Callaghan, one of the rudest and stupidest politicians I have ever met. The man who congratulated me was Sir Robin Day, then the doyen of British TV journalism. With a group of English journalists, Day came up to me in the Sheraton hotel where all of them had been watching my nightly interviews with people like Archbishop Makarios and Indira Gandhi at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference
“Great work.” said Robin Day, “I hear you are called the Robin Day of Jamaica!”
“Oh!” I said, you must be the guy they call the John Maxwell of British television!” and after some more good natured banter we all repaired to the bar to talk about politicians.
Norman Manley, whose idea the JBC was, was never in any doubt that Jamaica and its people were as good or better than any nation anywhere and when the JBC began to prove it by exposing Jamaican musicians, like Carlos Malcolm, Foggy Mullings, and Ernie Ranglin, Don Drummond, Toots Hibbert, Count Ossie and Bob Marley, Jamaicans were astonished at the depth and breadth of Jamaican musical genius and the idea that world class could mean Jamaican.
It was the JBC whose attention to the mento, jankunnu, kumina and rastafari cultures brought them to the notice of their own people and the world. It was the JBC that created the market for Jamaican musicians and producers where none had existed before.
In the three years before independence the JBC was identified as a threat by those whose idea of Jamaica had concretised in 1944, when people spoke of democracy-in-embryo and the need for tutelage in governance. When the JBC presented public affairs programmes that began to expose the realities of the society many were alarmed. C.L.R. James was astonished by a documentary I did in 1960 about the people who lived on and off the Dungle, who were allowed to tell their stories as if they were important. James thought that this was revolutionary stuff and prophesied that the powers that be would not long allow that sort of exposure.
He was right. When the JLP won the pre-independence elections in 1962 the JBC and myself in particular became immediate targets. One dispute was about JBC’s alleged disrespect to the new government. The JLP said that JBC news was not dignifying Ministers by terming them “Honorable” as they said we had always styled the PNP Ministers. Fortunately we were able to produce a memorandum written by me two weeks after the JBC opened, in which we decided that honorifics such as “the Honorable” would be dispensed with except in cases of official announcements and things like death notices. They still didn’t believe us.
We were always suspect, because we were not intimidated by anyone. In 1960, during the so-called Reynold Henry ‘uprising’, Wills Isaacs, acting as Premier while Manley was on a few days leave, insisted that we publish a ministerial statement by him calling upon Jamaicans to hunt down and capture and hogtie all stray bearded men in the interest of national security. We refused to broadcast the speech. Wills called me up, as the person then in charge of the newsroom and when I again refused he called Mr Manley. I told Mr Manley, when he called, that I had referred the speech to our legal adviser, Leacroft Robinson and he had agreed with me that the broadcast was an incitement to violence. When I told Manley this he agreed that we were right and told Wills to cool it.
A very similar row broke out in late 1961 or early 1962 when the JLP wanted us to put out a news release calling on “JLP Freedom Fighters” to give Mr Manley “a hot reception” on his return from pre-independence talks in London. I was again the person responsible for refusing the broadcast, on the same grounds I’d given Isaacs in 1960. Seaga and Lightbourne were at Bustamante’s house and got the old man to phone me to persuade me to allow the broadcast.
I refused and then Busta put on the Commissioner of Police, Noel Crosswell who said he saw nothing wrong with the release. Again I had Leacroft Robinson’s advice and again I refused.
When Manley arrived at Victoria Pier by motor-launch from the airport all hell broke loose, with Seaga’s “Freedom Fighters” locked in battle with Isaacs’ Group 69. During the fracas Isaacs’ licenced firearm fell to the ground and fortunately was picked up by a responsible adult. No one was seriously injured but I have always wondered what would have happened if Seaga’s call to arms had been broadcast.
When the 1962 elections finally came I was not among the JLP’s favourite people. Within weeks I was again in trouble. In my weekly news review I had been scathing about the departing British. After 300 years, I said, they had made the munificent bequest of one million pounds, sufficient to run the basic administration of the country for eleven days. They had also generously donated Up Park Camp, which I said was simply because they could not take it away.
On the following Monday Mr Seaga with Sir Alexander Bustamante in tow, both dressed in funereal black, arrived at the JBC to see, by appointment, the chairman, the jeweller, L.A. Henriques. They got him to agree that I should be sacked, over the objections of Hector Bernard who was then the Acting General Manager.
When the rest of the JBC Board heard what had happened they immediately convened a meeting to inform Henriques that he had no authority to sack anyone. He was forced to resign.
I was reinstated. A few weeks later the entire board, with the exception of Henry Fowler, was sacked. A few months later I was again fired, on a trumped up charge and by way of a post-dated letter signed by the General Manager, A.L. Micky Hendricks, who at the time was in London on JBC business.
The new government of independent Jamaica did not understand the necessity for the autonomy of a public service corporation such as the JBC. They saw malice in any decision that went against them and were totally unable to accept any criticism. The PNP, demoralised in defeat, was unable to defend the principles on which we had always operated. Eventually in 1964 the newsroom rebelled against the attempt by Seaga and the new JBC Chairman Ivan Levy’s to be news editors.
Despite the first largely middleclass strike and the longest in Jamaican history until then, the gallant workforce of the JBC was defeated and most forced into exiles.
The JBC was transformed into a partisan mouthpiecean image which it never shookbecause the JLP were determined to destroy everything we stood for.
I had another innings at the JBC in the 1970s when I was personally painted as the implacable enemy of the JLP and of Edward Seaga, because I had run against him in the 1972 elections when the PNP could find no one willing to run in the brand new garrison of West Kingston. Although my candidacy was solely to prevent Seaga running unopposed and being elected on nomination day, it was taken as an impertinence and an insult to Seaga.
Despite this, however, the JBC managed to recover some of its self-respect. I personally remember with gratitude the opportunity I was given to start the first real talk-show in Jamaica, the Public Eye.
Public Eye had a few signal achievements, presenting for the first time public exposure of police brutality in the person of Peter Tosh, whose account of his mistreatment brought Jamaica up short. People knew that police brutality was fairly common, but few realised how pervasive it was. When I spoke to Peter Tosh he was still relatively obscure but well enough known to make a big impression.
Public Eye was also mainly responsible for the successful campaign to reverse the unfair convictions and secure the release of Michael Bernard and six other men on death row because of perjured evidence.
Our greatest achievement, however, was in raising the Jamaican consciousness about the condition of working class women. Shortly after the programme began in February 1974 I interviewed Rosamund Wiltshire and Gillian Monroe who had just done an undergraduate thesis on the treatment of domestic helpers, up to then called servants and maids.
After the interview I invited the domestic helpers of Jamaica to phone me and tell Jamaica their stories. Soon, telephone locks were being imported by the thousands, so that householders could prevent the truth being told. I was accused of scandalising the middle class and one day an expensively dressed chatelaine in a stush Mercedes Benz spat at me as I walked down South Odeon Avenue. After more than a year of agitation Michael Manley, at the instigation of his wife, Beverley, called me up to Jamaica House one day.
“What are we going to do about the helpers?”
I had an answersuggested by the helpers themselves. Since they couldn’t form a union and couldn’t strike the society had to find the means to protect them from exploitation. A National Minimum Wage was the answer, but a National Minimum Wage policed by a special office which would also be responsible for defending all their rights.
Manley knew that everybody had said a national minimum wage would never work, that if implemented it would cause mass unemployment; but he, Beverley and I thought we should do it because it was right. Without consulting his Cabinet except for David Coore, he simply announced in Parliament that the government had decided to implement a National Minimum Wage and an office to supervise it.
Pandemonium. Jamaica knew the time had come for justice for the largest section of the labour force. Respect was due.
The impact of the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation on Jamaica has never been measured. It is my opinion that in its short periods of independence, the JBC helped begin the transformation of Jamaica from an ignorant colonial backwater into a civilised society. We have a long way to go, but the JBC proved that we have the brains and the will to do it.
If our traditions had been maintained I cannot imagine that 50 years later a Jamaican Governor General would be flying to Buckingham Palace to be knighted by the Queen as if he were some middle-ranking British civil servant.
In our cosmology, honour flowed not from England, but from the cane-cutters and domestic helpers, from the small farmers and the higglers, from the Rastas and all the people who constitute Jamaica, as we know it
When they say “Respect is Due” we know what they mean.
Copyright©2009 John Maxwell firstname.lastname@example.org
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For July 1st through August 31st 2011
#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”Lisa Adkins, University of London
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By Isabel Wilkerson
Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper’s wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man’s turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners’ plans to give him a “necktie party” (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by “the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn’t operate in his own home town.” Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist Wilkerson’s magnificent, extensively researched study of the “great migration,” the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an “uncertain existence” in the North and Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 21 June 2009