Dr. Martin Luther King's Jamaican Connections

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Photo credit: The Guardian

In the run-up to Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday in 2014, the Jamaican Observer noted that Dr. King was profoundly affected by his short trip to a newly independent Jamaica, when he visited the island, accompanied by his wife in 1965. During his visit Dr.King delivered addresses at the graduation ceremony at the University of the West Indies in Mona and to the public at the National Stadium.

The Observer noted that in Jamaica, a politically independent majority Black country, Dr. King saw the freedom he was fighting for in the US.  Dr. King was so impressed "that he returned in 1967 and rented a house where he completed the manuscript which became his most important book: Where Do We Go From Here."

Dr. King chose Jamaica, a independent Black country, because it mirrored his vision.

The Observer noted:

"This interlude of reflection came at a critical point in the struggle, both in terms of the direction of the civil rights movement and in his own thinking and vision which had broadened from civil rights in the USA to human rights for mankind.

He had come to the realization that there were commonalities between the issues in the US and the rest of the world, as did Malcolm X after his trip to Africa. Dr King expressed that global vision of interconnectedness as: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

He had come to realize that getting the right to vote was the means to legal desegregation but not necessarily to economic segregation, which trapped African-Americans in poverty. That, he knew, required employment and education to which Blacks had little access."

The Observer also noted the "remarkable overlap of ideas between Marcus Garvey, a father of the black liberation struggle in the US,  and Dr. King in regard to the need for political freedom to be supported by economic development and that this quest had parallels with people outside the US."

But Jamaica contributed to Dr. Martin Luther King's and Black America's struggle in other important ways. To note, two Jamaicans, the trade unionist Cleveland Robinson and singer and actor Harry Belafonte played key roles in the US civil rights struggle alongside Dr. King.

Both Robinson, whom Dr. King's biographer, Taylor Branch, acknowledges as one of  Dr. King key advisors, and Belafonte were key confidants, funders, supporters, and activists in the struggle with Dr. King. 

Jamaica and Jamaicans have played key roles in some of the epic struggles of the peoples of the Americas. Jamaica has been a place for refuge and reflection for revolutionary political activists such as Guyanese Dr. Walter Rodney, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Simon Bolivar, who penned the famous 'Jamaica Letter,' from Jamaica.  And the sons of Jamaica: Boukman in Haiti, Marcus Garvey in the Americas, and Robinson and Belafonte in the US., have made important contributions to liberation struggles in the Americas and around the world. 

The Observer rightly notes that Jamaica and Jamaicans "such as Ms. Mary Seacole, Messrs Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley, Claude McKay and Usain Bolt" continue to inspire people all over the world.

*This article has been reedited. It was first published on January 21, 1914.