Have you ever been to DownTown Kingston and traveled around Parade? Yes, that area at the centre of Kingston – an area that was once used to house military barracks before these were moved to Up Park Camp in the mid-18th century – with that lovely park that somehow people have either forgotten or are totally ignorant (and not the fault of many) of the historical significance of this park.
This is the place of interest in today’s blog post, especially focusing on the person after whom the park was named. This piece of green and beauty in the centre of Kingston is called St. William Grant Park, and is named after the notable labour leader and Black nationalist, St. William Grant.
Who was St. William Grant?
The park was actually renamed St. William Grant Park in 1977, in memory of Mr. Grant after his death on August 27, 1977. It was formerly called Victoria Park, after Queen Victoria. Yes the same Queen mentioned in the old folk song that proclaims “Queen Victoria set we free.” That in itself is another post.
St. William Wellington Wellwood Grant – very interesting name! – was born on April 15, 1894. He was a World War I veteran, who served in the eleventh battalion of the British West Indies Regiment (BWIR) (Smith 2004). According to Olive Senior (2003, pg. 376) he “came to national attention by preaching his message of African redemption to crowds at many locations, chief of which was the park which now bears his name.” The following is an excerpt from the citation about Mr. Grant when he was awarded the Order of Distinction (Officer) in 1974 (The Daily Gleaner, Wednesday, August 7, 1974, pg. 6):
Mr. Grant began the weekly Sunday evening forums at North Parade — which became an important feature of Jamaican life and was regarded as the “University of the People”.
At that time North Parade was also known as Lemon Corner (The Daily Gleaner, Monday, September 5, 1977, pg. 7).
Mr Grant changed his venue daily in order to reach a wider audience with his message of African redemption. Some of his favourite spots were Victoria Park, Coke Memorial Church, the corners of Oxford Street and Spanish Town Road and Love Lane. He also held meetings at Kingston Race Course, which is now National Heroes Park, and also travelled to the rural areas with his message.
To ensure that the people, who came out in their numbers to listen to and learn from him, heard his message clearly, he had a platform built, about five feet high with steps, from which the red, black and green UNIA flag was flown (White 1979, pg. 58). It was from this platform that Alexander Bustamante, Jamaica’s first Prime Minister after the country gained its independence on August 6, 1962, first addressed a public gathering in Jamaica. This is what Noel White (1979, pg. 58) writes of Mr. Bustamante’s first public speech, facilitated by Mr. Grant:
One evening in 1937 when Grant was addressing a crowd at the corner of Love Lane an North Parade, he spied a face he knew from his days in New York. It was the face of Alexander Bustamante who had been working in a Jewish Hospital there. Grant invited Busta to come up and say a few words. However, when the crowd saw Bustamante they objected. They shouted that they didn’t want any white man to address them. Grant informed them that Busta was coloured. As one young fellow named Ray still insisted that Busta should not speak the impulsive Grant jumped off the platform and began to punch Ray. To prevent confusion, Grant’s Lieutenant, Evan Francis, raised the hymn “Every morning the red sun”. By the time the hymn was ended the crowd had decided to put its trust in St. William Grant and its members allowed Bustamante to speak.
So began Bustamante’s illustrious and national career in Jamaica. But what became of Grant?
Grant Organises the first ever Labour Day March
By 1938, Grant was becoming increasingly concerned about the plight of labourers in the country and shifted his speeches from African history to “exhorting crowds to make the wider society aware of their sufferings.” He also became involved with the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) and and was appointed general organiser of the BITU, becoming Bustamante’s right hand man in the fight for the rights of labourers.
On May 2, 1938, at around midnight, Grant led a crowd of some 3,000 people he was addressing in Victoria Park to the offices of the Jamaica Standard newspaper to try and enlist the editor’s support in making known the plight of the poor and working classes across the country.
This was followed on May 3 with another labour march organised by Grant, who led a group of 500 persons along West Queen Street to an unoccupied lot called Dark Park. The crowd, already incensed by the happenings at Frome in Westmoreland, were shouting out “Down with Imperialism” (White 1979, pp. 58-59).
Grant and Bustamante Arrested
On May 24, 1938, Grant, along with Bustamante, were arrested under the Riot Act. Both men were charged with inciting unlawful assembly on the day of their arrest, as they were prevented from holding a meeting on Spanish Town Road.
They were eventually released on Saturday, May 28, 1938.
Grant Splits with Bustamante and Fades into Obscurity
However, despite being brothers in the fight for the rights of labourers, all was not well in the Grant-Bustamante camp. Disputes occurred between both labour leaders that eventually led to Grant severing ties with the BITU.
Greater details on the disputes that led to the split can be found in Noel White’s Jamaica Journal article referenced below.
It seems this split did not bode well for Grant’s future. White describes Grant’s life after this split as follows:
… St. William Grant slipped out of the forefront of active public life to live a life of near-poverty. In the 1950’s he took a job as a night watchman at the Central Housing Authority, later to be called the Ministry of Housing, and remained there for some 27 years, struggling up to the time of his death, with a mere $36.80 per week to support himself and his wife, whom he married in 1952.
He continued to be a strong believer in the teachings of Garvey, and even continued, during the 1950s, his lectures at Victoria Park.
Accolades and National Honours
In the 1950s, Mr. Grant was elevated to the rank of General in the UNIA. He was formerly a Brigadier-General.
On National Heroes Day in 1974, Mr. Grant received the Order of Distinction (Officer) medal.
In 1976, the Pan-African Secretariat of Jamaica, presented to Mr. Grant “The Pan African Award of Excellence” certificate” in recognition of his dedication and “personal sacrifice to unite the people to resist all forms of oppression,” his “consistent anti-imperialist stand” and his “work as a Jamaican Nationalist” (White 1979, pg. 62).
Grant made his last public appearance on August 12, 1977, when he went to view the body of Sir Alexander Bustamante at the BITU headquarters. He later died on August 27. He was accorded an offical funeral on September 5, 1977, which was held at the Holy Trinity Cathedral.
In September 1977 a motion was proposed in a meeting of the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC) that Victoria Park, one of Grant’s former meeting grounds, should be renamed the St. William Grant Park. The motion received unanimous approval.
And that, folks, is why the park at Parade, Kingston is named St. William Grant Park, after the fiery labour leader and Black nationalist, St. William Wellington Wellwood Grant, O.D., April 15, 1894 – August 27, 1977.
Until next time…
Smith, Richard (2004) Jamaican Volunteers in the First World War: Race, masculinity and the development of national consciousness. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
The Daily Gleaner, Wednesday, May 4, 1938, pg. 1
The Daily Gleaner, Monday, May 30, 1938, pg. 1 & 7
The Daily Gleaner, Saturday, April 18, 1942, pg. 14
The Daily Gleaner, Wednesday, August 7, 1974, pg. 6
The Daily Gleaner, Monday, September 5, 1977, pg. 7
The Sunday Gleaner, September 11, 1977, pg. 23
The Daily Gleaner, Tuesday, October 18, 1977, pg. 3
White, Noel (1979) St. William Wellington Grant: a Fighter for Black Dignity. Jamaica Journal, Vol 13-15 (43), pp. 56-63