I could have been among Prime Minister Theresa May’s Disinherited (Conclusion): Guest Post by Professor Bernard Headley

I am pleased to present to you, for your reading pleasure, the second part of Professor Bernard Headley’s family story of migration, and what might have been. In those days, as now, these are weighty and complex decisions that vary from one family – or one family member – to the next. Sometimes, too, timing is everything.

Please enjoy, and as always do send feedback directly to Professor Headley via email at bernardheadley1@gmail.com – or send me a note, if you wish.

I could have been among Prime Minister Theresa May’s disinherited (Conclusion)

Bernard Headley

(assisted by Kamal Headley)

Bernard Headley Ph.D.,  is a retired professor of Criminology, the University of the West Indies (U.W.I), Mona and Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Justice Studies at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. Author of several scholarly books and articles on crime and migration, he is a co-founder of the National Organisation of Deported Migrants (NODM), a Kingston-based NGO and social business enterprise.

The Great Migration to Great Britain of the Jamaican peasantry began in 1948 when 482 men paid their 28 Pounds fare and boarded the Empire Windrush vessel bound for London. In the next ten to fifteen years, hundreds of thousands of Jamaican men, their wives, and children would make the journey. This massive transplantation was widely seen as positive and neutrally beneficial for the two countries.

(I remember these “prefabs” in London in my postwar childhood)…Post War Planning and Reconstruction in Britain: The Construction of Temporary Housing. Workmen fitting out a bathroom in a Uniseco prefabricated emergency house. © IWM (D 24184). From Imperial War Museum collection: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205211408

For Britain, whose industrial infrastructure—its electric grids, plants, roads, bridges, and railways—had suffered ruinously from relentless bombardment from the German Luftwaffe, the Great West Indian Migration meant reclaiming an international foothold. The country needed a mass of strong, able-bodied men who could work hard and long—a bill that Jamaicans and other West Indians could easily fill. And build the migrant Jamaicans and their families did. So much so that in just over thirty years of their initial arrival—and with large-scale transfusion of United States capital—Britain came roaring back as a military-industrial-financial powerhouse, overwhelmingly defeating the Argentine military in 1982, in the Falkland Islands dust-up

National Upsides

On the other side of the equation, Jamaica’s colonial ruling political-economic order of the day benefitted tremendously. Migration had, since Emancipation, always been a safety valve for the society. It would regularly reduce the pressure of rapid population growth on the inability of the country to produce livelihoods for the poor and disenfranchised. Britain’s opening up was a godsend!

The benefit seen by the massive numbers of “people from below” was that migration to Britain was an opportunity. It was an opportunity to escape “persistent poverty.”  Practically all of the twenty-something-year-old men boarding Windrush voyages told onlookers that they were looking forward to going to London; that they were not looking back: that they had no reason to think of returning to the island.

The older groups of men were less sanguine. They anxiously talked about wives and children they were leaving behind. Some said they were only going up for maybe five to ten years and send back some funds. A larger number of the more mature men indicated that they planned to send for their wives and children in a year or two; that they would be planning to bring them up to Britain and resettle there. This, they figured, would give their children a leg-up on the chance for a good education and ultimately a rewarding profession.

My father’s thinking in 1952 was clearly in the latter camp. He had viewed his situation as dire, if not desperate. He needed a plan to join his rural compatriots in migrating up to England. But he knew that this could not be a topic he could raise with our mother, who had over the years forcefully resisted any such talk. He figured, however, that he simply had to “take the bull by the horns.” He had to strategize a plan that was stealthy but not devious. And the plan would have to be so well laid that by the time his wife could try to coax him out of it, he’d be well out in the Atlantic. Once in Britain, he’d save enough to send for his family. Their one-way, no-return tickets would be their escape from a life of endless hardship and uncertain future.

First things first though: Uncle Windsor had told him he needed to see about his passport and to obtain a reference letter. Having recently traveled to a couple of Caribbean islands, selling books as an Adventist colporteur, he had a passport, a British passport, which meant that, as a colonial British subject, he could live anywhere in Britain, the “mother country”, as a British citizen. The same would be true for his dependent children, who would be traveling up on their mother’s anticipated British passport. He’d have to see about the reference letter.

A Royal Mail van in Jamaica. (Photo: National Library of Jamaica/The History of the Post Office in Jamaica)

Journey to Nowhere

One of the things my father gave up when he joined his wife’s Mount Carey Seventh-day Adventist Church was his nice, cushy job as the driver of a McCauley’s Royal Mail vehicle. He loved that job. The Royal Mail route plied between Anchovy and Green Island, in Hanover.

He gave up the job because it involved working on Saturdays, the Adventist Holy Rest Day, strict obedience to which was a test of true SDA discipleship. His boss and company owner, Gerald McCauley, was incredulous when he received my father’s letter resigning his job.

My father had in the ten years of his employment with McCauley increased daily in respect and admiration from his boss and fellow workers. McCauley frequently told him that he was his most trusted, reliable and most dignified employee.

My father left McCauley’s bus company with newfound respect from his boss. Any man who held so firmly to his religious beliefs and religious values, McCauley had told him, was a principled, solid and morally sound man. If there was anything he could do for him in the future, McCauley told my father, he’d be happy to do so. He further said he’d be always looking out for him.

Seven years of fits and starts, disappointments and harsh failures, after marrying and leaving his steady job, led my father to his secret going-to-England plan. For that reference letter, he would secretly go to his friend and former boss, Gerald McCauley.

When my father on a Tuesday morning in April 1952 walked into McCauley’s office in Kingston the company owner greeted him with unusual warmth, slapping him several times on the shoulder. Clearly, McCauley had something to tell him, but he let my father talk first. My father explained to McCauley the reason he had come all the way from Mount Carey to see him. At that point, the company man burst out in big laughter. “You are not going to no England, Headley,” he said firmly.

“Just yesterday I was calling your name,” McCauley told my father, “You know why? Last week I signed a hell’vacontract with the Canadian bauxite company that recently started operations in Williamsfield, Manchester.” (The plant would later be named as Kirkvine Works.)

The contract McCauley signed with Alumina Jamaica Limited was for his company to allocate four thirty-two seat buses, with drivers, to transport from Mandeville to the plant expatriate and white-collar workers. “But you know why I’ve been thinking of you, Headley? I need someone to put in Mandeville to both drive a bus and supervise the entire operation. The most qualified, principled and honorable person I could think of for the job was you. And you know what the most beautiful thing about this job is, Headley, which you will love? It won’t involve no Saturday work! You park the buses on Friday evening and you can go and worship your God in peace all day Saturday.”

McCauley did not ask whether he accepted or not. He simply said, “I need you in Mandeville first thing next week to assume responsibilities.” My father said he’d be there.

Bernard Headley’s father, Allan, in front of his house in Mandeville in 1965 – with his Opel sedan. (Photo courtesy of Professor Bernard Headley).

No other argument

My father returned to Mount Carey with the exciting news, but only told my mother only the part about the new job, not about his original intent in going to see McCauley. Would she consider pulling up her Emancipation-era roots in Mount Carey, and move the family to live in Mandeville? She said yes.

Together my parents built in Mandeville a modest but comfortable house. And my father, for the first time in his life, was able to purchase a presentable car—a 1959 Opel sedan, a German car! Around the family dinner table one Sunday, several years after the move to Mandeville, he confessed the details and the full scope of his going-to-England plan. My mother sat in cold silence listening. She would testify, after he concluded the story, with words that echoed the hymn writer, Eliza E. Hewitt: “I need no other argument.” Divine interruption of my father’s going-to-England plan was “evidence enough…. ENOUGH!…. that there is a God.”

Spared, we were, from Tory government-heaped ignominy of no re-entry, removal, and deportation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.