Thursday, June 19, 2008

Frank Gordon: “We’re missing the bus!”

Frank Gordon during interview - Jean Lowrie-Chin photo

by Jean Lowrie-Chin
column from the Jamaica Observer

Frank Gordon did not get his wish when our last GG was being sworn in. The 84-year-old local UNIA leader had wanted the installation of Professor Kenneth Hall, to be held at the National Stadium.

“In 1962, I wrote a letter to Culture Minister Edward Seaga, that our first Black Governor General should be installed in the National Stadium,” recalls Frank, “Then I wrote to Sir Alexander, suggesting the same thing. Although they did not reply, the announcement was made that the Governor General, Sir Clifford Campbell would be installed at the Stadium in December 1962.” Frank rues the fact that our other native GGs have been installed “in colonial style at Kings House.”

Like his hero, Marcus Garvey, Frank believes in the power of symbolism to inspire pride and unity. “As a Catholic, I learned that a sacrament is an outward sign of inward grace,” says Frank. “Our flag is like a national sacrament, yet we don’t even have a standard for the gold we use.”

Frank Gordon who received the national honour of Order of Distinction in 1972, believes we are missing the bus on various levels of national life, simply because we are not including grassroots Jamaicans in important issues. “There is no sub-leadership in communities,” he believes. “This is why there is so much crime. People are not feeling a part of national development. With tourism growing, we should have more concert halls throughout Jamaica, more performances in parks, more craft making centres and cottage industries. This once-a-year Festival is not enough to keep our people involved. Look at the employment this would create, so we can stop the constant begging.”

This patriot is disappointed with the “dragged-out” campaigning of the PNP presidential candidates, especially since he doesn’t see any effort to raise the awareness of grassroots people on important national issues. “This is why I hope they have the debate on TV, so that the whole country can hear what these leaders have to offer,” he states.

In spite of his age, the sharp-minded Mass Frank is still moving about the city, though no longer on his beloved bicycle. He has observed “the lack of love between the Police and the people”, attributing this to the archaic 1865 Constabulary Act under which the police had crushed the Morant Bay Rebellion, and under which they still operate. “We need to change this colonial act and build a National Police Service,” he insists. “Then the police will be more about service and less about force.” Now isn’t that original thinking?

It comes from a man who believes in staying connected to his people. Frank is far more than a witness to the formative years of our young nation. “I was born on Love Lane in 1922,” he reminisces. “Kingston was the cultural epicentre of Jamaica. We saw great international stars performing at the Ward Theatre, and listened to the young leaders giving speeches in Victoria Park.”

Frank started frequenting Liberty Hall at 12 years old, and studied at the feet of famous Jamaicans Marcus Garvey and St. William Grant. “St William Grant taught us young boys history, not from a book, because he could not read. But he had the sharpest mind and a photographic memory, so he told us of events, handed down through generations.”

From St William Grant, Frank learned about Toussaint L’Ouverture and other Caribbean and African leaders. Meanwhile others were flocking to Edelweiss Park on Slipe Road where Marcus Garvey taught elocution. “Out of those classes came Ranny Williams and other big name entertainers,” he recalls.

Frank remembers the day that St. William Grant introduced a lanky brown man to the crowd at Victoria Park. It was the young workers’ advocate Alexander Bustamante. “He wore a suit with a close fitting jacket, sporting those elbow patches that the fellows in the bank wore,” said Frank.

Young Frank attended St. Joseph’s Infant School at Duke Street, and would see the well-dressed Marcus Garvey, holding intense conversations at the corner of Duke and Sutton Streets. “Garvey always looked sharp,” reminisced Frank. “He wore braces, a watch and chain.”

Frank singles out the Hill family as being among the most significant contributors to arts and education in Jamaica. “They were well educated at St. George’s College. Frank and Ken Hill engaged in stimulating debates. Stephen Hill exposed us to fine entertainment and young Robert Hill compiled volumes of Garvey’s writings.” He says Ken Hill brought great respect to the office of Mayor of Kingston: “In 1951, after the passing of Hurricane Charlie, the Governor Sir Hugh Foot, went to a planning meeting at the Mayor’s house in Kencot.”

Frank believes that this admiration for Hill engendered jealousy and caused the rift between the four Hs (Frank and Ken Hill, Richard Hart and Arthur Henry) and other members of the PNP, which eventually led to their expulsion from the party.

Frank Gordon thinks we have lost sight of our proud heritage. “Look at the words of Walter ‘WA’ McBean with “Workers of Jamaica, lift your voices strong” in 1938. There are great Jamaican songs that our children don’t know.” He is glad that TVJ has started a competition for young choirs, and hopes this is the start of a new appreciation of “real music”.

A passionate participant in several organisations, Frank has travelled widely sharing ideas at conferences in Africa, Europe and Asia. The former JAMAL officer wants political history to be part of our school curriculum. “It is an essential tool for development, for the survival of our movement to self determination,” says the dedicated Garveyite. “Today we have more technology and less learning.”

Frank Gordon studied history and enjoyed deep discussions with the late Hector Wynter when he was Resident Tutor at UWI. He also hails the consciousness of Alvaro Casserly, Karl Hendrickson, the late Ken Sherwood and Lois Lake-Sherwood.

Frank firmly believes, “When you are small, black and poor, there are people who feel you must not move higher.” So when we end this interview at dusk, Frank heads back to his desk at the UNIA office on Duke Street. There is work to be done.


  1. Dionne Jackson MillerApril 10, 2012 at 9:51 AM

    Remarkable man. Jean, we should have an interview with him on Thursday at 6.10 9I seem to be following in your footsteps with these interviews!!)

  2. That's a must listen Dionne! Your Jamaica 50 interviews have been wonderful - Molly Rhone says her phone kept ringing after your programme. You are putting Jamaica 50 in context - thank you!