Interviewer: Glenville Ashby, PhD
Glenville Ashby (GA): Dr Kennedy, you have written extensively about Daddy Sharpe, what does that name mean to you?
Fred Kennedy (FK): The Hon Samuel Sharpe, deservedly one of Jamaica’s seven National Heroes, represents for us the greatness of our people. He exhibits the qualities of self-sacrifice, honour and the bravery of spirit, which made him one of the great liberators of our past. He became a leader who fought against the injustices of slavery, with the intent, not to murder his oppressors, but to bring about freedom through social change. He possessed integrity and the strength of conviction to fight for what was right, no matter what the cost, even the sacrifice of his own li
fe. Persons like Sam Sharpe help to define for us who we are as a people and a nation.
GA: What more can be done to make our heroes household names, say, in the vein of Martin Luther King Jr?
FK: Every third Monday in January, thousands of activities are organized across the United States in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Equally in Jamaica, church, Government and private sponsored events could mark special days of celebration during the Heroes month of October each year: performances, parades, free admission and transportation to national parks, landmarks and museums Additional funding to the arts through the work of the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport would also go a long way to develop talent and promote awareness. Inclusion of detailed studies of the lives and works of National Heroes in schools and universities would also be a mark of recognition of the importance of preserving Jamaica’s national culture and heritage.
GA: Is history as a discipline lost with the emergence of tech-oriented societies?
FK: Not necessarily. Over the last ten years there has been an explosion of access to primary and secondary sources through the internet. The computer has become our library. We have experienced a paradigm shift. No longer does the teacher control information, which used to be the privilege of a few. The challenge now is to make this technology available to as many as possible. We must make sure that everyone benefits from this knowledge revolution. Equity of access is crucial, but so too is the ability of the users of technology to discern the validity of information and learn how to analyze and use it. Teachers have an important role to play in this regard.
GA: There is a distinct pattern emerging from your work. You gave us the critically acclaimed Huareo and the equally engaging Daddy Sharpe. In both books there is resistance to colonialism and oppression in general. Could you explain this thrust in your writings?
FK: Friends have made this same observation. On reflection, my own academic work in education shows the same orientation. My doctoral thesis was entitled Advanced Literacy at the Basic Level. It examined methods by which ‘failures’ in the system could learn to achieve high standards of literacy. My philosophy has always been, ‘Every student CAN learn’. I attribute this passion to my upbringing, to the values I learned at home and at school, of fairness, service and compassion. In later life, my historical research picked up the same themes, exploring the psychology of the disadvantaged, and the heroism of those who have been able to overcome seemingly impossible odds.
GA: Slavery was an international enterprise like no other: insurance companies, bankers, financiers, merchants, builders, large and small investors, all under a political and religious carapace. No doubt, white gentiles and Jews were unjustly rewarded. As you know, Dr Tony Martin’s research on this subject continues to stir debate. Where is Fred Kennedy on the reparations question?
FK: The transport to the Americas over a period of 300 years of more than 12 million Africans enslaved by Europeans and the millions of casualties that resulted are atrocities for which we need atonement and healing. In 2013, Caribbean Heads of Government established the Caricom Reparations Commission with a mandate to prepare the case for reparatory justice. The CRC outlines a comprehensive ten-step path to reconciliation, which aims to involve representatives from European nations in the process. I am in support of such a program.
GA: What are some of the main barriers to equality in today’s society?
FK: I have always believed education to be the great equalizer. It empowers individuals with the resources to be self-reliant. Knowledge is power; it gives people the right to freedom and shows the way to charting one’s own destiny. At home and at school, education promotes societal values, necessary for working productively and in harmony with others. It is education, which will eradicate poverty, and eventually the violence that besets our society.
GA: In Daddy Sharpe there is confusion among slaves particularly those born in Africa. When presented with Christianity they resisted, while other slaves (Creoles) became fervent apologists for a religion that arguably kept them oppressed. Were you trying to raise that little explored aspect of slavery at least from a psychological perspective?
FK: There was resistance by Africans to adopt Christianity, the mores and practices were so radically different from their own. The Maroon communities were able to preserve African customs, but many Creoles raised on the plantations in many instances lacked a deep knowledge or appreciation of their ancestors’ religions. Christianity offered for them a new opportunity for organized resistance.
GA: Arguably, central to Daddy Sharpe is the role of religion to the slave experience. Some argue that Christianity served to weaken active resistance while others saw the liberating aspect of religion in the lives of the oppressed. Where to stand on this very important subject?
FK: I can see both sides of the argument. By the 1830s Creole slaves, those born in the West Indies, were no longer able to use their African religious identity as a source of unification. Years of separation from the Mother Land had alienated many from their heritage. The liberation theology of Christianity filled this vacuum.
Its teachings, ‘no one can serve two masters’ provided a set of beliefs with which the slaves could identify and use to their advantage to seek freedom. The liberating power of literacy was also powerful.
With conversion to Christianity came the opportunity to learn the language of the oppressor. This exposed the slaves to the writings of Wilberforce and others who were lobbying for the abolition of slavery. The sectarians in the early nineteenth century, Baptists, Methodists, Wesleyans were driven not only by a zeal to ‘convert’ slaves to Christianity, but also, by so doing, to lobby for their freedom to parliamentarians in England.
There were different brands of Christianity, however. The sectarian groups were considered to be rogues by the established Church of England, evidenced by actions that Anglican ministers took to burning Baptist churches after the Sam Sharpe Rebellion. The Sam Sharpe Rebellion was, after all, called ‘The Baptist War’.
GA: One can argue that more than ever the horrors of past societies are still with us. There are still wars, state terrorism, human trafficking, injustice…I can go on and on. Should we be optimistic about the future?
FK: I have never subscribed to a philosophy of fatalism. I work that much harder to make sure I achieve what I want. By reading the works of those who centuries ago, it is clear to me that human consciousness has evolved leaps and bounds. Yes, we have wars, state terrorism and other evils, but it is faith in the triumph of the human spirit, it is education and the sharing of knowledge, which keep alive the resistance, and love is toward a greater good.
GA: Daddy Sharpe is quite detailed. What kind of research went into this work?
FK: People often think of writing as a solitary activity. Far from it, the Daddy Sharpe project entailed collaboration with historians, artists (including my own daughter, Sarah, who contributed illustrations), librarians, close friends and family who assisted with research and field trips. My work took five years to complete. I enjoyed every moment of the research, extending my knowledge of our heritage and of the heroes of the past who have helped shape our destiny.
GA: With bated breath we await your next book, an undertaking I understand that will add another chapter to the history of the Maroons. Could you give us a preview?
FK: My next book is about Montague James, leader of the Second Maroon War. I trace his origins to the land of the Asante in Africa, his capture into slavery and his travels across the Atlantic to Jamaica. It is the story of how he and five hundred other Maroons were transported to Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1796, and four years later sailed to Africa to settle in Freetown, Sierra Leone. We are carried on an adventure narrated by an African prince, who, once sold into slavery, fought against oppression to gain freedom for himself and his fellow Maroons.
GA: Finally, you have been an educator all your life, what word of counsel do you have for students, parents, colleagues and policy makers in Jamaica?
FK: Students, strive always to be your best, let no one tell you that you cannot succeed. Parents, believe in your children, afford them every opportunity to better themselves. Colleagues, treat every student with respect and fairness, be their surrogate parents. Policy makers, continue to make education a priority, institute and implement policies that guarantee the human rights of every child, of free and equitable access to the resources of learning.
Feedback: [email protected] .com or follow him on [email protected]
Aug 16, 2022Jeremiah Scott bagged six wickets for 27 runs from seven overs to hand One Movement CC a 135-run win over Rebels when the teams collided in a 35-over fixture on Saturday at LBI. One Movement CC...
Aug 16, 2022
Aug 16, 2022
Aug 16, 2022
Aug 16, 2022
Aug 16, 2022
By Sir Ronald Sanders Kaieteur News – So far in this attempt to answer the question, “Has CARICOM reached its limits... more
Freedom of speech is our core value at Kaieteur News. If the letter/e-mail you sent was not published, and you believe that its contents were not libellous, let us know, please contact us by phone or email.
Feel free to send us your comments and/or criticisms.
Contact: 624-6456; 225-8452; 225-8458; 225-8463; 225-8465; 225-8473 or 225-8491.
Or by Email: [email protected] / [email protected]