Inside Harlem: Jamaicans Celebrate Two Milestones In Harlem

July 31, 2014

Jamaica 52Photo and words by Vinette K. Pryce

Jamaicans in New York rallied with purposeful prayers to give thanks for their island’s 52 years of independence and also for the longevity of one of its oldest organization in the United States.

The double celebratory service held at United Moravian Church in Harlem hailed the Jamaica Progressive League, Inc., a trail –blazing organization which was launched in Harlem in 1936. Conceived and launched specifically to bring self –government and independence to Jamaica, theJPL now boasts their initial drive to realize self-rule. For the 78th anniversary celebration worship and music combined for a fitting acknowledgement of the path dedicated members have invested throughout the years. Longtime members and latter day patrons marked the occasion singing hymns, referencing the Bible and afterwards during a reception shared food and beverages familiar to the island.

“Although it gets harder and harder, we have to maintain this tradition,” Jamaican, Harlem resident Vincent Miller said.

One of the longtime members of the organization, he has seen the transition which through the years has expanded to focus on issues of advocacy for nationals residing here in the USA

In addition to collaborating with the People’s National Party to champion the cause for independence the JPL has also advocated for reforms for fair wages, education, health, land settlement, agriculture, industry and fairness with appointments to the civil service sector.

There was a time when Jamaicans relied heavily on the JPL in order to bond with the nation. Without a consulate or diplomatic spokesperson to advocate the issues of concern, the JPL provided an atmosphere similar to home away from home. With headquarters at 57th St. in Manhattan, the JPL probably reached the pinnacle of connection with divisions that directly related to the needs of the immigrant group. A youth division regularly hosted a weekly weekendsession. It was no surprise that Bob Marley stopped into the mid-town location to meet and greet fans and share in the festivities of the evening. The annual independence gala held at the American Hotel provides nostalgic reflection on the merriment celebrated for an independent Jamaica.

Rev. Hopeton Clennon spoke to the many historic achievements since Christopher Columbus allegedly ‘discovered’ the land of wood and water. In a sermon he traced the decades of struggle and history since the Spanish colonizers landed on the island through the era of British conquest and into 1962 when Jamaicans took control of their own destiny by hoisting the black, green and gold banner of self-government.

Although an official thanksgiving service is annually held, the JPL in conjunction with the Harlem church congregate to mark the two milestone achievements.

In conjunction with the Jamaica consulate the official independence service will be held at New Jerusalem Baptist Church, 122-05 Smith Street (corner of Guy R. Brewer & Baisley Blvds) on Aug. 3 at 4 p.m.


A condolence book will remain open at the Jamaica consulate until Aug. 5 in order that anyone wanting to sign or leave a message can pay tribute to the lifelong contribution of former Governor General Sir Howard Cooke who died July 11. The 98-year-old former GG will be accorded a state funeral on Aug. 8.

According to the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) the Cabinet voted the decision and the funeral will be held at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kingston. Interment will follow at the National Heroes Park where four prime ministers – Michael Manley, Hugh Shearer, Donald Sangster and Alexander Bustamante – the island’s first Premier Norman Manley, the island’s first national hero – Marcus Mosiah Garvey along with other national heroes —Sam Sharpe and Paul Bogle — folk hero Louise Bennett Coverley among others were laid to rest.

An elected member of the West Indies Federal Parliament in 1958 Cooke was a member of the first Parliament of an independent Jamaica in 1962. He served as Governor General of Jamaica from 1991-2006.

He was one of the founding fathers of the ruling People’s National Party and Jamaica’s fourth GG.

For more information call the consulate at 212-935-9000.

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