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Imagine an alternative history for America, where slaves brought from Africa escaped the plantations, built strongholds and villages in the mountains, sowed terror among slaveholders through periodic raids, lived with, learned from, and fought alongside Native Americans, and created safe havens and powerful narratives of resistance for victims of the slave culture. Imagine those rebels fighting so bravely, so determinedly, that they defeated armies sent against them, and forced the American government to negotiate a truce, ceding them freedom and land ownership. Imagine those rebels celebrated in schools and on US currency as national heroes, and their descendants contributing as equals to the Constitution and government.

Welcome to Jamaica! The national motto is "Out of many, one people" - E pluribus unum, just like America, but they got there somewhat differently. Both Jamaica and America were British colonies strongly influenced by the importation of slaves from Africa, and plantation culture, but they followed different paths.


You must enter an Intro for your Diary Entry between 300 and 1150 characters long (that's approximately 50-175 words without any html or formatting markup).

Jamaica's Maroon culture (http://en.wikipedia.org/... is still strong - the imported slaves kept their culture: bush wisdom and medicine, jungle fighting tactics, West-African deities and narratives, and so on. They fought the Spanish, and then the British. They built villages and strongholds in the Jamaican interior, the densely forested hills of the highlands, and raided the lowland plantations for booty. I've walked old Maroon paths, where they'd ambush British soldiers and then disappear into the jungle. They still hunt with spears up there, keep gardens, live with the land, and tell the old stories.

Jamaica's national heroes all played a part in the campaign for freedom, justice, and independence. Some fought the British, some spoke out for freedom and justice and were martyred, some played a part in establishing Jamaica's independence. Nanny of the Maroons, Paul Bogle, Samuel Sharpe, Alexander Bustamente, Marcus Garvey, George William Gordon, Norman Manley - they were all champions for freedom, justice, and independence.

I spent time in Jamaica recently, which felt like a homecoming. I'm privileged to be Jamaican. Not by birth, or ancestry, or law. I'm Jamaican because I lived there for several years as a child. I've been back a few times since. And while there's certainly poverty, suffering and injustice, there's also a strong core of pride. I feel that Jamaican history, the narrative of revolt and independence, built something powerful.

Social, cultural, geographic, and political conditions all played a factor in making Jamaica a more receptive place for large-scale resistance to slavery than America. The suffering, sacrifices, bravery, dedication and wisdom of those who participated in the struggle for Emancipation, Civil Rights, and equality in both America and Jamaica inspired and influenced those in the other country. There are countless inspirational murals of Obama, painted on walls and buildings across Jamaica.

Martin Luther King Jr. choose a different path, of peace instead of violence. He lived in a different time and place. But he also spent time with those who felt it necessary to protect and defend their rights with violence. He understood and respected the common commitment to standing up for justice. I like to imagine that he and the Maroons would have gotten along just fine.

MLK Jr. did visit Jamaica:  June 20, 1965: Martin Luther King Jr. visits Jamaica, and gave a speech:

Dr. King's speech was entitled "Facing the Challenge of a New Age" and he spoke about the passing of an old colonial order, the need for a worldwide brotherhood given that we are all increasingly interdependent, the need to fight any kind of injustice with love and the need for us all to strive to be the best we can be at whatever we chose to do in our lives. When asked what they remembered about the sermon specifically, Allen, Gardner and Bryan each quoted the following segment:

"If it falls to our luck to be street-sweepers, sweep the streets like Raphael painted pictures, like Michaelangelo carved marble, like Shakespeare wrote poetry, and like Beethoven composed music. Sweep the streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth would have to pause and say 'Here lived a great street sweeper."

"The time is always right to do right," Dr. King exhorted, noting that "whenever a new nation comes into history, it brings with it new challenges and new responsibilities. The great challenge facing all of us today -- is to somehow stand before the opportunities of the moment and face the challenges of the hour with creativity and with commitment and with determination."

and it turns out that MLK Jr. was influenced by Jamaica:
Slain civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr got much of his inspiration for his books in the island of Jamaica. This, according to one of King's contemporaries, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, who himself has long held the country in high esteem...
He told the delegates that from 1961-1968, he and slain civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr would come to Jamaica "almost every January, where Dr King got inspiration to write his books".

It was here Young said, that Martin Luther King got his vision of what was possible and where he was able to devise ways to make it happen.

Just learned something new!
Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to erratic on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 06:58 PM PST.

Also republished by History for Kossacks, Black Kos community, and Community Spotlight.

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