Liberty Hall

Liberty Hall

Parish: Kingston

National Hero, the Rt. Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey, was born in St. Ann's Bay from humble beginnings but by the time of his death in 1940, had become an international figure who had travelled the continents of Europe and the Americas. He is probably one of Jamaica's best-known citizens. His Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A) which he founded in 1914 with its slogan "One God! One Aim! One Destiny" became a symbol of hope for the downtrodden black race.

The U.N.I.A was intended to improve the conditions of black people around the world. The constitution required each U.N.I.A. to have a Liberty Hall, which was its headquarters. Liberty Halls existed in New York, Panama, Costa Rica and Belize.

Liberty Hall located at 76 King Street, Kingston was the centre of activities for the Kingston division of The U.N.I.A. It was acquired in 1923 for eight hundred pounds sterling (£800). The two-storey building was the first meeting hall in Jamaica that was fully owned and operated by blacks. It was the home to plays, concerts, dances, elocution pieces, adult and children's choirs. One famous play, which took place here, was the "Slave Ship", which recaptured the horrors of the Middle Passage.

Liberty Hall was so named because of Garvey's great admiration for the Irish independence movement and the Irish Transport and General Workers Union whose headquarters in Dublin was named Liberty Hall in 1912. It was at this place, described as "the fortress of the militant working class of Ireland" that many plans were made for Irish self-determination, and Garvey saw the U.N.I.A struggle as being akin to that of the Irish. Indeed, when the British parliament passed the Irish Free State Act in 1922, Garvey sent the Irish freedom fighters a cable " Six thousands of us assembled in Liberty Hall, New York, representing the 400 millions Negroes of the world send you congratulation on your masterly achievement".

Liberty Halls were seen as the spiritual tabernacle for the entire movement inspiring U.N.I.A members everywhere to establish them as meeting places in their communities. Many Jamaicans benefited from the educational activities that were held at Liberty Hall. These included Sir Phillip Sherlock, educator, social worker, former secretary of the Institute of Jamaica and vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies, Father Gladstone Wilson, who in 1932 became the first Negro tutor at the Urban College in Rome, Wesley Powell who later founded the Excelsior Educational Complex or Institutions, Dalton James, noted teacher and Amy Bailey, an advocate for women's rights. Actors and musicians also benefited from the performances that were held here. These included Ranny Williams, who became a noted actor and comedian.

By 1927, when Garvey was deported from the United States, there were 1400 Liberty Halls in different parts of the world. Because of economic problems Liberty Hall, King Street was sold in the 1930's. The sale of Liberty Hall, King Street resulted from the failure of business activities, undertaken by the U.N.I.A. Examples of these failures were the collapse of the Black Star Line, the shipping company, which was supposed to ship the produce of black entrepreneurs across the globe, and the bankruptcy of Liberty Hall, New York.

After 60 years of inactivity and decay, Liberty Hall, King Street was purchased by the Government of Jamaica for the people of Jamaica in 1987, the centenary of Garvey's birth. It was restored and finally re-opened on October 20, 2003. It now houses the Garvey Multimedia Museum, the Garvey Research Reference Library and the Garvey Multimedia Computer Centre. The Garvey Great Hall, located on the second floor is a venue for public functions such as symposiums, lectures and cultural events. It is the host for outreach programmes, dance, drama and music programmes.

The Jamaica National Heritage Trust declared Liberty Hall a national monument on the 5th November 1992 by reason of its historical significance. It is presently managed by the Institute of Jamaica and is open to the public. Liberty Hall is decked in colours red, black and green, which are of much significance. The red denotes the blood of the Negro race nobly shed in the past and dedicated to the future; black represents the colour of the skin and green represents a promise of a better life in Africa. This monument stands as a proud reminder to all Jamaicans, and indeed to all visitors of the works and achievements of the great visionary and National Hero the Rt. Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey.




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