By Michael Hoad, MA
One legacy of the MLK visit: Rev. John Hoad, PhD
When (UWI Museum Curator) Suzanne Francis-Brown put out a call on Facebook for memorabilia of Dr. Martin Luther King’s visit to Jamaica in 1965, I was happy to share our original copy of a beautiful photo of the UWI service, with my father sitting directly behind Dr. King.
Suzanne then asked what legacy we thought came from that trip and its two speeches at UWI and National Stadium. I would suggest there was a specific legacy in the defiance of ministers of religion after the Rodney Riots, three years later in 1968.
The aftermath of the Rodney Riots is seared in memory. My parents collected me early from Jamaica College, because there were rumors violence might stray up Old Hope Road. And then a few days later, I strongly remember walking home from JC, past Papine Market, and the soldiers stationed at UWI gates. I knew that under martial law, they could shoot to kill, and it was unnerving to have each one stare at the only white kid on the street.
In the days after the Rodney Riots, my father began to speak out, now as President of the United Theological College of the West Indies. A native of Barbados, he was a deep believer in a Caribbean theology that demanded, as he said in a Gleaner-reported sermon, a black revolution, a white revolution, and a green revolution.
After Rodney’s expulsion, Rev. Hoad believed there was political and opportunistic over-reaction by Hugh Shearer’s government to Rodney himself, and then to the marches and subsequent riots. I’ve copied below a church summary of what happened next to Rev. Hoad and other ministers in Kingston. Said Rev Hoad: “Jesus looks upon Kingston and weeps.”
As you see in the church history below, Hugh Shearer summoned the heads of churches to demand they “rein in” preachers, including my father – who you may remember was sitting directly behind Martin Luther King during the UWI service. My father said the Methodist church administrator told him to “cool it.”
Here’s the full description:
“On Sunday, October 20, 1968, the Rev. John Hoad, a Methodist
Minister and at the time President of the United Theological
College of the West Indies, preached a sermon entitled “ THE
HEALTH OF A NATION” at the Patronal Festival of St. Luke’s
Church, Cross Roads . It was in the aftermath of the banning of
Professor Walter Rodney and the student demonstrations
(including students of U.T.C.W.I.) that ensued.
St. Luke’s Gospel is the one out of the four that emphasizes the
ministry to and the ministry of the poor, the outcast, the lepers, the
prodigal, the publicans and sinners. The preacher concluded his
sermon by saying: “St. Luke tells us how Jesus looked upon the
city of Jerusalem and wept. The same Jesus looks upon Kingston
and weeps. But St. Luke recognized in Jesus the Great Physician
of the SOUL AND OF THE NATION, and he proclaimed Christ’s
Gospel as a force that was revolutionary but not subversive.”
The Government of the day regarded that sermon as the last straw
and the Prime Minister summoned all the Heads of Churches to
demand that they rein in several preachers whose sermons were
deemed to be disturbing, including, of course, John Hoad, Ashley
Smith and Bill Smith, the Curate at St. Michael’s Church,
Kingston, whose Work Permit was not renewed.
The 1960s in Kingston was a time of cultural explosion. The years after independence saw strong voices, but they also saw a lingering timidity, by institutions like the established church, in challenging the government. So why did a Methodist minister, president of UTCWI, step into a direct confrontation with the ruling party?
My father could be accused of bias toward the Manleys in the 1960s – he took the funeral of Barbara Manley, and would drive Edna up into the hills because Edna was afraid of Norman’s fast driving. Michael Manley always said he was a man he loved. But Rev Hoad nevertheless honestly believed that the racial division of wealth and poverty would make Jesus weep. He was a great friend of Ras Dizzy, who would walk on the UTCWI campus and once made a beloved painting for my father of a black epiphany, which I have hanging on the wall. There’s another sermon reported in the Gleaner where my father praised the publication Abeng, and then someone praises him in turn in a 1969 issue of Abeng.
Even in the late 1960’s, my father’s public talks got me in trouble with Jamaica College teachers who were pro-JLP, although that got worse in the 1972 election, when Rev. Hoad signed a full page ad in the Gleaner denouncing the JLP for its use of religious references in the campaign.
I can’t say this entry of ministers into government business was a consequence of King’s visit; of course not. But I suspect the visit and King’s path of religiously-based nonviolence gave ministers the confidence to speak out publicly, even if at risk.
Back to the Rodney riots: You’ll see the government’s demand that churches “rein in” certain ministers, including the man who sat behind Dr. King during the UWI speech. In the first (1967) issue of the Jamaica Journal, my father authored an article about the three kinds of love, the same three discussed by Dr. King at the UWI service. I posit that the Rev Dr King gave him, and other “establishment” ministers, the confidence to defy the government, and you’ll see from the quote of Rev. Hoad’s sermon how much it sounds like Rev. King in saying “revolutionary but not subversive.”
One more retrospective to close. The two most tearful sermons I heard my father preach at Providence Methodist Church were memorials for John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King. The assassination of Dr. King was a searing moment. And for those who had passed through his orbit, an event that made people stronger even as they wept.