We all know about Bob Marley and the Wailers, Usain Bolt, or Patrick Ewing, but what about other famous Jamaicans you might not have encountered during your day-to-day life? For this article, we gathered some of the most influential Jamaicans who made a difference during their lives, or even long after they were gone.
Famous Jamaican Activists
The leader of the black nationalist movement followed the Pan-Africanist agenda and economic ideologies. In the ’20s, Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association. This association gathered about a million members from North America, Africa, and the Caribbean.
He also founded a newspaper dedicated to the black community, which also held the community together and endorsed his views. But the most controversial initiative of Garvey was the development of the Black Star Line. The line was a transportation line aimed to encourage trade and travel between U.S. and the African continent.
In fact, many Rastafarians consider him a religious prophet. A few of them go as far as stating he’s the reincarnation of a saint. Many of his beliefs coincide with those of the Rastafarian movement. At the same time, some of his own beliefs influenced and defined Rastafarianism. As an honor of his lifelong work towards a better world, numerous educational institutions carry his name. Today, you can find a Marcus Garvey high school or college all over the United States, Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean.
Although most known for his music career, Harry Belafonte is one of the most famous Jamaicans for activism. Belafonte dedicated much of his life to being an activist for civil rights, humanitarian, and political activist. His mentor, Paul Robeson, influenced most of Harry Belafonte’s views. Much like Belafonte, Robeson was an actor and singer. However, he also held strong views on society and politics. He was a communist activist and opposed racial prejudice in the U.S. and colonialism in the African continent.
Harry Belafonte was a confidant for Martin Luther King Jr. He even helped King’s family since a preacher did not make a lot of money back then. He helped raise thousands of dollars for the release of the many civil rights protesters and even financed the freedom rides of 1961.
Harry Belafonte underlined the consequences of the U.S. foreign policy. He criticized the embargo on Cuba and the invasion of Grenada. He praised soviet’s peace initiatives, the Abraham Lincoln brigade, or Fidel Castro. In addition, Belafonte is responsible for the development of hip hop and rap in Cuba and for multiple campaigns against AIDS in Africa.
Belafonte also criticized and opposed the Bush administration with some subtle, but obvious statements regarding Colin Powell and Bush or other situations. He is also a long-time friend of the LGBT community, although not a part of it himself. In the 2016 election, Harry Belafonte endorsed the democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, stating he represents a moral imperative, opportunity, and a kind of truth America desperately needed.
The brilliant musician that is Bob Marley made reggae and Rastafarianism famous all over the world. The use of cannabis as a recreational and medical herb. Moreover, Bob Marley believed that smoking pot brought him closer to his true self, his conscience, and the world around him.
But plenty of his other views are reflected in his art. Most of them were influenced by the aforementioned Marcus Garvey, one of the most famous Jamaicans of this century. Over the course of his career, Marley called out for unity among Africans and those who derive from Africa, like Jamaicans, as per the Pan-African ideology. Some representative songs include “Zimbabwe”, “Survival”, “Redemption Song”, “Blackman Redemption” or “Exodus”.
Louise Bennett-Coverley, or Miss Lou in short, is most known for her folkloric and artistic writings. During the first half of the 1900s, Miss Lou traveled the world. She organized and participated in TV programs in a try to spread the word about the Jamaican culture. Thanks to Miss Lou, we currently have records of Jamaican folklore, traditional songs, and word-of-mouth customs. In 1974, Miss Lou received the Order of Jamaica for her efforts and results.
Ultimately, Miss Lou did much more than putting Jamaica on the map. She offered Jamaicans pride and confidence in their country and their heritage, which makes her not only one of the most famous Jamaicans but also a universally-adored one.
Linton Kwesi Johnson
Poet Linton Johnson didn’t only live for his art. He lived and created for his people, the African-Caribbean heritage, and for those whose voices were not loud enough. Lindon Kwesi Johnson talked about the British foreign policy or the government of Margaret Thatcher. He showed the world how they affected the day-to-day lives of Jamaicans and he helped to bring police brutality to light and established an educational trust for Jamaican schoolchildren.
Although he might not be among the 10 most famous Jamaicans, Linton Kwesi Johnson definitely was one of the most influential ones, especially for the Jamaicans.
Lenford “Steve” Harvey was an important part of the Jamaican AIDS Support for Life organization, being the group coordinator in Kingston. While holding this position, Lenford Harvey fought to bring awareness of the dangers of AIDS. He particularly focused on Jamaica’s marginalized groups like the LGBT community, sex workers, and prisoners. He also represented this community in the Caribbean and Latin America Council. In the last week of his life, Lenford “Steve” Harvey led a candle-lit vigil in honor and memory of all the AIDS victims out there.
Unfortunately, Lenford Harvey was brutally murdered because of his sexual orientation in 2005, but his efforts were not in vain. Yes, there are many others that did just the same. But Harvey changed many Jamaicans’ views on sexual orientation and sexually-transmitted diseases. Without him, the Jamaican society would have been very different today – as well as traveling to Jamaica as an LGBT member.
There are many other famous Jamaicans that changed the world through their actions and initiatives, music, or other kinds of art. The ones mentioned in this article are just a small fraction. But they changed so much about our world, that we might as well give them the well-deserved credit.