November 2011 Volume 8

Bishop Gibson’s Speech to the Legislative Council on Social Conditions in Jamaica

Staff reporter KC Times
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Compiled by Ronnie Chin.

The Rt. Rev. Percival Gibson was nominated to the Legislative Council by the Governor in 1954. Bishop Gibson retired from the Legislative Council in 1959. During his time in the Legislative  Council he gave many speeches, but his speech on  Social Conditions in Southern and Western Kingston in 1959 still rings true to this day.

The Speech as reprinted in “Percival Jamaica” by Janet Gentles

Mr. President, I think I should be failing in my duty in this House if I didn't support what the last speaker said, with regard to the appalling social conditions of Southern and Western Kingston. It is all very nice to have houses for the middle class and the lower middle class but when these houses have been erected and the population in those brackets properly looked after, they will have fear by night as well as by day; Government does not take steps to clear up the absolute mess that obtains on the Foreshore and places like Majesty Pen.

I am very well acquainted with the slums of Kingston. Speaking as a churchman, my Church is doing work in these areas, and I myself have gone there. The last time I went there I saw a family living in a derelict motor car. There were people whose children could hardly be distinguished from the pigs they kept, and these are the conditions still there.

I submit, Mr. President, that whilst the Government is to be congratulated on the steps it has been taking in providing accommodation for the respectable people in our community we have created an impression that people from abroad coming to Kingston have got to be careful, not only with regard to their pockets but with regard to their lives. -'

Now, Sir, I was told that it was actually reported in England that no  English person ought to come and live in Kingston, such were the conditions.  Jamaica is a place of extremes;" extreme wealth on the one hand and extreme poverty on the other. ,But there is no excuse whatever for our remaining content at a time when there is more                      money floating

I can remember since 1919 at a time when wages were low, people could not send their children to secondary schools. Today those same people are sending their children to secondary schools and I thought that one of the chief objectives of the Legislative Council is to have public questions like this aired so that the populace might know, so that the people who never darken the doors of Western and Southern Kingston might know what is going on right on their doorsteps.

And that is the reason why on Trafalgar Road, Seymour Avenue and other respectable areas of Kingston ladies wake up at night to find a revolver at their heads. These are the conditions in this country and the present generation seems to be taking it for granted that those who live in the pigsties of southwestern Kingston must remain there forever more and then the church is blamed for doing nothing. And when the church comes along and says "We are prepared to go and work for nothing -" our Deaconesses in the prison and at Majesty Pen get nothing by way of payment. The Church supports them for nothing, our laymen from St. Andrew working in the derelict portions of the community, not one penny goes to them. But if the Church wants an acre of land the Church has got to pay the bill. And in one of the housing communities the Church has had to turn down a proposition because of the exorbitant price charged for land. I am not speaking particularly on behalf of the Church of England - I am talking about anyone that wants to lift the standards of the common people.

In this morning's Gleaner you have in bold print the standards obtaining and we have got to stir public opinion and one of the means of establishing better housing and what the Government should do is sweep the foreshore of Jamaica. As Bishop of Jamaica and Member of the Legislative Council, I should be failing in my duty if I did not call the attention of the community to the appalling conditions with which the privileged members of our community are confronted.


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