|An artist’s impression of Samuel Jackman Prescod (FP)|
If a man’s greatness is measured by his humanitarian efforts and what he does to improve the lives of those around him and unborn generations, then the Right Excellent Samuel Jackman Prescod could be described as great.
He hated that dehumanising and debilitating institution called slavery and was selfless in his approach to assist in removing that injustice, so all, regardless of colour, could achieve their true potential.
Indeed, it is no wonder then that this statesman is being acknowledged for his outstanding contribution to Barbados’ history during this year’s celebration of National Heroes’ Day on April 28. To this effect, there will be a thanksgiving service tomorrow, Wednesday, April 27, at noon at St. Mary’s Church, the City, followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of the Right Excellent Samuel Jackman Prescod.??
Born out of wedlock in 1806 to Lydia Smith, a Free Coloured woman and William Prescod, a wealthy landowner, he was named after Samuel Jackman, a rich white planter in St. Peter. He attended St. Mary’s School and was later apprenticed as a joiner.
The precedent had been set – men of Prescod’s complexion were given menial jobs, but he was determined that the sky was his limit and that he was not going to spend his life as a second-class citizen.
??With this in mind, he denounced abuses and supported reforms that affected all classes in the community. The masses put their confidence in him and Prescod used his influence to build a political organisation – The Liberal Party – which fought for social justice for nearly three decades.
??The National Heroes of Barbados booklet, published by the Barbados Government Information Service, suggests that Mr. Prescod’s greatest impact on people was probably through the printed page. It states: "Recognising the power of the pen, he used the newspapers, of which he was editor, to write scathing articles accusing the planters of pursuing policies which suppressed Blacks and so made freedom unimportant.
"Through this forum, he also provided free discussion on all topics relating to the labouring population and he tried to unite the Free Coloured, the apprenticed workers and the Poor Whites against the powerful plantocracy."
Mr. Prescod was the editor of the "New Times" newspaper for eight months, but gave up the position because he felt the owners had reneged on their promise to give him full editorial control. He later joined "The Liberal" newspaper, which was founded by the Poor Whites, and spent 25 years educating the masses through its pages. When this newspaper ran into financial difficulties a few months after being launched, Prescod and Thomas Harris bought it, and he continued defending the rights of Blacks.
It is no wonder that historians argue that he was more effective as a journalist than as a Member of the House of Assembly. He was elected to sit in the House on June 6, 1843, as one of two members for the City of Bridgetown, becoming the first non-White to sit there.
Mr. Prescod’s fearless deeds continued in the House of Assembly for nearly 20 years as he opposed class legislation and defended the welfare of the underprivileged. He was also instrumental in getting the Secretary of State to decide that certain clauses in the Police Act be reconsidered and readjusted because he felt
they had sought to "maintain unjust distinctions between white and coloured people". He retired from Parliament in 1860 and later accepted the office of Judge of the Assistant Court of Appeal.
He died on September 26, 1871, at the age of 65 and was buried in St. Mary’s Church Yard. The "Barbados Times" described him as "the great tribune of the people" who had not been induced to "swerve one jot or title from his allegiance to the cause of right and justice".
The editor of the "Agricultural Reporter", a newspaper produced by his adversaries, the elite white planters, stated: "Such a man is scarcely likely ever to appear upon the scene of life here or anywhere in the West Indies for the simple reason that the same circumstances can never exist again. His class can never again produce so strong a man in the sense in which he was strong because not one of them will ever (be) required to fight such a battle as that which he fought and won."
It is not surprising, therefore, that this brave Barbadian is one of this island’s 10 National Heroes and his name and picture adorn the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic and the Barbados’ $20 note, respectively.