In memory of Jeremiah Gumbs: WHEN THE ROLL IS CALLED UP YONDER . . . By: Colville L. Petty, OBE

By anguillian April 5, 2012 11:58

In memory of Jeremiah Gumbs: WHEN THE ROLL IS CALLED UP YONDER . . . By: Colville L. Petty, OBE

The late Anguillian Stalwart, Jeremiah Gumbs

The following feature article on the late Mr. Jeremiah Gumbs was written and published by historian Mr. Colville L. Petty OBE in 2004 in The Anguillian as a tribute to the life and work of this past “Roving Ambassador”, who contributed greatly to the success of the Anguilla Revolution. Mr. Petty’s article has now been reprinted in honour of the memory of this native stalwart who passed from this life on April 8, 2004. May he rest in peace.


The history ofAnguilladid not begin with the 1967 Revolution.  But the Revolution was a watershed in its history.  It gave birth to a newAnguilla.  One of the “midwives” was Jeremiah Gumbs (affectionately called as Uncle Jerry) who passed away peacefully on Thursday 8th April 2004.  His sad passing has meant the loss of one of the foundation pillars – one of the cornerstones – of modernAnguilla.


His contribution toAnguilla’s development, socially, economically and politically, has been phenomenal and could never be praised too highly.


Uncle Jerry was a drum major for the cause of the Anguillian people.  He had a good life and he wanted the same for all Anguillians.  That fact has long been recognised not only locally but internationally as well.  To quote TheNew YorkTimes, 14th August 1967: “Jeremiah Gumbs has lived a sort of Horatio Alger success story and is trying to give the same good fortune to his nativeislandofAnguilla.”


It was in pursuit of that objective that he took on a leadership role in the Anguilla Revolution.  And thank God he did.  I say that because Uncle Jerry was a visionary.  He envisioned a betterAnguillaand spent the better part of his life in the realisation of that vision.  Having said that, some of the words of The Master Leader written by Clyde Gumbs, his son, come to mind:


I am the master leader

I lead beyond where people see

I cause the unimaginable

Around me miracles shall be.


Uncle Jerry was indeed a master leader.  And we needed people of his calibre up front if our dreams of a betterAnguillawere to be realised.


He was also a thinker.  How fortunate, because in those days thinkers in the leadership of the Revolution were few.  We were short of leadership with requisite expertise in plotting the way forward.  And there was Uncle Jerry.  Actually, his thinking was at a higher level.  When some of our leaders could only see near, Uncle Jerry was seeing far.  When our leaders were thinking of today, he was thinking of tomorrow and beyond.  When they thought shallow, he thought deep.  When they saw narrow, he saw wide.  When they saw despair, he saw hope.  And where they saw obstacles, he saw opportunities.  Truly, he was a master leader:


I am the master leader

I lead on each and every day

I am a bold trailblazer

I lead when no one sees the way.


The visionary and thinker reasoned that ifAnguillawas independent of St Kitts then it needed its own coat of arms and motto.  Thus a coat of arms and motto: “Unity, Strength and Endurance.”  He reasoned that we needed our own passports and our own currency and they were made ready for issue and circulation.  He reasoned we must have our own flag and on 18th October 1967, he brought the “Three Dolphins Flag” toAnguilla.  It replaced the Mermaid Flag, which nobody seemed to like, and became the rallying symbol of the Anguillian people.  It was a potent symbol of their revolutionary zeal and aspirations and today all Anguillians could identify with it.  I believe that wheneverAnguillagoes independent the “Three Dolphins Flag” will be the flag.


Uncle Jerry, the visionary and thinker, recognised that the reasons forAnguilla’s break with St Kitts were misunderstood by the international community.  That our case was being misrepresented, and we needed to give our side of the story.  To this end, he made good use of the international press – the news media, both print and electronic – in furtherance ofAnguilla’s cause.


Yes.  Uncle Jerry recognised that if the Anguillian people were to realise their aspirations – their revolutionary goals and objectives – they could not do it by themselves.  They needed the moral, diplomatic and political support of the international community.  Most importantly, they needed the support of the United Nations.  However, in those days very few Anguillians, besides Uncle Jerry, knew anything about the UN.  His sojourn in theUSA, in his early life, had given him a good understanding of international relations and politics.


So that when it was decided to take theAnguillacase to the United Nations, he was the obvious choice.  Additionally,Anguilla’s representative to the UN had to be someone with good oratorical skills and there was no one more qualified, in that regard, than Uncle Jerry.  And when the revolutionary leadership asked him to serve asAnguilla’s “Ambassador” to the UN he did not say no.  He said, “I will go.”  It was as if, being a God-fearing man, he was emboldened by what the Lord told another Jeremiah, thousands of years ago: “Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee . . . Behold, I put my words in thy mouth” (Jeremiah 1:8,9).


In putting Anguilla’s case for self-determination before the United Nations Committee of 24, Uncle Jerry made the point that St Kitts’ domination of Anguilla had left it relatively poor and undeveloped and with rampant unemployment.  He explained thatAnguillahad no industries, electricity, pipe-borne water, paved roads, telephones nor proper port facilities.  That health and sanitation facilities were grossly inadequate.  And surely, he did not forget the plight of the Anguillian children in whom he always had a special interest.  He told the UN Committee: “The schools are extremely poor . . . Three of the five elementary schools are in one-room buildings.”


It is for those reasons, that Uncle Jerry told the Committee, “The desire of the Anguillian people is to improve their situation, and all they need to do this is self-government.”   He pleaded: “The people ofAnguillaare praying that this body will come to their aid.”


Speaking of the people’s resolve not to go back with St Kitts, The New York Times (6th August 1967) quoted him as saying: “The lion roared but that little mouse in theCaribbeanrefuses to curl up.”


Uncle Jerry went to the UN and madeAnguillaproud.  (And I think I just heard Brother Clive Smith shout: “Amen!  Praise the Lord!”)  His sojourn in theUSAundoubtedly helped him to helpAnguillain its hour of greatest need: those uncertain revolutionary days of the late 1960s.  I should add that he had used hisUSconnections to get financial support for the Revolution which partly explains why he made some twenty trips to theUSback then.  However, I am of the view that his appearance before the United Nations Committee of 24, on our behalf, was the hallmark of his outstanding contribution toAnguilla, politically.


But his work was not yet done.  In early 1969, whenBritain’s plans for the invasion ofAnguillawere in the making, Uncle Jerry did everything in his power to discourage any such action.  He again sought the support of the international community and, in so doing, used theUSmedia to denounce any military action againstAnguilla.  He told the press that: “If the British invadeAnguillathey’ll kill Anguillians and Anguillians will kill them . . . .  They will have to preserve a colonial occupation and keep the island at its present level of poverty.  If only they would come [peacefully] and help us, they would be welcome.”


Uncle Jerry cautioned strongly: “An invasion would be a mass murder: a bunch of gorillas going into an orphanage,” but to no avail.


Luckily, when the “bunch of gorillas” invaded the “orphanage” on 19th March 1969 no one was killed butBritain’s action was, to put it mildly, a disgraceful show of naked force against a defenceless people.  As Uncle Jerry told the international press, “There [was] really no need for British troops onAnguilla” and that it was “the first time in history that a nation which was responsible for the protection of another island had invaded that island.”  Such an act, he said, was “inconceivable in 1969”.  And oh, he was extremely bitter that British forces had used some of our schools as barracks, thereby interrupting the children’s education.


Prior to their landing onAnguilla, the British troops were well briefed on who was who on the island.  They knew their friends and they knew their enemies.  They brought with them lists of persons (with personal and other details) who were categorised as either helpfuls or militants.  And Uncle Jerry, because of his role in the Revolution, was a marked man.  He was high on the list of militants.  The information on him read as follows: “Jerry J Gumbs – Owns and resides at Rendezvous Hotel, Grid 889093 in room one.  A blackUScitizen, age approx. 55.  Strongly built, 6ft. 2ins, and 14 stones.  Hair greying at sides, grey moustache and has an anthrop gait.  Has had battle experience with the US Army.”


The British troops also had a list of places to be searched.  They were put “in order of priority” and Rendezvous Bay Hotel was number four on the list.  And that’s not all.  Uncle Jerry was also on a list of militants for detention.  I now quote the instructions to the invading troops: “Amongst the militants the priority for detention is theU. S.Citizens first, in the order [of] the Haskins Family, Goodge and family, Holcomb and Jerry Gumbs . . .”


Of course, Uncle Jerry was a militant.  A militant for the advancement of the wellbeing of the Anguillian people.  His personal wellbeing was secondary.  And throughout those difficult years he gave Ronald Webster, our revolutionary leader, unstinting support.  I recall him going with Webster to the Barbados Conference in July 1967 and both of them, unlike some members of the Anguillian delegation, refused to sign the conference agreement which would have putAnguillaback under St Kitts’ control.


Uncle Jerry had much faith in Webster’s leadership and he once told a public meeting (1970): “When Mr. Webster says act, do not question him.”  However, that did not mean that he followed Webster blindly.  Yes, they had their differences but these differences were always on the question of what was best forAnguilla.  I know they differed on the economy, when Uncle Jerry was head of an Economic Development Board.  But, to think about it, how could Webster have questioned Uncle Jerry’s economic prowess when, in 1962, he opened his Rendezvous Bay Hotel, one of the first on the island, which placedAnguillaon the tourism map?  How could Webster have questioned Uncle Jerry’s economic prowess when he was one of the pioneers – one of the architects – of our tourism industry which has since become the bedrock of our economy?  Uncle Jerry had a hand inAnguilla’s economic revolution.

Actually, he had his hands in two of our revolutions: the political and the economic.  And we will always be indebted to him for his selfless, unwavering and longstanding commitment to the welfare of Anguillian people.  Underlying that commitment was his love for country.  Indeed, he was renowned for putting country before self.


What has made his contribution toAnguillaall the more astounding is that he had a humble beginning.  His father was a fisherman who could not afford to give him a proper education.  Uncle Jerry’s early education was at the Valley Boys’ School here inAnguilla.  The one-room building was always overcrowded and therefore some of the children were taught under the trees around the school.  To quote the Rev John A. Gumbs, Uncle Jerry “went to school under the shade of a tamarind tree.”  And he became one ofAnguilla’s greatest sons.


He was committed to rising above poverty.  But the road was not easy.  He had a stint at fishing.  As a barber.  A tailor.  He worked in the oil refineries in Aruba and Curacao and even cut sugarcane inSanto Domingo.  He eventually ended up inPerth Amboy,New Jersey,USA, where he became a successful businessman and earned his money.  Like the Good Samaritan, he was, Uncle Jerry spent a lot of that money helping people.  In other words, he used his fortune doing good so that others could live more abundantly.  That is why he was loved by so many, revered by so many and shall be missed by so many.

That is why the Blowing Point to George Hill highway was named in his honour.  But a greater honour – the greatest reward – for the God-fearing


philanthropist and freedom fighter, who went around doing good, is yet to come.  And that is why I have the feeling that when the roll is called up yonder Jeremiah Gumbs will be there.  Until then, let us honour his legacy.  Until then, may his soul rest in peace.


By anguillian April 5, 2012 11:58


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