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Thursday, April 14, 2022

Bad Friday 1963: The Rastafari Persecution at Coral Gardens


Coral Gardens lies on the North Coast of Jamaica, W.I., in the eastern outskirts of
Montego Bay; it's a part of the Rosehall Estate. Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, groups of Rastafarians squatted on the land and farmed ganja on a small scale in the area. The landowners and businessmen around Coral Gardens had it in their minds to make the area a tourist haven, but Rastas stood in the way. Tension engulfed the authorities and Rastas like thick ganja smoke.

Now this is before Bob Marley and other reggae artists helped swing Rastafari into the mainstream. Back then, anti-Rasta sentiment choked much of Jamaican society. Many saw Rasta locksmen as vagrants, degenerates, and even referred to them as "Blackheart Man"; and police and people would often gang up on Rastas, beat them and sometimes kill them. Because of the brutality much of the society meted out, Rasta bredren and sistren would avoid public spaces, preferring to gather in their own encampments and yards. Even so, police and soldiers would storm, raid, and turn their homes upside down. They would evict Rasta and destroy their shanty homes.

Rastafari Plight in The 50s Jamaica 

Leonard P. Howell and The Burning of The Pinnacle

"...the streets of Jamaica (Kingston and St Catherine in particular) were energised by the inspired preaching and teachings of the Honourable Leonard Howell, one of the earliest Rastafarian pioneers." ~ Yasus Afari, Overstanding Rastafari-Jamaica's Gift to the World
In 1940, Leonard Percival Howell (also called Gonganguru, G.G. Maragh, and The "First Rasta") formed the Pinnacle commune at Sligoville, high in the hills of St. Catherine, Jamaica. Pinnacle was the first autonomous, self-governing, self-sustaining Rastafarian village. Members of the community farmed food for their own consumption, then sold the surplus at markets in Spanish Town and Kingston. Howell and members of Pinnacle operated a bakery; created handcraft; burned hardwood, then consumed and sold charcoal from that burnt hardwood. They also farmed ganja, which they smoked as the sacrament (and also used for medicine) and the surplus was another source of revenue, one that led to economic independence for the entire community. The Pinnacle commune was enterprising, and it thrived with thousands of residents.

From its inception, police raided Pinnacle multiple times. However, there was a ten-year period of peace (from about 1944 to 1954),
Pinnacle Gate Ruins
when the community flourished without police harassment. But Howell was a problem for the state- philosophically, socially, and, because he had become a leading ganja cultivator, economically. His calls for Black people to stop hailing the King of Great Britain and turn to The Emperor of Ethiopia led to his arrest for sedition earlier in the 1930s. His ganja production was the pretext for the 1954 raid on Pinnacle, where over 100 colonial police officers and detectives seized £3000 in cash and burned three tons of ganja stash. The authorities destroyed much of the Pinnacle, and after the last raid in 1958, no residents lived in the community.

Back o' Wall/Dungle and Coronation Market

Back o' Wall/Dungle was a sufferers' community in downtown Kingston-where Tivoli Gardens now stands, and it comprised roughly 5,000 people, an overwhelming amount of them Rastafarian. In 1958, Prince Emmanuel Charles Edwards kept the first-ever national "Groundation". This Nyahbinghi grounding took place in Back o' Wall and lasted for 21 days. After the convention, Rastas marched over to Coronation Market and planted their flag. The police promptly beat them, trimmed their dreadlocks, and locked them up. Later in May, police arrested Prince Emmanuel and burned down his Rastafarian camp.

Back o Wall
From The Jamaican Daily Gleaner
Many describe this inaugural national Groundation as a decisive point in the antagonism between the Rastafarian movement, and the government and the public. The public, the police and security forces, and the media propagated the so-called anti-social elements of Rastafari. Society held disdain for the Rasta people. Later that year, more skirmishes: Police raided a Rastafarian camp in Westmoreland; in Linstead, a group of Rasta attacked two police officers, who shot and killed one of the dreadlocks. The police rounded up and arrested four more Rastas, who no one saw or heard from again.

In 1959, a Rastafarian security guard (or "gatekeeper") at Coronation Market (which stood next to Back o' Wall) had a dispute with a police officer on duty. The police beat this Rasta severely, which enraged the witnessing vendors at the market. Rasta, vendors, and sympathizers set state vehicles ablaze (allegedly). Police reinforcements rushed to the scene, clashed with the uprising, and moved their brutality over to nearby Back o' Wall where they unleashed retribution on the Rastas and other poor people living there. They kicked down doors; destroyed homes; arrested 57 Rastafarians, beat them, and further humiliated them by forcibly trimming their dreadlocks.

The Coral Gardens Incident 

Rudolph Franklyn had moved up from Moore Town, embraced the Rastafarian movement, and had grown a following amongst younger Rastas in the Coral Gardens/Montego Bay area. Franklyn did some small-scale farming on land in the Tryall Farm (land reportedly owned by the Kerr-Jarrett family) of Salt Spring. Landowners and local government officials planned to develop much of the local areas around Montego Bay for tourism. The police harassed the Rastafarians in the area continuously; they'd do all they could to run the Rastas off. Once they raided Franklyn's farm and reaped all the ganja they wanted, they chopped down the rest. Another time, they did the same. But Rudolph Franklyn was defiant; he insisted he was not squatting on anyone's land.* The police told him he was operating too close to Rose Hall.

At some point, the Kerr-Jarrett family sold their land to a man named Ken Douglas. In around October 1961, the new landowner sent the police to evict Franklyn, but this time, violence rang out. When the police rolled up to his farm, Franklyn was working with a cutlass or machete in hand. The police demanded he drop it. Franklyn refused. The police shot him five times in the stomach. (Some reports state they hit him with three shots; some report six shots. The police clearly shot him multiple times.)

The police left him for dead where he'd fallen and school children later discovered him. People rushed him to the hospital, and Franklyn received surgery. But a doctor informed him he wouldn't have a long life. 

"The headman of the property, Edward Fowler...brought a policeman to evict the brother (Franklyn) off the land. The unarmed brother was shot six times by the police, and believed to be dead, and was not taken to hospital until hours after. The brother recovered after months of medical treatment, although he was told by the doctor that he would live for only a short period. He was immediately sentenced to six months imprisonment on a charge of having ganja." - Journalist John Maxwell, in his article in Public Opinion, April 27, 1963
Franklyn was angry. He felt he was wrongly persecuted, shot maliciously and without cause and chronically injured. And though he was innocent in many people's view, he was tried, convicted and sentenced. According to people who knew him, when he was released in early 1963, Franklyn was a bitter man. And when police harassed him further, that did it. Franklyn desired revenge.

Before 5am on 'Holy Thursday', April 11, 1963, Franklyn and a group of Rasta bredren set fire to the Shell gas station owned by Ken Douglas. By midday that day, eight people were killed, including Franklyn, two of his bredren, two officers and three civilians (one being the headman of the Rose Hall property, Edward Fowler). Another three of Franklyn's crew had escaped, but were later captured and eventually hanged. 

"Bring in all Rastas, dead of alive!" - Prime Minister Bustamante, further telling police and soldiers that what the jails couldn't hold, the morgue would.


Police and soldiers rampaged over the next few days. They rounded up over 150 Rastafarians in four Jamaican parishes. Since the leader of the incident had already been killed, and his five accomplices killed or accounted for, most of the Rastafarians rounded up in the aftermath had nothing to do with the incident. Still, they were beaten and tortured, hair and beards trimmed; some were shot, and some killed. Civilians formed vigilante groups that also hunted and brutalized the Rastafarian bredren, stoning, beating them, and cutting them with glass bottles.

* In the film Bad Friday, Rudolph Franklyn's daughter stated that Franklyn had farmed on land that his father had left him. 


Campbell, Horace. Rasta and Resistance: From Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney

Maxwell, John and Desta Planno, Mortimo Togo. "Rastafari and the Coral Gardens Incident". The Jamaica Reader: History, Culture, Politics, edited by Diana Paton and Matthew J. Smith, New York, USA: Duke University Press, 2021, pp. 302-306.

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