In reply to mikesiva
Bishop Gibson Percival Jamaica
Known to all Jamaica as Bishop Gibson and to thousands of Kingston College (KC) boys simply as Priest, Anglican Bishop Percival William Gibson made a strong impact on Jamaica.
In a country where both social and political power were being devolved to the Black population, Percival Gibson stands out. He looked at the existing high schools and saw the need for a school for poor Black boys. The high schools had high fees and some even had high colour.
A Black son of Jamaica, he showed his people that they too could have access to education. He started out as just an ordinary priest at Saint Georges church on East Street, but he used his position to be a change agent in the complexion of Jamaica. He had the vision that through education there was a way out for the population who could neither go to the Myrtle Bank Hotel nor afford the fees at Jamaica College. Not only did he straddle positions of poverty and power, but he was a path breaker in both.
White Anglicans had ruled the church from the time the British came to Jamaica. While they also invariably taught school, Gibson made it his business to be the centre of a school for the upliftment of Black boys. He used the model of English clergy, but he anchored himself in a system that catered mainly to boys of a lower social rung, and set lower school fees for them.
This was an intrusion into a school system where you had to be White
or rich Black. He made the Blacks appreciate that education could really be within their grasp, and he moved it even further when he gave boys spaces at KC by arranging scholarships from Kingston and Saint Andrew churches.
As Bishop of Jamaica he rose to the pinnacle of church power not by church politics but by sheer weight of who he was and his clearly defined role in the church by then. He carpeted a walkway, and others tried to imitate but not necessarily with the same supreme sense of service beyond self.
A man of the people, he was certainly a man for the people. His dream was to build a new Jamaica by developing Christian character in its future leaders. He looked at the work of Norman Manley, the visionary and incorruptible socialist statesman as he went about building the National Movement, and found much to admire. Not surprisingly, it was at Chief Minister Manleys suggestion that as Bishop he was appointed to the Legislative Council in 1954, and there he was most lucid when he was most angry as Robert Moore tells it in his Audacious Anglicans. His voice was never silent. During his five-years on the Council, his chief concern was getting the government to improve the appalling housing and sanitary conditions of the poor in the slums of West Kingston.
Born in 1893 to a lower middle class Black Anglican family, Percival Gibson went on scholarship to a Jesuit high school before entering Saint Peters College, the Anglican seminary in Kingston, and then made himself Jamaicas most learned Anglican cleric. He studied externally with the University of London and gained three degrees, BD, BA Hons, and BD Hons.
He became a priest in 1912 and Curate of St Georges Church in Kingston. Moore depicts him with fire on his tongue and public and private morality on his mind, his Sunday night sermons attracted large crowds ready to be inspired or chastened by this prophetic young priest whose head could barely be seen above the pulpit.
Nothing, no-one, was spared. Even the Mighty Sparrow, Calypso King of Trinidad and the World, felt his sharp tongue.
When Bishop Gibson spoke trenchantly about the doom and damnation that would attend Sparrows visit to perform in Jamaica and called for him to be banned, it left the exasperated Calypso King fuming that he would eschew his Jean & Dinah and May-May calypsos, and sing Onward Christian Soldiers instead, if that was what the Bishop wanted. In the event, Sparrow did arrive and perform at the Courtleigh Manor Hotel. He did not sing Onward Christian Soldiers.
In 1925 Gibson got the imprimatur of the Bishop of Jamaica and founded a downtown school for boys. KC opened with 49 students and this young Black headmaster at a time when secondary school principals were almost all White Englishmen or women.
It was the adventure of his life. He saw KC as an antidote to the post-emancipation vacuum for it offered poor Black boys a secondary education, admitting any boy Black or not, illegitimate or not, who met the entrance requirements and could pay the very affordable fees. He held an unswerving belief that, given the right opportunity, poor Black Jamaicans would prove themselves equal to or better than the best of the British.
Several alumni remember that when their financial circumstances could no longer keep them at the school, he paid their fees out of his own pocket or got a sympathetic businessman to do so.
Gibson wanted KC to be more than just an equalizer of opportunity. With the challenging motto Fortis cadere cedere non potest (The brave may fall but never yield), it was dedicated to the making of well-balanced Christian gentlemen, at home in the arts, the sciences and the humanities, au fait with the world as it is, but committed to the world as it ought to be.
So it is not surprising that he would use the priests purple shirt as a model for the KC colours of purple and white. And, like priests, the boys should show their love of God not just by their worship but by their compassion for the under-privileged, their active concern for justice in society, their critical love of Jamaica; and above all, by their incorruptibility in public life.
As headmaster of KC Bishop Gibson was a strong disciplinarian and expected very high standards of behaviour. But his charisma persuaded the boys that nothing less would do them justice. They knew that he was the soul of compassion and that he cared deeply about them.
In particular he was very concerned about the limiting domestic environment of the poorer boys, often seeing to it that his sympathisers in business fitted them out with the requirements for school. He usually found a way of providing a midday meal for those who could not afford one. And when he found he could no longer keep a boy at KC, as sometimes happened, he would take him up to Calabar and intercede on his behalf. Nevertheless, Bishop Gibson was a man who knew his peoples idiosyncrasies and language, and he had a sense of discipline and humour as the following stories will illustrate.
It was a Monday morning and the principal was issuing an ominous order to the boys assembled in the Augustine chapel. All the boys who attended the dance at the Saint Hughs High School for Girls on Saturday night were to stand.
When they did, they were all suspended, including several star players of the KC Gibson Cup tennis team which was poised for a repeat victory. The irony was that the cup they could now no longer win was donated by their own principal, Bishop Percival Gibson.
It was not the first or last time Priest would be giving his students a lesson in values. He did the same thing with the entire Manning Cup football team once. And then he went further. Calling the members of the KC Second XI to the field, he stood near the penalty spot, got each of them to take shots at goal, and from that exercise selected a team to replace the suspended boys for the next Manning Cup match.
KC old boys tell yet another story about their principal. With the form master away from the classroom two friends were horsing around when one said, "cho man, you is a rass!" One boy who was looking out the window saw the headmaster approaching and shouted, Priest! as everyone scrambled to their seats. To their astonishment the passing headmaster, a Bishop, looked in the window and said in a firm tone
Josephs! You is? You is? No, you are!
An alumnus lends credence to this with the following anecdote. Priest, he said, was teaching a sixth form history class one day about an issue of public policy that could cause Sir Thomas More some difficulty. He cast his gaze momentarily across North Street towards the Roman Catholic Saint Georges College and, after a pregnant pause, and with a twinkle in his eye and tongue firmly in cheek, added,
and what is more, he was a RC!
In 1947 Bishop Gibson was consecrated as Suffragan Bishop of Kingston, at which he declared himself married to the City and began signing himself Percival Kingston.
For the first time in British West Indian history, a descendant of Black slaves had become an Anglican bishop. Not that Priest was ready to give up his headmasters role. He remained both Suffragan Bishop and headmaster, much to the delight of the alumni and the students who could hardly imagine the school without him. Having previously declined an effort to elect him to the office, he became Bishop of Jamaica in 1955 amid much rejoicing, and now he declared he was married to Jamaica and signed himself Percival Jamaica.
The educator in him prompted a vigorous programme to renovate and expand existing Anglican primary schools and to create two high schools in the interior of the island as well as an Anglican Teachers Training College. He was determined to win the nation back to Christ and, like the Jesuits, he believed that education was one sure way.
Bishop Gibson put justice at the centre of his social thinking. He spoke out openly against injustice wherever he saw it and he came to be known as the conscience of the young nation. A little man, his voice was big and he never hesitated to use it fearlessly to condemn wrong and promote the morality he believed in. He retired in 1967.
When he died three years later Jamaicans felt his loss keenly, even his long-standing critics admitting that the country would always need a figure like him. He nurtured a strong resolve in an important part of Jamaican society to bring Christian principles to bear on the development dilemmas facing a small society struggling to throw off the culture of the plantocracy and the chains of colonialism in the mid-20th century. A genuine Jamaican treasure, he wore the unfilled shoes of a colossus.