Norman Washington Manley was born at Roxborough in Manchester in 1893. He was the son of Margaret and Thomas Albert Manley. When he was six years old, they went to live at Belmont, Guanaboa Vale, in Clarendon. He was cousin to Alexander Bustamante, who lived for a time with them there. In his Autobiography he described himself thus:
I grew up as a bush man. I earned my pocket money
cleaning pastures and chipping logwood.
When I was not out in the bush, I was reading.
He was educated at Beckford & Smith High School (Now St. Jago), Wolmer''s, and Jamaica College. He was an excellent athlete, and set records which remained unbroken for many years. After graduating, he became a teacher, remaining at Jamaica College for a couple of months. In 1914 he was awarded the Rhodes scholarship to attend Oxford University in England.
By the time he arrived in England, the First World War had begun. He enlisted as a gunner in the Royal Artillery and was promoted to corporal. He was awarded the Military Medal and survived the war, but suffered the loss of his brother, Roy. After the war he continued his studies and became a lawyer. While in England, he married his cousin, Edna Swithenbank, an artist. They returned to Jamaica in 1922. He worked hard, and soon became a much sought after lawyer, renowned for his oratory, who never lost a murder case he defended. They had two sons, Douglas and Michael. By the late 1930s the mood of the Jamaican people had become restive. Strikes and other forms of labour unrest were becoming more frequent as workers began to agitate for better pay and working conditions.. At the centre of this activity was his cousin, Alexander Bustamante. In 1938, clashes between striking workers at the Frome sugar factory in Westmoreland and the police resulted in many deaths and injuries. Similar strikes broke out all over the island, most notably in Kingston and Serge Island, St. Thomas.
The Kingston strike grew into a mass protest , involving workers and unemployed people. Bustamante went to lend his support, but was imprisoned because the government thought he was trying to get the people to rebel. Manley secured his release.
He worked hard towards the solution of the underlying problem of the day, the poverty and lack of opportunity that the majority of people experienced.
To this end, in 1937 he formed Jamaica Welfare Ltd. (now known as the Social Development Comission) to help people in the rural areas.
By the end of 1938 he had become the leader of a group of people who wanted Universal Adult Suffrage (the right of all adults to vote) and Self government. From this group, the Peoples National Party was formed.
Norman Manley was its first president. The PNP contested the first General Election in 1944 but lost to the JLP, led by Bustamante. Manley was elected premier in the General election of 1955.
Three years later, Jamaica became a founding member of the West Indies federation, ten West Indian nations joined together to try to put right some common problems. In the Federation, power was shared between Jamaica and the other countries. Some people thought Jamaica should not be part of a Federation. In 1961 Manley held a referendum to let the people decide. In a referendum people vote to say what they think about one important matter. The people decided to leave the Federation.
The following year, the JLP won the election and led the country into independence. Manley remained in the House of Representatives as Leader of the Opposition (and president of the PNP) until he retired in 1969. He was succeeded by his son Michael as President of the Peoples National Party (who later became Prime Minister).
Norman Manley made a significant contribution to Jamaica''s political development as a shaper of the modern multi-party system of government. He also demonstrated the importance of creating institutions to serve the needs of the people, and emembered for his role in the establishment of Jamaica''s Central Bank (The Bank of Jamaica), the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, the Co-operative Movement as well as Jamaica Welfare, now the Social Development Commission.
He died later that year.