Remembering Distinguished Jamaicans – Clinton Black | Arts & Hobbies


Clinton Vane De Brosse Black, 1918-1993, government archivist, historian and author was born and raised in Jamaica. He dedicated his life to the service of Jamaica.

It was recently said by a radio caller that Clinton Black was not Jamaican but was from Italy, and his book, Jamaican history, sought to mislead Jamaicans about their history. This is a false assertion.

Clinton Black was born in Kingston, Jamaica on August 26, 1918, to Thomas Henry Black Jr and his wife, Violet Lucille Bogle, both Jamaicans. Their birth certificates attest to their Jamaican citizenship. Clinton Black attended Kingston College. He married Gloria Sullivan on November 23, 1940. He went to work at the Institute of Jamaica in 1945. Around 1947, he received a government scholarship to study archives administration at the School of Librarianship and Archives in Jamaica. University of London in the UK. . After graduating, he returned to the Institute of Jamaica in the Colonial Archives section.

Black was appointed Government Archivist in February 1955, and it was his job to establish the National Archives. Through his advocacy, a new building was erected in Spanish Town in 1961 to house the archives. Under his administration, the Archives of Jamaica was ranked among the top 10 institutions of its type. He helped establish archives in other Commonwealth Caribbean territories.


In 1952, a Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC) resolution called for the study and recording of an up-to-date and comprehensive history of Jamaica. They felt that a story from a Jamaican perspective was needed. This resolution was forwarded to the Ministry of Education. Clinton Black was commissioned to write this short story, which is expected to be about 90,000 words. The work was overseen by a government-appointed committee which included Elsa Goveia, historian, University College of the West Indies, and RN Murray, director of education. It was aimed at high school students. It’s the Jamaican History, which was well used in the country, which was published in 1958. It was updated and a second edition was published in 1983. It remains a good basic text.

Black is the author of several other books on Jamaican history. These include Living names from Jamaican history, historic royal port, Spanish city – the old capital, and Tales of Old Jamaica. Black also wrote a column in the gleaner “Trust me at my word” using a pseudonym “From B”. With all of his work and writing, Clinton Black never considered himself a qualified historian.

He received several awards during his life for his outstanding achievements. These included the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal in 1953; Jamaican Commander of the Order of Distinction in 1975; the Institute of Jamaica Centenary Medal in 1980; and the Royal Bank Foundation Award. Until the 1980s, he was the only West Indian to be appointed to the International Council on Archives and a member of the Society of Antiquaries of London.

Clinton Black left as Government Archivist in 1987 and officially retired in 1989. He died in January 1993.

In tribute to Black on his passing, Barry Higman, Professor and Head of History Department at UWI, Mona, spoke of his valuable work in preserving and conserving Jamaica’s history and noted that the UWI would long be remembered for its vital work in ensuring the survival of Jamaican heritage for future generations. Professor Higman hoped that the general Jamaican public would recognize the significance of Black’s achievements.

In Jamaica, we need to understand the importance of good record keeping and its value in preserving our past and present history for future generations. Jamaicans should make better use of the National Archives and the National Library for the study and analysis of the country’s history. My impression is that the resources of these intuitions are mainly used by foreign scholars. I imagine Clinton Black would have liked to see more Jamaicans using their services to tell the Jamaican story from our perspective.

Contributed by: Marcia Thomas


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