REV. DR. JOHN WESLEY KNIGHT – A WHITE MAN WHO UNSELFISHLY SEVED HIS BLACK ADOPTED BRETHREN IN ST. ANN, JAMAICA by Winston Donald
Winston Donald is a Fine Art Gallery Operator, Cultural Practitioner and Newspaper Columnist.
Class, colour and race have defined Jamaica. The majority black Jamaicans are ever reminded of our past not by institutions but by the power relations that permeate our socio-economic and cultural space.
Yet in our history the people of colour are and were those who represented colonizers , settlers and abusers of our humanity but strangely at times produce individuals who made an indelible impression on our lives and have served with love and call beyond duty.
Not many Jamaicans knew of Dr. John Wesley Knight but those of us who are Baptists, especially Independent Baptists, knew of Knight’s connection to the Dry Harbour Mountain villages of Clarksonville, Aboukir, Cedar Valley, Thatch Walk, Cave Valley, and Northern Clarendon villages of Mt. Moriah, John Reid, Aenon Town, Anderson Town , Bog Hole and others.
Knight a native of the Stoufville area of Ontario came as a young man to Jamaica and became immersed in the culture of St. Ann. Can you imagine? , a white man who any pregnant woman could call upon to take her to the local Alexandria Hospital to have her child delivered. Knight as a white man was not scared to get his hands dirty He was a productive farmer engaging in digging the red “dirt” of the bauxite parish. . In fact the first time I saw Zoysia grass was at his home, the Clarksonville Manse where he was busy planting a lawn one cool summer day in the seventies.. Knight would plant his yams, sweet potatoes , raise his cattle , and contribute the development of agriculture in the Dry Harbour Mountains.
John Knight was one fearless but committed white man loved by all in the communities. When he saw the backward move by several London white Baptist intellectuals assigned to the Jamaica Baptist Union in Kingston to implant modernism in religion such as disputing the virgin birth of Christ, he tried to reason with them. Numerous dialogues and meetings followed but their position of Christian fallacy remained , a trait of many intellectuals. Failing any compromise Knight and other Baptist stalwarts such as Rev. Dr. A. L. McKenzie, Rev. S.I. Cummings of MT. Peto , Hanover moved to create the independent Baptists , a grand move as it saved community churches and lands from being controlled and appropriated by the Jamaica Baptist Union , but most importantly shunned liberalism in church. Liberalism has a role in the secular world , not in Christianity .. That is one of the best thing to happen to large Baptist Churches in rural Jamaica, being saved from central control. Churches like Buff Bay Baptist, Clarksonville Baptist, Aenon Town Baptist Churches are now free to make their own decisions and to manage their own affairs without the control and organization by officials, technocrats, bureaucrats . big wigs and men of influences from large central church organizations.
Pastor Knight throughout his tenure made it a priority to educate the people of Jamaica , in particular for those in St. Ann, he and played an important role in shaping education in post-colonial Jamaica as Chairman of the School Board and has one whose presence and integrity brought educators and teachers from academic and religious background to the communities for many years.
The Stoufville Online News magazine has now published an article on Knight. That area of Ontario is pleased to know that one of its son spent his life in Jamaica to serve the poor. How many persons today would give selfishly of themselves? How many white folks would be willing to sacrifice their time and resources for the betterment of another nationality? How many white folks would be wiling to become black, to live among the people and not be a spy or exploit the natives? The answer is very , very few.
Reflecting , especially with the knowledge that most missionaries who have served their foreign missions played a double role, I am apt to wonder if he was a spy or if he had ulterior motives. The answer is no. Knight’s character was a true and godly one. He could not be bought, not even by his own nation. On the event of his departure , forced by the socialist politics which saw individuals seeing him as representative of imperialist countries,, Knight left the little “change” he had in his account for the church. The Michael Manley regime of the days would not allow him to take more than a few US dollars. Such was the control of people lives which Knight had fought against during his tenure as a Missionary Pastor.
Was I glad to have met Pastor Knight? Surely. My aunt t said Pastor loved to baptize , but that was his mission to save souls. He did not push Calvinism on the people despite the fact that Baptist dogma is Calvinistic. And so pragmatic was Pastor Knight that when asked by as a adolescent regarding a Christian who smoked, Knight replied , that he would not lose his Christianity but laughingly said, “that Christain would be a smoking Christian.” Knight belief in Jamaica was so strong that he sent all his children to school in Jamaica rather than going to the motherland of Canada. His children became part of the school scene at York Castle in Brown’s Town and Calabar High in Kingston.
It is my desire to the days when people serve not for OJ, CD or other Jamaican national awards. I desire to see people with prominence , colour , power or wealth do goods without seeking high profile, recognition and return of favours. Knight rejected every attempt by the MP Neville Gallimore to offer any symbol of appreciation or token of service. Knight was so pure in heart, one who was not tempted by corruption that money from tobacco farmers was not welcomed as tithe or offerings. Today Churches especially the Roman Catholics will l accept money in their plates from their congregation with large Chinese gaming and gambling operators or racing elites.