James Alexander George Smith 'JAGS' McCartney First Chief Minister and National Hero of the Turks and Caicos Islands
James Alexander George Smith McCartney (30 June 1945 – 9 May 1980) also known as "Jags" McCartney was a politician from the Turks and Caicos Islands. He was the island territory's first Chief Minister and held that position from August 1976 until 9 May 1980, when he died in a plane crash over New Jersey.
Early life and education
McCartney was born on 30 June 1945 on Grand Turk to an accomplished Jamaican barrister, Harvey O. B. Fernandez McCartney and a Sunday school pianist, Sally McCartney, née Taylor of the Turks and Caicos. He was named after a prominent Jamaican barrister and distinguished legislator, James Alexander George Smith (1877–1942).
He was born with a serious heart condition and was not expected to lead a healthy and active life. However, from a very early age he was active in athletics. It was not until he was a teenager in high school on Grand Turk that he began experiencing problems with his heart.
Prompted by the seriousness of his medical condition and the absence of a heart specialist in the Turks and Caicos Islands, Jags was sent to Jamaica to receive the medical attention he needed and complete his secondary education at Happy Grove High School. He continued to be active in sports especially swimming and running.
During his years in Jamaica, he was inspired by the political activities of great leaders such as Hon. Norman Manley and Sir Alexander Bustamante and studied much about the work of leaders like Marcus Garvey and Martin Luther King Jr. After Jags graduated from high school, he returned to the Turks and Caicos Islands where he developed programs which involved the local youths of Grand Turk.
Like many Turks and Caicos Islanders, he migrated to he United and then the Bahamas where he became interested in politics. There he associated himself with the progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and during the 1967 elections he campaigned on their behalf. Later, he and one of his colleagues organized the first major strike at the Grand Bahama Hotel to gain better working conditions for the employees there. He continued to encourage workers to form unions and fight against the oppression under which they worked. He helped to stage many peaceful demonstrations. These activities inspired him to write a book “A Black Boy in the Bahamas”.
In 1971, Jags McCartney returned to the Turks and Caicos. Elections were due the following year and he decided to contest a seat which he lost. Immediately following his defeat he began preparing for the 1976 elections. He started by forming the Junkanoo Club where young people could gather and discuss many current topics. It was from this group the People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) was formed in 1975. The Junkanoo members were called “Black Power Boys”.
Jags had a burning desire to improve the social conditions of the Turks and Caicos Islands. He tried to fight for new land reforms that would allow Turks and Caicos Islanders to own land. He wanted more young people to go abroad to receive higher education and return home to hold good jobs in the islands. In September 1976, the People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) won the elections and Jags McCartney, its leader became the first Chief Minister of the Turks and Caicos Government. This victory began a new era for the Turks & Caicos Islands.
A central goal of McCartney was the attainment of self-determination for the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands. McCartney had particularly sought to mobilize the youth in the political process. A charismatic, dynamic and visionary figure, McCartney was determined to usher in a new Constitution that would foster and safeguard the rights of all Turks and Caicos Islanders, create new opportunities for citizens and advance the Country. Assuming office at age 31, McCartney remains one of the world's youngest democratically elected leaders in history.
JAGS McCartney was married to Dorthy M. McCartney.
Death and legacy
McCartney died on 9 May 1980, aged 34. National Heroes Day, a holiday celebrated on the last Monday in May, commemorates the life of McCartney. Additionally, the Grand Turk International Airport is named in honour of him.
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