Biography, McKay's Jamaican Years, Continued

Clarendon parish: watercolor by Charles Edwin Long

Claude McKay’s parents, Thomas Francis and Hannah Ann Elizabeth McKay were leaders among the black peasant community. McKay described his father as “a tall, graying man with an impressive luxuriantly kinky head” (Gayle, 23). Thomas was descended from the West African nation of Ashanti, but he was also the product of the “intense Christian fundamentalist indoctrination” he had received in his youth. As a result, Thomas McKay “tried to live a completely honest life, avoided the use of curse words, and totally abstained from drinking and dancing” (Tillery, 4). He spurned the superstitions of the other Jamaican peasants, believing that people were harmed by natural catastrophes and by the actions of other human beings, not by magic or by the whim of the West African god Obeah. He was a community leader, and one of the few Africans “prosperous enough to qualify to vote” (James, 16). However, due to his “puritanical personality,” Thomas was unable to develop close relationships with his children (Tillery, 4).

McKay’s mother, on the other hand, freely loved and nurtured all of her children, especially Claude. He notes, “I was the baby of the family and the favourite of my mother” (James, 19). However, neither his siblings nor anyone who knew her wanted for Hannah’s affection; McKay recalls, “My mother…loved all people. It was a rich, warm love” (Cooper, 9). McKay inherited his mother’s keen sense of the aesthetic, and his father’s inability to maintain interpersonal relationships (Tilley, 5).