W. A. Domingo, a prominent socialist and voice for Jamaican independence
Herb Boyd | 8/26/2021, midnight
It’s perhaps easier to list where W.A. Domingo wasn’t than where he was. Look up any prominent political activist of the 1920s and invariably at some point you will run across his name. He was ubiquitous as he was insightful on social and economic affairs of his time.
Despite his seemingly presence everywhere very little is known about Domingo and how instrumental he was as a member of various militant and progressive groups and organizations. Born Wilfred Adolphus Domingo on Nov. 26, 1889 in Kingston, Jamaica, he was the youngest son of a Jamaican mother and a Spanish father. He was orphaned at an early age and raised with his siblings by a maternal uncle. His education began at the Kingston Board School. Upon graduation he worked as a tailor and began writing articles for local newspapers.
In 1910, his wanderlust began and he embarked for the U.S., settling first in Boston before moving to New York City two years later. Setting aside his dream to become a doctor, Domingo gave his attention to politics back in Jamaica, particularly as it pertained to the nation’s constitution. By 1913, he was on speaking tours across the U.S. where he lectured on reform and progress in Jamaica. At this time he was also a member of the Socialist Party and subsequently involved with other leading activists in Harlem such as A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen and their newspaper The Messenger. He also had a close relationship with Marcus Garvey, who was often reviled by Randolph and his cohort, and was mainly responsible for introducing Garvey to a printer of noted publications.
When Garvey began promoting his ideas of having his own newspaper, Domingo facilitated those aspirations that led to the Negro World, and by 1919 he was the editor of the paper. But soon Domingo’s vision of radical socialism clashed with Garvey’s nationalist outlook and he resigned from the paper and almost immediately, with Richard B. Moore, launched their own publication, The Emancipator, which was short-lived.
Domingo’s next affiliation was the clandestine African Blood Brotherhood that was virulently opposed to Garvey, much like Randolph and other Black popular leaders. Even so, his writing gained wide recognition, so much so that Langston Hughes and Alain Locke were among Harlem Renaissance authors and editors who sought him out and published some of his articles. In fact, his essay “The Gift of the Black Tropic,” was included in Locke’s “The New Negro,” an anthology that highlighted the era’s cultural breakthrough.
“The outstanding contribution of West Indies to American Negro life is the insistent assertion of their manhood in an environment that demands too much servility and un-protesting acquiesce from men of African blood,” Domingo wrote in Locke’s anthology.
“This unwillingness to conform and be standardized, to accept tamely an inferior status and abdicate their humanity, finds an open expression in the activities of their foreign-born Negro in America.”
With Walter Adolphe Roberts, Domingo founded the Jamaica Progressive League in 1936, and he was the vice president. Among the basic issues for the League was self-determination, voting rights, and the right to form labor unions. The group stood in firm opposition to the establishment of the West Indies Federation.
In 1941, Domingo returned to Jamaica and was invited to assist in the expansion of the emerging PNP (People’s National Party). The organization espoused socialist principles that appealed to Domingo’s background and proclivity. But on his arrival to the island he was detained by the government for 20 months on the grounds that he was “a threat to the peace and security of the country.” The ACLU and other organizations protested his confinement and ultimately Domingo was on his way back to the U.S. in 1947. His return to the states did not curtail his fight for Jamaican independence. His resolve on this and other political matters never waned and he continued his commitment to Jamaica’s self-determination.
Domingo died in 1968 in New York City. Four years previously he had suffered a stroke. He is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. His legacy and role in Jamaican politics is practically forgotten there.