Alexander Bedward (born 1859 in St. Andrew, a rural parish north of Kingston, Jamaica - died 1930) was the founder of Bedwardism. He was one of the most successful preachers of Jamaican Revivalism.
After spending time in Panama, he returned to Jamaica and was baptized by a local Baptist preacher. He became not merely leader of a Revival branch but of a new movement, the Bedwardites, with affiliated groups all over Jamaica and in Panama. In the 1880 he started to gather large groups of followers by conducting mass healings services. He identified himself with Paul Bogle, the Baptist leader of the Morant Bay rebellion. In this connection he stressed for changes and developments in the race relations in Jamaican society. He supposedly said ”There is a white wall and a black wall. And the white wall has been closing around the black wall: but now the black wall has become bigger than the white.”
Bedward was arrested for sedition but sent to a mental asylum. On release he continued his role as a Revival healer and preacher. He stressed his followers to be self-sufficient and at its height the movement gathered about 30,000 followers. He told his followers to sell their possessions including owned land and give him all the profits. Some of these followers did just that. On one occasion, he told his followers that they all would fly back to Africa, however to do so they had to climb up into a breadfruit tree in August Town while wearing bed sheets for the liftoff. However, they told him to go first and it resulted in him breaking his legs where he was submitted to the university hospital of the West Indies.
He led his followers into Garveyism by finding the charismatic metaphor: Bedward and Garvey were as Aaron and Moses, one the high priest, the other prophet, both leading the children of Israel out of exile. Garvey's middle name was considered by people to be a mix of the two names Moses and Messiah.
Later Bedward proclaimed that he was a reincarnation of Jesus Christ and that, like Elijah, he would ascend into heaven in a flaming chariot. He then expected to rain down fire on those that did not follow him, thereby destroying the whole world. In 1921 he and 800 followers marched in to Kingston “to do battle with his enemies.” This however didn’t result in him flying to heaven. Bedward and his followers were arrested and he was sent to mental asylum for the second time where he remained to the end of his life.
His impact was that many of his followers became Garveyites and Rastafarians, bringing with them the experience of resisting the system and demanding changes of the colonial oppression and the white oppression. Rastafari has taken the idea of Garvey as a prophet, while also casting him in the role of John the Baptist, by virtue of his "voice in the wilderness" call taken as heralding their expected Messiah, "Look to Africa where a black king shall be crowned."
Bedward is mentioned in an early Trinidadian recording of Jamaican mento classic Slide Mongoose by Sam Manning, who recorded it in December 1925 for the Okeh label (the song was recorded by many artists with changing lyrics). He is also mentioned in Jamaican folk classic Dip Dem, which was recorded by Louise Bennett for her 1954 album "Jamaican Folk Songs". The song, Bedward the Flying Preacher, appears on the Pay It All Back compilation album from Britain's On-U Sound label, recorded by Singers & Players.
- A. A. BROOKS. (1917). History of Bedwardmism —OR— The Jamaica Native Baptist Free Churgh, Union Camp, Augustown, St Andrew, JA., B.W.I. (PDF). JAMAICA: THE GLEANER CO., LTD.,. p. 31 Pages.
- Stan Simpson and David Person (2003). Home away from Home:Africans in Americas Volume1 Ch19 Land of Maroons (PDF). Institute for Advanced Journalism Studies.
- Jack A. Johnson- Hill, I-Sight: the world of Rastafari: An Interpretive Sociological Account of Rastafarian Ethics, Scarecrow Press, London (1995)
- Barry Chevannes, Rastafari : roots and ideology, Syracuse Univ. Press, New York (1994)