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Reflecting on Garvey and the Garvey movement

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I realise that there is a great deal of interest in Marcus Garvey based on the number of young men, some of them Rastafarians, who have over the past few months asked me to write about Garvey. Last Friday was the anniversary of the birth of Marcus Garvey and so I have decided to use the occasion of the anniversary of his birth to reflect briefly on his movement, particularly as it related to St Vincent and the broader Caribbean.{{more}}

Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born on August 17, 1887, at St Ann’s Bay, in the parish of St Ann on the north coast of Jamaica. He would, therefore, have been 125 years old, if he was still alive. At the age of 16, he moved from St Ann to Kingston, where he continued in the printing trade in which he was involved in St Ann. He joined the Printer’s Union, which was one of the earliest unions to be established in the British West Indies. He also became involved in social and community work and generally, in the workers’ struggle. He branched into journalism and published his own paper, Garvey’s Watchman, in 1910. In preparation, perhaps, for his later work, he became interested in public speaking and actually took elocution lessons. He spent the years 1910 to 1914 travelling to Latin America and Europe. There, he developed an understanding of the plight of black people in those areas.

He returned to Jamaica on July 15, 1914 and by July 20, 1914, had formed the Universal Negro Improvement and Conservation Association and African Communities (Imperial) League which later became known simply as the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Among the objectives of the Association were: to promote the spirit of race pride and love; to reclaim the fallen of the race; and to administer to and assist the needy.

In 1916, he left on a lecture tour of the United States of America for a period of five months, which eventually resulted instead in his spending eleven years there. He began his lecture tour in Harlem where he was based, on May 9, 1916. The UNIA was legally incorporated in New York on July 2, 1918 and spread eventually to over 40 countries.

A lot has been written about Marcus Garvey, some by his detractors. I want to reproduce an article done on Garvey by Albert T. Marryshow of Grenada, one of the early West Indian nationalists, a man dubbed “The Father of Federation”. He was a journalist, one of the leading members of the Grenada Representative Government Association that was formed in 1918, a year before its St Vincent equivalent. He was a good friend and comrade of George McIntosh and, through his newspaper The West Indian, spoke out against the Italian invasion of Ethiopia.

The edition of the Gold Coast Leader, published on January 12, 1924 at the Cape Coast, carried the article captioned, “Marcus Garvey, The Man and His Mission”. I present excerpts from that article:

“… I have had the privilege of studying Garvey and Garveyism not only in print, but I have studied the man and his movement in intimate touch. On my way to Europe, I spent two months in New York and I frequently visited the offices of Mr. Garvey’s Association, 56, West 135th Street, where I felt the pulse of a gigantic work…

I know Garvey. I interviewed him at his Offices; I accepted his invitation to dinner in his flat, where we indulged in “small table talk”, which, perhaps, reveals character more than any other means; I spoke to thousands from his platform in Liberty Hall, and I hear him thunder there with word that shook the world and compelled the anxious attention of European chancellories and cabinets. I ought therefore, to be in a position to say the trustier word in connection with Marcus Garvey and his work than those persons, who lambast him as the result of monstrous, prejudiced fiction with which they are spoon fed.

I do not mean to keep my readers in suspense. All that I have to say surrounds this. I admire, even reverence the man; I sympathise with the essentials of his mission; I deprecate even deplore some of his methods.

I returned to Grenada from New York with the newly formed opinion that Marcus Garvey is the greatest black man raised in the world since Toussaint L’Ouverture! One may ask ‘How do you measure a man?”

I will continue with this next week. I have deliberately chosen to present this article from Marryshow, a man who knew Garvey and who was prepared to be critical of Garvey when that was necessary. I have a great deal of respect for the work and opinions of Marryshow, a man who visited St Vincent on a number of occasions and spoke on the platform of McIntosh’s “Workingmen’s Association”. Through his Grenada Workingmen’s Association, he seemed to have exerted some influence on the direction taken by McIntosh, someone he regarded as his friend and colleague.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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