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Reflecting on Garvey and the Garvey Movement

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Continued from last week

I continue this week with my piece on Garvey. I ended last week quoting from Albert T. Marryshow, Grenadian/West Indian nationalist, who met with Garvey on different occasions and did an article on him for the Gold Coast Leader (January 12, 1924) The article continues:

“Garvey is the greatest black man raised in the world since Toussaint L’Ouverture! One may ask ‘How do you measure a man?’ I reply: by the length of his aspirations, by the breadth of his activities, by the immensity of his self-imposed work on behalf of others; by his radiant faith and boldness of approach to that work, and by the indomitable courage, determination and will he brings to play in operations for its accomplishment.{{more}} His ways might not be my ways, nor his method my methods; I may deprecate and deplore his strategy, but I should not be stupid as to allow that to be a condemnation of overmastering efficacies issuing from his self-expression, how foreign it may be to me.

“…Those who write about Marcus Garvey as a thief, one who has swindled the Negro people, either do not know, or conceal their knowledge with regard to the evidence on which (sic-when) he was convicted. Marcus Garvey was convicted on American justice and he, being such a foe of Great Britain, ought to have a sound appreciation of British justice at this time. Marcus Garvey had to be got out of the way…

“The life story of Marcus Garvey reads like a thrilling creation of the pen. Here is a young black man, 36 years old, who was born on August 17, 1887, in the island of Jamaica. His was a training that gave no promise of great things. He had no influence, no wealth, but he had, what was more, a magnificent vision and a firm belief in himself. After a period of travel in South America, England and Europe, he returned to Jamaica and started his movement there. The call to larger service came to him and he sailed for the United States, arriving in that country as late as March 23, 1916. In a few months he compelled the respectful notice of the nation, and after his Madison Square speech, shortly following he was feared internationally in proportion to the hope he raised in the breast of millions of Negroes throughout the world. The rise of Marcus Garvey to power seems to have no parallel in modern times. He had no historical past of systems and institutions to aid him. It was all in the will, spirit and soul of the man.

“No Negro has any cause to hang his head in shame on account of Marcus Garvey, the man. Rather, he should hold his head high. To have occupied the centre of the world’s stage in the manner he did and with a mission such as he fathered, it was in itself no mean achievement. In three years from an unknown, insignificant West Indian, his name and his fame spread throughout the world. The name Marcus Garvey is as familiar in Tokyo as it is in New York, in Calcutta as it is in Paris, in Brazil as it is in London, in Pretoria as it is in Berlin, in Moscow as it is in Kingston in his island home, and in all the habitable spaces between, all along the whole length and breadth of the civilised and uncivilised world. Garvey to mighty governme(n)ts mean a name and a nightmare at the same time. But three years, and yet the rational man in any part of the world, lettered or unlettered, who has never heard the name Marcus Garvey is perhaps nowhere to be found. This seems to be the peak of human achievement. The world as a whole has no such attention to waste on small fry. The world recognised power and addressed itself to power.

“…The marvel is that Marcus Garvey succeeded in making himself heard, from pole to pole. It is given to few men in the world to succeed thus far. It requires much of what we call ‘push’, and much ability to enable a man to keep his head above his fellows in local competition and to make his voice ring clear in a community or a country, but to keep his head above the surging myriads of a world, and to lift his voice like distinctive thunder above the clamour of the nations requires the impact of immense spiritual resources.

“…My opinion of his Mission and of his Methods notwithstanding, I find Garvey a Big Man. He has made a clangourous, pre-occupied world pause in silence. He has made a world think– and with a difference. I wonder how many of the conceited pigmies in the West Indies who abuse Garvey, can ever hope to succeed in making a single nation waste precious time to think at their bidding. Pigmies they are, of course, and pigmies of a day—frogs, regarding their position in a small puddle as all there is of power and dominion on earth. Will a whole world waste time to persecute them, or even discuss them, favourable or unfavourably?

“Garvey made a world think, and on this alone, I regard him not merely as a Big West Indian, not as a Big Negro, but as a Big World Man.”

Next week I will look at his relationship with Haile Selassie, the Ethiopian Emperor. (To be continued)

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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