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Reflecting on Garvey and the Garvey Movement – Part 4

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Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) was legally incorporated in the United States of America on July 2, 1918 and the publication of its newspaper, The Negro World, began in 1919. By 1919 the UNIA was already established in St Vincent, with its base in Stubbs and the two figures behind its organisation were Horatio Huggins, a shoemaker and R.E.M. Jack, who was a teacher.{{more}} By May 29, 1919 the Negro World was being sold in St Vincent; a notice in the Times newspaper of that date advertised the publication and listed Jack as the local agent. The sale of the newspaper and the agitation by the organisation for better working conditions for workers brought it to the attention of the authorities. The Chief of Police, in a letter to the Governor dated October 11, 1919, made the following comment about the people of Stubbs: “The Stubbs people are an ill-conditioned lot, given to molesting people in motor cars and it is the present centre from which Mr Jack draws his support in the movement which he has started to further the policies of the Negro World and to bring about a general refusal on the part of the labourers to work during the cotton season unless they get an increased wage.”

The UNIA led a delegation of workers to the Governor to seek an increase of government wages, and organised a petition signed by 348 persons. The petition focused on wages but also included two clauses seeking protection for Mr Jack and stating that “any outrages upon him by this government will not be tolerated by the true and new negroes of St Vincent.” The sale of the Negro World created even more concern for the authorities, with the Administrator in a letter to the Governor, referring to what he called its “unmistakably anti-white tone” and indicating that in a recent issue the paper “openly counselled negroes to turn to Lenin and the Bolshevists for assistance against their real oppressors such as Lloyd George, Wilson and Clemenceau”, (leaders of England, the United States of America and France). The authorities took action rather quickly by passing regulations prohibiting the importation of the newspaper into the colony. The UNIA in New York reacted strongly, stating that the Government of St Vincent was “stirring up a hornet’s nest”. The banning of the paper was of grave concern to Jack, who wrote to the Administrator seeking one copy of each of the issues that were seized by the postmaster.

Garvey himself had by 1923 been subjected to enormous pressure from the American authorities and by some black leaders in the US who resented the success he had achieved and also the general approach of this man from Jamaica, who was previously unknown. He was finally tried on trumped-up charges, jailed and released in 1927, following persistent agitation by his supporters. He was deported and returned to Jamaica where he was given a hero’s welcome by thousands who gathered in the streets to welcome him back. At home he continued his work, started a new newspaper, organised two conventions of the “Negro Peoples of the World”, involved himself in local politics, visited Canada, London and the Caribbean. Actually he did not return to Jamaica after leaving there in 1935.

Meanwhile in St Vincent, the branch of the UNIA was by 1920 falling on rough times. President of the Association Horatio Huggins, who was in frequent communication with Ralph Casimir, General Secretary of the Dominica branch, lamented the state of the organisation at home: “…I must confess it to you, we in St Vincent are going to be water carriers. I am sorry I am here because when I read of numbers in other places and I see our people should have been on the same patch it make me feel like leaving them…” By 1937 when Garvey visited St Vincent, the organisation here was dead. He gave two addresses, since he had been a passenger in transit on a ship that stopped in St Vincent on its journey south and north. He spoke to packed audiences at the Carnegie Library. The riots of 1935 had already begun to transform the political environment and McIntosh and his Workingmen’s Association acted as his host. The St Vincent Handbook of 1937 reported, “The Honourable Marcus Garvey on his return voyage again landed. He delivered another enthusiastic address when there was insufficient room in the library to accommodate all those who attended. Again he emphasized the fact that the people must gain intelligence and avoid indolence.”

Garvey was one of the most remarkable black leaders, touching the imagination and stimulating the consciousness of blacks in the Caribbean, North and Central America, Africa and Europe. He was perhaps the best known Black leader. Jamaica made him a National Hero in 1971. The citation read for the occasion noted that “…Of paramount importance to the Rt. Excellency Marcus Garvey was the need for the Black Peoples of Jamaica, the Caribbean, North America, Africa and other parts of the world to recognize the dignity of their race.”

This, in fact, was part of the message he delivered in St Vincent.

He died in London in 1940.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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