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Marcus Mosiah Garvey lectured in St Vincent

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Last Monday, August 17th, would have been 133 years since Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born at St. Ann’s Bay on Jamaica’s North Coast. In commemorating that occasion, I will reflect on his visit to St. Vincent during October 1937, eighty three years ago, when he delivered two lectures in Kingstown on October 19 and 27, 1937. After being imprisoned on trumped-up charges in 1925, he was released in 1927 and deported to Jamaica. Unable to visit the US he made visits to London and to Canada. It was from Canada in 1937 that he undertook a speaking tour of the West Indian colonies. Conditions were laid out for his visit. There were to be no open air meetings and political subjects were not to be discussed.

The 1935 riots had transformed the Vincentian political landscape. When the charges against George McIntosh for instigating the riots were dismissed, he immediately became the hero of the crowd. On the 2nd of March 1936 he was able to launch an organisation, the St. Vincent Workingmen’s Association (SWMA), which contested the colony’s elections on a slightly revised constitution on March 25, 1937. Their overwhelming victory, winning 4 of the 5 seats, marked the dawn of a new day in the colony’s politics.  The local UNIA branches had become defunct by the 1930s, so McIntosh and the SWMA took on the responsibility of coordinating his visit. He arrived on October 19th on the Lady Nelson on its way further south, eventually to British Guiana. He visited parts of the country and was struck by its beauty and hoped to see more on his return. After a visit to Government House where he signed the Visitors’ Book, he was taken to the Carnegie Library. The “large and representative” gathering had been charged a small fee to defray expenses. Among the audience was the Administrator and Attorney General.

 After a short musical programme and an introduction by George McIntosh, Garvey held his audience spell bound. His focus was on his race, helping the small man to find and know himself and be lifted from the state in which he was existing. He wanted him to wake up and take control of his affairs. No man, he felt, must blame his downtrodden condition only on external forces, for the fault always lay in himself. His philosophy was one of self-help and racial pride. He begged them to get intelligence and do for themselves, not depending on the other man. In a letter written by one J. R McLeod who called himself ‘Free Thinker’, he considered Garvey a ‘scholar of no mean order’ and felt that his address should be read from the pulpits of the churches and be broadcast among the people as much as possible.

For his second lecture on October 27, the ship arrived late, at about 7:45 pm. Garvey was taken directly to the Public Library. His focus again was on self help and racial pride. The Times newspaper was full of praise. “. . . Let Mr Garvey pass as a man, but a ‘super-man’ with a master mind and is willing to serve men even at the expense of his life”. It said that his “oratory excels” and what he had to say is appreciated by the man on the street with keen interest. It was reported that there was insufficient room to accommodate all who wanted to hear him.  The Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935, which was followed closely by the Vincentian public and the 1935 riots, which was linked to a strong sense of racial pride, made Garvey’s message more acceptable to a wider cross section of the Vincentian public that identified with the pride of the Abyssinian people. The Italian invasion was followed closely on the cable boards by members of the public. A number of lectures had been given by T Albert Marryshow of Grenada who was Vice President of the International Friends of Ethiopia. That was two years before, so the issue of racial pride was something that attracted the peoples’ attention and Garvey’s reputation was well-known.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian

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