YESTERDAY (August 17) marked the 128th Anniversary of the birth of Marcus Garvey and the song (by Burning Spear) from which this article is named was played over and over across Jamaica. Here, the Iyanola Council for the Advancement of Rastafari (ICAR) planned an anniversary activity for La Fargue in Choiseul yesterday and I dedicated my entire two-hour daily radio talk show on WVENT, earl@large (93.5FM in the North and 94.7FM in the South) to sharing of ’25 facts about Marcus Garvey’ with listeners. But what else was there? How else did we remember who Marcus Mosiah Garvey was and what he’s done for Black people the world over? Did anyone else remember him at all?
Of course some did, but not enough. Not near enough…
Marcus Garvey was born in Jamaica, but he built the biggest movement of Black people the world has ever known – the Universal Negro improvement Association (UNIA) — with over a thousand chapters across the Caribbean, the USA, the UK, Africa and everywhere else that Black people could be found. He united Black people of all origins – ‘West Indians’, continental Africans and people of African descent, regardless of language or nationality. He championed the cause of the American ‘negro’ by calling for a ban on the word ‘nigger’ and insisting that the name ‘Negro’ was spelt with a capital N.
Garvey’s words and actions touched, moved and mobilized millions. During the first half of the 20th Century he travelled the whole world preaching the ‘Back to Africa’ message and the UNIA built the Black Star Line Steamship Company that bought ships to transport any and all Black persons who wanted to go ‘Back to Africa’. He inspired leaders in the region, across the hemisphere and across Africa. And he established the largest Black newspaper ever to be published for the Black cause.
Garvey fought hard and long to build the UNIA and the Black Star Line. He was so successful that he became a much-feared threat to then society. The UNIA was banned in some countries, including several West Indian colonies, at the time. Eventually, Garvey was framed by the US authorities and arrested and charged with various crimes, including ‘mail fraud’ — and then jailed.
Garvey’s movement was broken by the establishment of the time and the Black cause suffered irreparable harm when he died in London after two heart attacks.
As fate would have it, after all he did for and in the name of Africa, Garvey died without ever setting foot on the continent. But, as fate would also have it, Garvey visited Saint Lucia while the UNIA was still very much alive the world over.
There are very few – but there still are – persons alive who attended Garvey’s Saint Lucia meeting, which was held at the then Clarke’s Cinema (in that very building now housing the S&S store at the bottom of Micoud Street).
A branch of the UNIA was also established here, with membership by the day’s learned ones and other attracted by Garvey’s influential oratorical skill. The General Secretary of the local UNIA branch was a Bermudan by the name of Wilberforce Norville, who was married to a Saint Lucian named Maria — and both lived in Faux a Chaux on Hospital Road, in a home that still stands and houses two roadside shops near a standpipe.
I remember interviewing Mrs Norville (better known as ‘Ma Lily’) as an octogenarian in her balcony chair, about her husband and their role in building and maintaining the UNIA Branch here. The full interview was published in ‘Calling Rastafari , the newspaper of the Iyanola Rastafari Improvement Association (IRIA) in the mid-to-late 1970s, published by the precursor of today’s ICAR. (There’s no e-copy I know of, as we had no computers then – and the Internet wasn’t yet invented.)
I’ve never read anything of what Garvey said here, but my late father remembered the names of the local men (and a few women too) who attended the Clarke’s Cinema meeting and established the local UNIA chapter.
At a time when – 180 years after ‘Abolition’ — the rest of the Black world is discussing and more nations are embracing CARICOM’s call for Reparations from Europe for Slavery and Native Genocide, the ‘Repatriation’ aspect of Garvey’s message and that pursued and maintained by the Rastafari Movement across the world in the decades after his death ought not to be allowed to die.
The Caribbean Rastafari Organization (CRO) has indeed successfully lobbied the CARICOM Reparations Commission to include ‘Repatriation’ on the Reparations agenda being pursued by the regional governments.
But even so, there’s still so much of the Garvey agenda that’s still to be fulfilled.
We need to learn and teach more about Garvey at our educational institutions. Organizations and entities like the National Reparations Committee (NRC), ICAR, National Youth Council, Folk Research Centre, National Cultural Foundation, Archaeological and Historical Society, National Trust, National Archives, the National Library network, UWI Open Campus, SALCC, Young Writers Forum, the young poets club, the ‘College’ and ‘Convent’ and other secondary schools – all these (and so many others too numerous to mention) can and should do more at the community and national levels to teach, learn and promote more knowledge about who Marcus Garvey was and what his works mean today.
But there’s also a more urgent and pressing matter that the CRO and others have put on the regional and international agenda — and which is being pursued by the Jamaica government: clearing and cleaning Garvey’s name.
Earlier, the call was for Garvey to be ‘pardoned’. But since it’s been certified that the Jamaican National Hero was indeed framed by the US authorities, that call has now been elevated to a demand that his name be completely cleared and he be exonerated (by a Presidential Decree, if needs be), with his name totally cleaned from the US records, where he’s still recorded as a convicted criminal who sought to defraud the US Treasury, among other things.
CARICOM, as an entity, needs to take-up that cause and back Jamaica all the way to the White House on the issue. President Barack Obama doesn’t have much longer as ‘the First Black President in the White House’, so it would be best to approach him at some time before he departs Pennsylvania Avenue. After all, there may not be another chance of finding a listening ear in the Oval Office, no matter who emerges as the next US President.
And it would also be good for our young (and old) researchers to dig into the archives to find out when Marcus Garvey came to Saint Lucia, what he said at Clarke’s Cinema in Castries and who were the members of the Saint Lucia Branch of the UNIA.
Suggested starting points: ‘The Voice of Saint Lucia’ must have reported on the Garvey visit and the National Archives must also have something(s) not buried too deep. My referred article is lying somewhere in the Central Library and in the stashed historical records of many Rastafari ‘elders’ around the island. And, of course — most important too – is the oral history residing in the memory and minds of those still alive who were members of the UNIA. Their names would indeed be the best starting point!
IN THURSDAY’S VOICE: From Emancipation to Reparations through Recognition, Reconciliation and Respect!