Letters & Opinion

‘Do You Remember’ Old Marcus Garvey?’

Marcus Garvey
By Earl Bousquet
By Earl Bousquet

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.

Marcus Garvey

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!

9 Comments

  1. Earl:

    Great information ! Our people are so mis-educated that they celebrate the names of all the evil Caucasians from Columbus to the Caucasian Queen of Pirates Elizabeth. The Caucasian has mis-educated the people of African ancestry deliberately concealing our History.

    All of us are victims of this wicked system of white supremacy. My daughter’s birthday is August 17, and I did not make the connection with Marcus Garvey until yesterday. Any Black person who is not angry about what these Caucasian Christians has done to us and our children are abnormal and mentally ill Negroes – as for me, I hate the “white” Jesus the most along with his minions like Linus Clovis and the other Black sellouts who make a livelihood from our ignorance.

  2. Yesterday I made the above statement refrencing the “EVIL CAUCASIANS” we are brainwashed into seeing them as “GREAT and OUTSTANDING” people, while we are taught self-hatred to produce Negroes like Josie and Rick John Wayne.

    Today I came across this information:

    How leaders are portrayed in history books, film, the news media and the public square depends on who—or what color—those leaders are. If one takes a look at the so-called “Founding Fathers” as a poignant example, their images are fiercely protected. Their bad deeds are scrubbed away—whitewashed if you will—and their positive contributions are exalted and blown out of proportion to their actual impact. Little to nothing is said of their genocide and displacement of native people, the subjugation of Black people, and their subordination of women.
    George Washington is called the father of the country, we are told, but little is mentioned of the 216 to 316 enslaved Africans he owned, or the fact that he signed the Fugitive Slave Act into law, which allowed for whites to recapture enslaved Africans, even in free states. Further, there is Thomas Jefferson, who owned 20 enslaved Africans, and refused to recognize the Black republic of Haiti when it seized independence from France.
    But if we were to scrutinize these leaders as we should, it would require us to take a completely different look at them. Mass murder, kidnapping, land theft and other crimes have been submerged and hidden, as those who committed the offenses have been recast as “heroes,” “leaders” and “statesmen.”
    James Madison, who inherited Africans from his father, the largest landowner in Virginia, once said: “A general emancipation of slaves ought to be 1. gradual. 2. equitable & satisfactory to the individuals immediately concerned. 3. consistent with the existing & durable prejudices of the nation… To be consistent with existing and probably unalterable prejudices in the U.S. freed Blacks ought to be permanently removed beyond the region occupied by or allotted to a White population.”
    And Andrew Jackson was not a Founding Father, yet is revered, although he owned as many as 300 kidnapped Africans.
    “Although you will find some negroes, at first hard to manage – still I hope you will be able to govern them without much difficulty,” Jackson once told his overseer. “I have only to say, you know my disposition, and as far as lenity can be extended to these unfortunate creatures, I wish you do so; subordination must be obtained first, and then good treatment.”
    Yet, Black leaders are exposed, left out in the open to be torn apart and maligned as their work, ideals and legacy desecrated. Marcus Mosaiah Garvey, the Black Nationalist visionary and founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Associated, is a case in point. The PBS website says the following of Garvey, “A personal and political antagonist to Du Bois, Garvey was both a visionary and a manipulator, a brilliant orator and a pompous autocrat.”
    It is worth noting that Marcus Garvey accomplished what no one had done before or since—he led the largest mass movement in African-American history, with a UNIA membership of upwards of eight million people. Further, he sought economic empowerment and social upliftment for millions of people, and employed thousands. Meanwhile, the man who worked overtime to destroy him and subsequently so many other Black leaders—J. Edgar Hoover—was honored with a federal building in his name.
    In response, Atlanta BlackStar has started an online petition to tell PBS to change its description of Marcus Garvey:
    Tell PBS to change its description of Marcus Garvey –
    ” Marcus Garvey was both a visionary and a manipulator, a brilliant orator and a pompous autocrat.”
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/wilson/portrait/wp_african.html
    contact: 703-739-5000

  3. Media images and narratives help create our reality, and the younger generation is influenced by the the images they see. When they come of age and become leaders in their own right, they will make decisions—bad or good—depending on the information that has been transmitted to them. And if they are falsely told that their ancestors were “manipulators” and “pompous autocrats,” they will act accordingly and to the detriment to the community.
    It is time that we reclaim those images, of Marcus Garvey and so many other Black leaders whose names have been dragged through the mud.
    Join us in our effort to change our world with Empowering Narratives. Share this empowering narrative on your social network of choice and ask others to do the same.

  4. /

    Just a thought to the wise:

    I am sure if you have encountered Negroes, you were told by them: “I am the only black working there”, or “My white friend….. this and that”. This language is a telling revelation of the Negro’s true identity, so don’t be fooled by his Afro or Dashiki. This type of language is an attempt by the self-hating Negro to “legitimatize” his worthless self by telling you how much he is loved by the Slave Master; think about that.

    How many of you are tired of the Negro Rick John Wayne telling us, “YOU KNOW, MY FRIEND ARNOLD Schwarzenegger/ SWATS-A NIGGER” ??? ENOUGH ALREADY!!! Rick John Wayne. I don’t care to know the rapist stripper who plugged his Babysitter!

    Listen to people’s language and hear what they’re REALLY SAYING, and that is called the ‘SECOND CONVERSATION”. What is Rick John Wayne REALLY saying here:

    https://www.facebook.com/284538805083530/videos/vb.284538805083530/417677621769647/?type=2&theater

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  5. By Jove, Jesus, you do have the prophetic gift of communique.
    Washington also punished the natives of the Longhouse nations following the War of independence..
    effectively splitting and exiling the fiercest group…Iroquois – to Canada.
    From his humble start as a land surveyor, he rose quickly on that expertise, to take advantage of the military needs venturing into virgin territories- the right man-at the right place-at the right time- the perfect storm syndrome.
    A true outdoor man -cultivated euro refinements never appealed to him -even in the role of president. He understood the savagery of the wilderness as akin to the savagery of human warfare. That is the nexus of his rise to general and president.
    We can deduce that the exploits of Julius Caesar were his deepest readings.
    My deepest take on Marcus Garvey is instilling self actualized economic empowerment in black communities-
    A model that has been translated in words by Malcom X and action by the US based Nation of Islam.
    Marcus must have inspired the aforementioned -deeply.
    Marcus has and is more relevant today for his ECONOMIC EMPOWERENT message.
    The lamentation in black communities in the US is the lack of BLACK economic empowerment.
    The closest thing to Marcus that Black communities have done is a boycott of a store here or there and a day off from shopping -a mere hapney against the zillion of gold ingots in the the symbolic vaults of Buckingham.
    We need the sentiment of Global collaboration espoused by Marcus and the controls of how and where we spend our resources; preferably as a collective that deepens -widens black economic empowerment.

  6. I would love to learn more about Wilberforce Norville and his wife as they are my great grand parents. Thanks for writing.

  7. @Bernad, Wilberforce Norville and his wife are my great grandparents as well… hit me up family ;)! Let’s share notes

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