W.E.B.

Du Bois Institute

Marcus Garvey: The Harlem Years Author(s): John Henrik Clarke Source: Transition, No. 46 (1974), pp. 14-15+17-19 Published by: Indiana University Press on behalf of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2934951 . Accessed: 10/04/2011 21:16
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46 TRANSITION
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II

MARCUS GARVEY: THE HARLEM YEARS

John Henrik Clarke
There is now a renaissance of interest in the life of Marcus Garvey. The African Independence Explosion, that started in 1957 when the former West African colony called the Gold Coast, became an independent country, now called Ghana, helped to set this renaissance in motion. Some of Marcus Garvey's dreams about African redemption were being realized. In his lifetime, he was a man who had a stubborn belief in the impossible, and came close to achieving it. During the uncertain years that followed the First World War, he built the largest Black mass movement that this country has ever seen. There was never a leader like him, before or since. His popularity was universal, his program for the redemption of Africa and the return of African people to their motherland, shook the foundations of three empires. In nearly all matters relating to the resurgence of African people, in this country and abroad, there is reconsideration of this man in his program that seemed impossible in his lifetime. His prophecy has been fulfilled in the independence explosion that brought more than 30 African nations into being. The concept of Black Power that he advocated, using other terms, is now a reality in large areas of the world where the people of African origin are predominant. Marcus Garvey's principal areas of agitation were the Afro-American struggle in the United States, his native Caribbean Islands and the universe of Black humanity everywhere. From the year of his arrival in the United States in 1916 until his deportation in 1927, the ethnic community called Harlemwas his window on the world. From this vantage point he became one of the greatfigures ofthe 20th century. It is no accident that Marcus Garvey had his greatest success in the United States among Black Americans in the community called Harlem. He came to the United States and began to build this movement at a time of great disenchantment among Afro-Americans who had pursued the "American Dream," until they had to concede that the dream was not dreamed for them. They had listened to the "American Promise," and also conceded 14 that the promise was not made to them. Marcus Garvey gave them the vision of a new dream, a new promise, and a new land. He restored hope where hope had been lost. This is the real relevance of Marcus Garvey for today. In the years following the end of the First World War, when America's promise to us had been betrayed, again we looked once more toward Africa and dreamed of a time and place where our essential manhood was not questioned. A leader emerged and tried to make this dream into a reality. His name was Marcus Garvey. The personality and the movement founded by Marcus Garvey, together with the writers and artists of the Renaissance period, helped to put the community of Harlem on the map. While the literary aspect of the Renaissance was unfolding, Marcus Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association, using Harlem as his base of operation, built the largest mass movement among black people that this country had ever seen. This movement had international importance and was considered to be a threat to the colonial powers of Europe which were entrenched in Africa. This magnetic and compelling personality succeeded in building a mass movement after other men had failed. This may be due to the fact that he was born and reared in an age of conflict that affected the world of African peoples everywhere. The appearance of the Garvey movement was perfectly timed. The broken promises of the postwar period had produced widespread cynicism in the Black population which had lost some of its belief in itself as a people. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. wrote of Garvey: "He is the only man that made Negroes not feel ashamed of their color." In his book, Marching Blacks, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. wrote:
Marcus Garvey was one of the greatestmass leaders of all time. He was misunderstoodand maligned,but he brought to the Negro people for the first time a sense of pride in being black.

TRANSITION 46 The Garvey movement had a profound effect on the political development of Harlem and on the lives of both the Adam Clayton Powells. The fight to make Harlem a Congressional Districl began during the Garvey period. In his New WorldA-coming, Roi Ottley (1943) observed that, at into unhappiness a most Garvey leaped theoceanof black the momentfora savior.He hadwitnessed Negro's timely of War. mountwiththe progress theWorld disillusionment of humiliahad all Negrosoldiers suffered forms Jim-Crow, and at tion,discrimination, slander, evenviolence thehands of a whitecivilianpopulation.Afterthe war,therewas a of another decadeof resurgence Ku Klux Klaninfluence: racialhatred openlawlessness set in, and Negroes and had the admiagainwereprominent among victims.Meantime, leaders werequitepointedin tryingto persuade nistration in Negroesthat in spiteof theirfull participation the war status effort couldexpect changes their traditional no in they in America. This attitude had helped to create the atmosphere into which a Marcus Garvey could emerge. In many ways the scene was being prepared for Marcus Garvey for over one hundred years before he was born. There is no way to understand this without looking at the American antecedents of Marcus Garvey, i.e., the men, forces and movements that came before him. During the eighteenth century there was strong agitation among certain groups of Black people in America for a return to Africa. This agitation was found mainly among groups of 'free Negroes' because of the uncertainty of their position as freed men in a slaveholding society. "One can see it late into the eighteenth century," Dr. DuBois explains in his book Dusk of Dawn, "when the Negro Union of Newport, Rhode Island, in 1788, proposed to the Free African Society of Philadelphia a general exodus to Africa on the part of at least free Negroes" The Back-to-Africa idea has been a recurringtheme in Afro-American life and thought for more than a hundred years. This thought was strong during the formative years of the Colonization Society and succeeded in convincing some of the most outstanding Black men of the 18th and 19th centuries, such as: John Russwurm, the first Black college graduate (Bowdoin, 1820), and Lott Carey, the powerful Virginia preacher. Later the Society fell into severe disrepute after an argument with the Abolitionists. Marcus Garvey was not the first West Indian to play a vital role in the Afro-American freedom struggle. West Indians have been coming to the United States for over a century. The part they have played in the progress of the Afro-American in his long march from slavery to freedom has always been an important factor. More important is the fact that the most outstanding of these Caribbean-Americanssaw their plight and the plight of the Afro-American as being one ai d the same. As early as 1827, a Jamaican, John B. Russwurm, one of the founders of Liberia, was the first colored man to be graduated from an American college and to publish a newspaper in this country; 16 years later his fellow countryman, Peter Ogden, organized in New York City the first Odd-Fellows Lodge for Negroes. Prior to the Civil War, West Indian coi tribution to the progress of Afro-American life was one of the main contributing factors in the fight for freedom and full citizenship in the northern part of the United States. In his book Souls of Black Folk, Dr. W. E. B. DuBois says that the West Indians were mainly responsible for the manhood program presented by the race in the early decades of the last century. Indicative of their tendency to blaze new paths is the achievement of John W. A. Shaw of Antigua, who, in the early 90's of the last century passed the civil service tests and became deputy commissioner of taxes for the County of Queens in New York State. In 18th century America, two of the most outstanding figures for liberty and justice were the West IndiansPrince Hall and John B. Russwurm. When Prince Hall came to the United States the nation was in turmoil. The colonies were ablaze with indignation. Britain, with a series of revenue acts, had stoked the fires of colonial discontent. In Virginia, Patrick Henry was speaking of liberty or death. The cry "No Taxation Without Representation" played on the nerve strings of the nation. Prince Hall, then a delicate-looking teenager, often walked through the turbulent streets of Boston, an observer unobserved. A few months before these hectic scenes, he had arrived in the United States from his home in Barbados, where he had been born about 1748, the son of an Englishman and a free African woman. He was, in theory, a free man, but he knew that neither in Boston nor in Barbados were persons of African descent free in fact. At once, he questioned the sincerity of the vocal white patriots of Boston. It never seemed to have occurred to them that the announced principles motivating their action was-stronger argument in favor of destroying the system of slavery. The colonists held in servitude more than a half million human beings, some of them white; yet they engaged in the contradiction of going to war to support the theory that all men were created equal. More than a hundred years of struggle, agitation and disenchantment would follow this period. When Marcus Garvey began his organizational work in the United States a large number of Black Americans were willing to listen to him. In Philosophyand OpinionsMarcus Garvey would later ask himself: "Where is the black man's government? Where is his king and his kingdom ? Where is his president, his country and his ambassador, his army, his navy, his men of big affairs?" He could not answer the question affirmatively, so he decided to make the Black man's government, king and kingdom, president ana men of big affairs. He taught his people to dream big again; he reminded them that they had once been kings and rulers of great nations and would be again. The cry "Up you mighty race, you can accomplish what you will" was a call to the Black man to reclaim his best self and re-enter the mainstream of world history. When Marcus Garvey came to the United States in 1916, World War I had already started. The migration of Black workers from the South to the new war industries in the North and eastern parts of the United States was in full swing. Dissatisfaction, discontent, and frustration among millions of Black Americans were acceleratingthis migration. The atmosphere and the condition was well prepared for the message and the program of Marcus Garvey.

*
He came to the United States in 1916, one year after the death of Booker T. Washington. He had exchanged correspondence with Booker T. Washington with the hope 15

TRANSITION 46

of securing some means to build, in Jamaica, a school similar to Tuskegee in Alabama. Unfortunately, Booker T. Washington had died the previous year. Marcus Garvey's plans for the self-determination of his people are outlined in the following excerpts from "Aims and Objects of Movement for Solution of Negro Problem" issued by Marcus Garvey as PresidentGeneral of Universal Negro Improvement Association, 1924.
Associationis an orgaThe UniversalNegro Improvement nization among Negroes that is seekingto improvethe conAfrica where Negroes will be given the opportunity to develop by themselves,withoutcreatingthe hatredand animosity that now exist in countriesof the white race through Negroes rivalingthem for the highest and best positions in

He organized, very boldly, the Black Star Line, a steamship company for transporting cargoes of African produce to the United States, and because of this spread rapidly throughout the Caribbean area and Central and South America, among West Indian migrant laborers. And due to the effectivenessof the American mass media of communication, it penetrated into the continent of Africa. One year after he entered the United States, in 1917, he made a speaking tour of the principal cities, building up a national following. By 1919 he had branches well established all over the world preparingto send delegates and representatives of fraternal organizations to "the first International Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World," which was held in August 1920 in New York City. The first public mass meeting was held at Madison Square Garden -the largest auditorium in the state, and white reporters conceded that about 25,000 assembled inside the auditorium, and there was an overflow standing in the streets. The significance of this thirty-day convention was that for the first time representatives of African people from all over the world met in sessions to report on conditions under which they lived-socially, economically and politically-and to discuss remedial measures. After the historic First UNIA International Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World in 1920, the cry, "Africa for the Africans, those at home and those abroad," became part of the folklore of the Black Americans. The most important document that came out ot this convention was the Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World. Marcus Garvey had started negotiations with the President of Liberia for colonization and development of Africa by Western world Blacks. This was the beginning of the hope and heartbreak of Marcus Garvey's colonization scheme. Between 1920 and 1925 the Garvey Movement rose to great heights and in spite of its troubles, continued to grow. This is the period in which the Movement had its greatest success and was under the severest criticism. The Convention of 1920 was a monumental achievement in Black organization. This convention came in the years after the First World War, when the promises to Black Americans had been broken, lynching was rampant, and when Blacks were still recovering from "the red summer of 1919," in which there were race riots in most of the major cities and the white unemployed took out their grievances on the Blacks, who many times were competing with them for the few availablejobs. During this time, Marcus Garvey brought the Black Star Line into being and into a multiplicity of troubles. He divorced his wife and married another, and made his name and his organization household words in nearly every part of the world where Black people lived. The trials and tribulations of the Black Star Line would read like the libretto of a comic opera, except the events were both hectic and tragic, and there were more villains than heroes involved in this attempt to restore to Black people a sense of worth and nationness. Marcus Garvey's trouble with the courts started soon after the formation of the Black Star Line. The charges and counter-chargesrelating to the Black Star Line were
17

a ditionof the race,withthe viewof establishing Nationin

the and spiritof pride love;to reclaim fallen;to administer the to andassistthe needy,to assistin civilizing backward of of tribes Africa; assistin thedevelopment Independent to to Negro Nationsand Communities; establisha central orAgencies nation therace; establish for to Comrrissionaries in the principal and countries citiesof the worldfor the
of representation all Negroes.

To us, the white race has a right to the peacefulpossession and occupationof countriesof its own and in like manner the yellow and black races have their rights .. Only by an of honest and liberalconsideration such rightscan the world be blessed with the peace that is sought by Christianteachersand leaders. The SpiritualBrotherhoodof Man. The following preamble to the Constitution of the organization speaks for itself: The Universal Negro ImprovementAssociation and African Communities'Leagueis a social, friendly,humanitarian, charitable, educational, institutional, constructive, and expansive society and is founded by persons, desiring to the utmost, to work for the general uplift of the Negro peoples of the world. And the memberspledge themselves to do all in theirpowerto conservethe rightsof all mankind, of believingalwaysin the Brotherhood Man and the Fatherhood of God. The motto of the organizationis: One God! One Aim! One Destiny! Therefore,let justice be done to all mankind,realizingthat if the strongoppressesthe weak, confusion and discontentwill ever mark the path of man, but with love, faith and charitytowardall, the reignof peace and plenty will be heraldedinto the world and the generations of men shall be called Blessed. The declaredObjectsof the Associationare: To establish a Universal Confraternity among the race; to promote the

government, politics,societyand industry.Thisorganizawhite black. and of tionbelieves therights allmen,yellow, in

The early twenties were times of change and accomplishment in the Harlem community. It was the period when Harlem was literally put on the map. Two events made this possible: a literary movement known as the Harlem Renaissance and the emergence in Harlem of the magnetic and compelling personality of Marcus Garvey. He was the most seriously considered and the most colorful of the numerous black Manassehs who presented themselves and their grandiose programs to the people of Harlem. Marcus Garvey's reaction to color prejudice and his search for a way to rise above it and lead his people back to Africa, spiritually if not physically, was the all-consuming passion of his existence. His glorious and romantic movement exhorted the Black people of the world and fixed their eyes on the bright star of a future in which they could reclaim and rebuild their African homeland and heritage. Garvey succeeded in building a mass movement among American Blacks while other leaders were attempting it and doubting that it could be done. He advocated the return of Africa to the Africans and people of African descent.

46 TRANSITION

the basisof most of his troublesand the causeof his conviction and being sent to AtlantaPrison. This was the of beginning the end of the greatestyearsof the Garvey Movement. The yearsof triumphand tragedywerebuildingyears, searchingyears and years of magnificentdreaming. vision of Africahad lifted the spiritof MarcusGarvey's BlackAmericans of the Depression out that followedthe First World War. The UNIA's African Legions and BlackCrossNursesbecamefamiliarsightson the streets of Harlem. The UNIA grewin membership in supand port of all kinds. Garveywas the beatingheart of the and voiceandprolific movement.His persuasive writings his effectiveuse of pageantrystrucka responsivechord throughout the Black communities of America and abroad. Branchesof the Movementwere established in Latin America,wherever therewere large Caribbean was An communities. AfricanOrthodox Church founded for in America. Now the Blackmanwas searching a new God, as well as a new land. The GarveyMovementbegan to take effectiveroots in Americawhen millions of Blackshad begun to feel with dignity that they would neverknow full citizenship in this countrywheretheir ancestorshad been brought to againsttheirwill, and wherethey had contributed the of wealthand development the countryin spiteof condiof tions of previousservitude. Againstthis background and brokenpromises fadinghope, MarcusGarveybegan to build a world-wideBlack movement. This, the first Blackmass protestcrusadein the historyof the United for Statesbeganto pose seriousproblems whiteAmerica. also posed seriousproblems the then for This movement existingBlack leadership,especiallyfor Dr. W. E. B. DuBois. In the article,"DuBois VersusGarvey:Race Propagandistsat War,"the writerElliottM. Rudnickoutlines the originsof the conflictbetweenthesetwo Blackgiants who looked at the world from different vantagepoints. and Both of themwerePan-Africanists both of themhad of and the as theirobjectives freedom redemption African people everywhere. Yet, there was no meetingof the these desirable mindson the methodsof reaching goals, In the articleRudnicksays: "Unlike DuBois, Marcus Garveywas able to gain mass supportand his propaemotionalappeal. He estaganda had a tremendous Association blished the UniversalNegro Improvement in New York (with branchesin many U.S. cities and severalforeigncountries). The aim of the organization of was the liberation Africa. By 1919,he set up the Black Star Line and the Negro Factories Corporation. In August, 1920, Garveycalled a month-longconvention of the U.N.I.A. in New York City. In the name of '400,000,000Negroes of the World,' he declaredthat Africamust be free. He did not botherto displaythe Pan-Africanleaders and restraintwhich characterized He wereinflammatory. warned that manyof his remarks his race was preparedto shed its blood to removethe landin Africa. His conwhitesfromthe natives'rightful and ventiondelegates members paraded throughHarlem. of Tensof thousands Negroeswereexcitedby the massed and unitsof the AfricanLegionin blueand red uniforms of the white-attired contingents the BlackCrossNurses. Garvey's followers sang the new U.N.I.A. anthem, 'Ethiopia, Thou Land of Our Fathers' and they
18

proudlywaved the Association'sflag (black for Negro skin, greenfor Negro hopes, and red for Negro blood). Neveragainwas the raceto havea leaderwho couldproduce such a wonderful show." DuBoispublicly untilDecember 1920 of ignored Garvey and this tardiness editorialrecognitionwas probably of due to the Crisiseditor'sambivalence towardhim. DuBois was profoundlyimpressed'by "this extraordinary leaderof men," and he acknowledged that Garveywas an man witha tremendous "essentially honestandsincere and vision,greatdynamicforce, stubborndetermination unselfish desireto serve."However,the Crisiseditoralso considered to be: him
... dictatorial, vain inordinately andverysusdomineering, ... with picious Thegreat difficulty himis thathe hasabsoand sense,no flairfor realorganization lutelyno business his general with bombast are and objects so shot through to that exaggeration it is difficult pinthemdownfor careful examination. The following month, after DuBois had requested (and failed to receive) a financial statement from the Jamaican on the Negro Improvement Association and the Black Star Line, the Crisis editor wrote: "When it comes to Mr Garvey's industrial and commercial enterprises there is more ground for doubt and misgiving than in the matter of his character." At least once DuBois entertained the idea that his own hopes for Africa's reclamation and an international Black economy could be achieved through Garvey's mass appeal. The two men were not strangers to each other before Garvey came to the United States in 1916. In the years between their first meeting and the eve of the Second

movement.

Pan-African Congress,DuBois had built a Black intellectualmovement,while Garveyhad built a Blackmass *
Garvey and his movement had a short and spectacular

foot on Africansoil. He spokeno Africanlanguage.But peopleeverywhere Garvey managedto conveyto African (and to the rest of the world)his passionatebelief that Africa was the home of a civilizationwhich had once been great and would be great again. When one takes of the into consideration slenderness Garvey'sresources and the vast material forces, social conceptions and soughtto destroy imperialinterestswhichautomatically remainsone of the great propahim, his achievement of gandamiracles thiscentury.
Garvey's voice reverberated inside Africa itself. The King of Swaziland later told Mrs Marcus Garvey that he knew the names of only two Black men in the Western world: Jack Johnson, the boxer who defeated the white

1926 he was in a Federal prison, charged with misusing the mails. From prison he was deported home to Jamaica. This is, briefly, the essence of the Garvey saga in America. MarcusGarvey,who was duly elected ProvisionalPresident of Africa by his followers, was never allowed to set

took really life spanin the UnitedStates. His movement formin the UnitedStatesin about 1919,and by effective

and man JimJeffries, MarcusGarvey. Fromhis narrow vantage point in Harlem, Marcus Garvey became a worldfigure. ideas of this remarkableman has created a Marcus
After years of neglect, new interest in the life and

TRANSITION 46

Garvey Renaissance. In his homeland, Jamaica, he has been proclaimed a national hero. All over the Black world he is being reconsidered with respect and reverence. His greatness lies in the fact that he was daring enough to dream of a better future for Black people, wherever they live on this earth. The Garvey movement began to fragment and decline concurrently with the end of the Harlem Renaissance. This period had a meaning that is generally missed by most people who write about it. This movement had indigenous roots and it could have existed without the concern and interest of white people. This concern, often

overstated, gave the movement a broader and more colorful base, and may have extended its life span. The movement was the natural and logical result of years of neglect, suppression, and degradation. Black Americans were projecting themselves as human beings and demanding that their profound humaneness be accepted. It was the first time a large number of Black writers, artists, and intellectuals took a unified walk into the North American sun. The Black nationalists and freedom fighters before and after Marcus Garvey were saying, no more or less than what Garvey had said in word and deed: "Up! Up! You mighty race. You can accomplish what you will."[]

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