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A Report on The Book Marcus Garvey by Rupert Lewis

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Rupert Lewis was born February 24th, 1947 in Jamaica. He is a renowned author and Professor Emeritus of Political Thought at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, Jamaica. He is a proud public educator on the work of Marcus Garvey and the Garvey movement. Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr, also a Jamaican national, was born in St. Ann’s Bay on 17th August, 1887 to the intelligent Marcus Garvey Senior and the caring Sarah Jane Richards. Marcus Garvey possessed more of his father’s traits and had to shoulder a lot of responsibility after his mother died in 1908. He was married twice, firstly to Amy Ashwood, then to Amy Jacques Garvey, who gave birth to their two sons. He was a political leader, nationalist, journalist, publisher, poet, playwright, song lyricist, entrepreneur, visionary and an orator for Black Nationalism and equality, and Pan-Africanism. He promoted self-determination and self-reliance for Africa’s independence. He founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League in 1914. This organization played a tremendous role in leading the global mass movement known as Garveyism. Garvey died in London on 10th June, 1940 and was declared a national hero in 1969. In this report, issues of racism, political oppression, identity, religion and social integration will be discussed.

Central to the theme of racism, Garvey was made aware of it from a very early age. He had himself a little white girl as a playmate, however, she was told by her parents that they could not continue their friendship as Garvey was a “nigger”. On page 14, Garvey first learned about the difference in humanity, races and each having its own separate and distinct social life due to this occurrence. On page 36, it was shown that slavery created a political culture of racial separation with deep rooted views of black inferiority amongst the white population which justified arbitrary lynching and every kind of abuse. Slavery, being introduced by the whites, made the blacks into an inferior race and one which was not accepted socially. This mentality held by the whites then is still held by some now. Additionally, as seen on page 62, Martin Morua Delgado introduced the Morua law which banned parties based on race. This law had been the foundation for the brutal suppression and murder of three thousand Afro-Cuban peasant rebels by the Cuban authorities and American marines. This law targeted the black population only, thus it showed of the prevalent racism at that time. Moreover, the formation of black newspaper organizations such as the Blackman and Negro World was a way of getting the black information published, yet, as observed on page 65, police harassed vendors and postal workers, in an attempt to delay the immediate delivery of the newspapers through the postal office. This depicted clear oppression of the black race in trying to communicate freely. Together with this oppression, peasants were exploited by large landowners through hawkers’ licenses, market fees and water rates. The rural populace also had to pay in inequitable parochial taxes, from which they never benefitted. This was observed in page 68. This showed that the rural class suffered a lot financially, yet they still had to pay whatever little money they had to large owners. These taxes ensured that the higher classes maintained control of the economic resources and thus used this to oppress the rural population. This contributed largely to social stratification, and is still observed today. On page 69, it told that Garvey had to campaign for court stenographers to ensure fairness in judicial proceedings. The fact that he had to campaign in order to receive judicial equality revealed the racial prejudice that was present in the courts. The protest depicted on page 77 from the 1928 petition to the League of Nations argues, “We feel that the black republics of Haiti and Liberia… dealing with white nations.” This statement represents the fact that the black Republics were treated very differently in comparison to white nations. It showed that black republics had less chances of development and thus were ridiculed and thought less of. It showed that socially, white nations were more accepted than black Republics.

Conjunctively with racism, Garvey was an advocate for race equality and Caribbean unity. In an attempt for racial equality, The Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World was framed by the UNIA-ACL in August 1920. According to page 22, the declaration was set out to bring light to the inhumane conditions faced by black people globally and thus, framed the rights that were to be sought for the equality in treatment amongst black and white people. It also noted that blacks are secretly discriminated against and denied the fuller rights of government to which white citizens are allowed. This further proved that black persons were treated inferior to white persons, especially if they wanted positions of higher authority. In the words of Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian newspaper, “Financial power is still largely in the hands of white minorities in the region because of business patterns that have shifted little in the centuries.” In that same article, she referred to a study done in Barbados, which showed that in the Caribbean, racial discrimination to Afro-descendants were linked to the darkness of their skin, poverty and the control of economic resources. This, in my opinion, displays to us that not too much have changed from back in the 1900’s to now. Even though racism is not as blatant as it was historically, it still is present in today’s society.

Throughout the early 20th century, one of the major obstacles Garvey had to face was of course the systemic discrimination that kept blacks in subordination and upheld the historic American sentiments of white supremacy- political oppression. These white elitist ideals were institutionalized in the laws of the United States most notably in the late 1870’s where state lawmakers passed “Jim Crow Laws,” which segregated African Americans and would lead to arrest or violent reprisal if any African American challenged the status-quo. This conferred second class citizenship status extended to the inhibition of democratic rights among blacks and thus sought to keep them in a state of political oppression. During the great migration (1910-1920), black people continued to face discrimination in employment, segregation in schools and public facilities as well as barriers in voting. In this book however, Lewis addressed the implications of these limited rights for black people emphasizing that internal migration became rampant when many of them fled from the harsh conditions in the American South. The founding of the UNIA organization in 1914 was the first step in realizing an autonomous political reality for blacks. According to Lewis, Garvey sought patronage from influential figures such as the governor, the colonial secretary and an affluent landowner. The book further highlights in page 11, that one of the objectives of the foundation of the UNIA was “To establish commissionaries in the principal countries of the world, for the protection of all negroes, irrespective of nationality.” Thus, the UNIA was envisioned as a preliminary impetus that would challenge the white supremacist political framework of early 20th century America. Moreover, this organization would be crucial as the United States was lacking a voice in black leadership following the death of Booker T. Washington.

Concomitant to the calls for political and social reform was the emphasis Garvey placed on black pride and identity. Black pride was a central motif in both his speeches and in the literary works of his newspaper, “The Negro World.” Historically, the Caribbean and the United States embodied the workings of a total institution whereby the colonial enterprise controlled every aspect of the African labourers’ lives and stripped them of their culture. It is also important to note that a racial ideology had long pervaded North America which depicted African people as barbaric and pagan, ultimately serving as the driving force for institutionalized slavery. In page 9 of “Marcus Garvey”, the writer highlighted these negative black world views, stating that black West Indians often denied or denigrated their culture in order to escape Africa’s associated “lack of civilization” and “savagery.” Marcus Garvey ultimately sought to discredit these worldviews in an attempt to wrest them from European subordination and engender pride among blacks. Rupert Lewis chronicled this in his book on page 74, when he explained that in the 1930’s Garvey wrote a variety of plays which encompassed black culture and history, thus Garvey became a playwright. Additionally, he also stated that Garvey organized the Edelweiss Amusement Company which ran cultural and sports programmes. Rupert further explained that Marcus Garvey did not only promulgate black pride ideologies, but was also in favour of Caribbean integration schemes which would help unite Caribbean people and develop a sense of political homogeneity. It was during the 1930’s where he made an especially profound impact as a Pan-Caribbeanist, as well as a Jamaican political leader. In addition to this, Lewis noted on page 81, that Marcus Garvey’s teachings found great resonance with the Rastafari movement and some historians have even accredited Garvey as laying the foundation of this movement, as well as other movements, such as the Bedward and the Nation of Islam.

In conjunction with the theme of identity, religion was also expressed. In my opinion, identity and religion are interlinked since Garvey’s religion made up part of his identity. Lewis indicated on page 3 that Garvey was baptized into the Wesleyan Methodist Church in 1890 when he was only three. This meant that Garvey was brought up being a Methodist from a very young age. According to Lewis, Garvey’s belief was strong and was prominent in his speeches, meditations, hymns and sermons, but he later converted to being a Catholic. As Lewis recorded on page 74, Garvey organized the Edelweiss Amusement Company. It was there that he preached sermons and had choir songs. This depicted that Garvey was very vibrant in his religion and not only did he want to spread race equality, he also spread the word of God. Although he was religiously active, he did not believe, nor approve the religious-based social movements and their leaders. As depicted on page 81, Garvey recognized the way in which Christianity had been used by the Europeans to enslave Africans and this provided him with the understanding that the bible cannot solve all of man’s problems. It also showed him that historically, the bible was more able to influence man, but now, since societies and man have changed and become so sinister, the bible alone cannot influence them. Garvey was seen to believe, on page 82, that in order to save the race, he had to re-orientate their religious beliefs. He attempted to do this by establishing the African Orthodox Church. Additionally, he made the proclamation of visualising God as a black man so as to heighten the religious fervour and give courage to his supporters to accept and be proud of their race as children of a dusky deity. Religion played a large part in creating an identity for blacks in the 1900’s as during this time and earlier, they were subdued from their beliefs. It also segmented them from other blacks if they were not of the same faith.

Lastly, in this book, Rupert Lewis touched on the issue of social integration. From my understanding of this theme, miscegenation plays a large role in integration within a society. This was penned on page 31, where interracial couples, mostly black males and white females, had mixed-race children. These children were said to be the solution to black people’s oppression. They were to be more accepted into the society as they would become less segmented and more marginalized. Even today, we do see proof that this integration was successful. Garvey however, did not believe in the mixing of the races since he advocated for racial purity. He was proud of being purely black and of African heritage and expected that others also should be that way. Secondly, on page 86, miscegenation was observed whereby several African and Caribbean seamen had married Englishwomen who were involved in the UNIA work. The UNIA itself was involved in social integration as part of its function was to create equality amongst black and white races and ensure that all blacks also became one in the society.

In this biography of Marcus Garvey Jr, Rupert Lewis used both external and internal criticism. He did authenticate the documents he penned by accrediting properly and thus ensuring validity of each source used. After this, he attempted to find meaning of the sources, which he did successfully. He provided good insight to what happened in that phase of history and deciphered the information to us, the readers, quite well.

In conclusion, this report on the book “Marcus Garvey” by Rupert Lewis, dealt with the issues of racism, political oppression, identity, religion and social integration. These were all issues found within the book. It gave an insight to who Marcus Garvey was and what his contributions were to the black populace especially. The author accurately used external and internal criticism to ensure that we the readers understood that part of history and how social life was back then. In my analysis of the biography, various sources were used to supplement the information already provided within the book and to help get a better understanding of what was being chronicled. In my opinion, this biography was well written and provided lots of information on the life of Marcus Garvey.

References

  • “Race Problems Subtle in the Caribbean.” Trinidad and Tobago Guardian.12 July 2012.
  • “The South After The Civil War.” Khan Academy.
  • Gilmore, Kimberly. The Civil Rights Act of 1964: a Long Struggle for Freedom: the Idea Book for Educators. A & E Television Networks, LLC, 2014.
  • “LibGuides: Celebrating African American Culture & History: Home.” Home- Celebrating African American Culture & History – LibGuides at Huntsville-Madison County Public Library, guides.hmcpl.org/AfricanAmericanHistory.
  • International Journal of Historical Archaeology, Vol 6, No.2, June 2002.

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