But by this time Garvey had split with the American association and had formed his so-called Parent Body of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. The prospect of sharing in a valuable legacy, however, quickly revived the moribund American group to the extent that its leaders greedily contested Garvey’s right to the estate on the ground that he was no longer connected with the organization to which Morter had willed his property. After years of bitter legal wrangling, the case was carried to the Privy Council in London, which upheld the decision of the chief justice of British Honduras in awarding the estate to the American U.N.I.A. Before this financial windfall, the New York association had been almost completely inactive, but it now revived and began operation under the leadership of Lionel Francis, a West Indian physician who had joined Garvey’s movement at the 1920 convention and became successively president of the Philadelphia division and finally president general of the separatist American association.
-pg. 165, BLACK MOSES: MARCUS GARVEY AND THE UNIVERSAL NEGRO IMPROVEMENT ASSOCIATION, by E. David Cronon, The University of Wisconsin Press, 1955
If you would like to refresh your memory, beloved, or if you are just a callow youth who knows not of our ancestors’ history on the slavery voyages centuries ago, Steven Spielberg’s movie, Amistad, does a good job of reminding us of exactly what our African ancestors experienced/suffered on the way from freedom in West Africa, through kidnapping, jungle trekking with chains bolted around our necks, “warehousing” in inhumane coastal forts, transportation across the Atlantic Ocean naked and shackled upon and next to each other in the dark holds of sailing ships, to the perhaps ultimate indignity of the auction block in various parts of the Americas.
Over the centuries, there were courageous slave leaders who rebelled while being forced to work to enrich white slavemasters in the “New World,” and these brave souls ended up being executed, usually by hanging, but also by being burned alive, chopped to pieces, and other forms of violence too horrible to behold or to recount.
In the case of the settlement of Belize, where most of our rebellious slave ancestors ran to was Bacalar, just across the Rio Hondo border, and there they became free men if they accepted the Roman Catholic religion of the Spanish rulers in the Yucatan. Most of the escaped male slaves from Belize married Mayan women in the Yucatan and raised families which over generations became integrated into the Mexican state. That is one of the reasons why you will sometimes see full-fledged Mexican citizens in the Yucatan with kinky hair or African features.
A smaller amount of Belize slaves fled west into the Guatemalan territory of San Benito, and their African blood became mixed with the Indigenous and Mestizo strains in that area.
Today, Saturday, February 1, 2020, is the first day of what we call Black History Month, and that is the reason for this column. I want to focus on Marcus Mosiah Garvey, a Jamaican who was the greatest Black leader of the twentieth century. He was attacked and “broken” by the white power structure in the United States in the middle 1920s, and ended up dying alone and penniless in London in January of 1940.
I will also mention Toussaint L’Ouverture, the magnificent leader of the Haitian Revolution in the 1790s, who was absolutely the most powerful man in the Caribbean region in that decade. Toussaint ended up dying of starvation in a French prison in the early 1800s. Perhaps Toussaint’s fatal mistake was that he admired the French nation and people too greatly, not to mention the French Revolution, and it was because of his trust in French honor that he was taken prisoner in Haiti by Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother-in-law, Charles Leclerc. The Haitian leader who succeeded Toussaint, Dessalines, was under no such illusion as to the humanitarian instincts of the French, and thus it was that Dessalines’ successful war to preserve the freedom of Haiti’s former slaves became massively cruel and bloody under Toussaint’s successor.
I would like you to take your copy of last weekend’s Amandala and read/re-read an excerpt from an article on Marcus Garvey in a Canadian newspaper. (The article on Garvey appears on a page which is unnumbered, between pages 16 and 17.) Read the article carefully, and then begin to do research on Garvey, because he was, to repeat, the greatest Black man of the twentieth century, but he ended up in a situation almost as bad as Toussaint’s.
After Garvey was released from Atlanta State Penitentiary in 1927, where he had served two years on trumped-up mail fraud charges, he was deported to his native Jamaica. While Garvey was in prison, charlatans had taken over his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) organization, and the prize these charlatans were seeking to gain control of was the very wealthy estate in British Honduras (Caye Chapel, most prominently), which a Belizean, Isaiah Morter, had willed to Garvey’s cause of “African Redemption” upon Morter’s death in 1923. Had Garvey been able to acquire Morter’s estate to resume his work for “Africans at home and abroad,” he might well have returned to international glory.
I believe that a high court in Great Britain ruled in 1939 that the UNIA charlatans should be given the Morter estate. I believe this was why Garvey was essentially marooned in London, a city about to experience, a few months later, devastating bombing from Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Garvey was only 52 when he died of two strokes.
The new UNIA “leader” who benefited from the Isaiah Morter legacy was a Caribbean physician by the name of Dr. Lionel Francis, who moved to British Honduras and became active in local politics and social life. Francis was definitely pro-British in his local politics, and became an early opponent of the anti-colonial People’s United Party (PUP). No one in Belize has ever examined this man’s career here, and the moves he made with Isaiah Morter’s estate for his personal and family benefit.
In 1994, on the occasion of our newspaper’s 25th anniversary, this newspaper ran a competition for the best essay to be written on Marcus Garvey’s close involvement with British Honduras during the Morter era. In that essay, Regina Gordon, the winner of the essay competition, wondered out loud why the Garveyite movement in Belize, mysteriously, had become so pro-imperial and pro-British through the 1940s and 1950s. No one amongst the educational elite here has ever said a word about the issue. It is for sure that Garvey was anti-communist, but he was completely pro-Black and anti-imperialism.
The fact of the matter is that the European nations, over a period of four centuries or so, from the early fifteen hundreds to the late eighteen hundreds, brought millions and millions and millions of Africans to the Americas to work free for them, using viciously violent methods skillfully mixed with distortions of Christian religious arguments. Black History Month, from one perspective, attempts to convince alienated and dysfunctional Afro-descendant youth in the Americas, that our African ancestors were human beings of dignity, pride, accomplishment, and, indeed, glory, before the coming of the Portuguese, the Arabs, the Spanish, the British, the French, the Dutch, and other enslaving predators.
Until we Africans in the diaspora learn to treasure and love each other, as Marcus Garvey taught us in the 1920s and his disciples seek to do today, our young people will continue to abuse, rape, and slaughter each other, as if we were descended from animals instead of being the products of fabulous cultures in African civilizations like those of Mali, Benin, Zimbabwe, and so on.
Power to the people.