August 17th 2021 marks 134 years since the remarkable Marcus Mosiah Garvey drew his first breath on this earth. He was born in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, and his mission was to restore the pride of our black ancestors, through love of self and economic independence.
The Europeans had imposed a blond, blue-eyed Caucasian as the image of Jesus the Christ, and with their superior weaponry and eagerness to unleash them, they had subjugated Africa and the Americas. The white ancestor, through the gun and deception, had his knee on our black and brown ancestors’ necks. After years of degradation, many were convinced that the white man was a superior being.
When Marcus was born in 1887, our black ancestors were a lost tribe, just 50 years out of physical bondage. Marcus saw that our black ancestors desperately needed to be saved from the European fallacy. They were superior in wealth, yes, and they still are, but superior as creations of God, that was/is ridiculous.
In the PBS story, “Black Moses’ Lives On: How Marcus Garvey’s Vision Still Resonates”, Rund Abdelfatah said: “Back in the early 1920s, when Garvey was living in Harlem, the idea of Black nationalism, of unapologetic Black pride, was something whispered, not shouted. It was the Jim Crow era, after all, when white supremacy was the law and notions of white superiority were peddled by scientists in the U.S. and Europe. But Garvey wasn’t content to whisper.”
In one of his most memorable quotes, Marcus said: “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. Mind is your only ruler, sovereign. The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind.”
Every human being has faults, and according to some, one of the negatives of Marcus was this claim that he had called for all black people to go to Africa. Okay, okay, he might not be all things, but what cannot be overlooked here is the greater message, that the downtrodden must do for self and kind. It is so nice to love all people, but where the economics are concerned, our interest must be in those who have less.
I have a lot more to say about this remarkable hero, but today, to mark Marcus’s birthday, I want to drop a few notes about my paternal granny.
Granny Hyde embodied Garveyism
In respect to race, just about the most important thing to the Black in me, and the Brown in me, is that they both get the same respect that my white ancestors and present-day white people got and are getting. Anyone who knows a little history will be aware that the white race made a mighty jump after they discovered that gun powder could be used to project bullets, and because they were bloodthirsty, they thereafter ruled the world.
For me, I accept my white ancestry, because it is what it is, and I lobby for my ancestors and people of color, because God knows they, especially my black ancestors, have been trod on since 1492. I stand firm until the day when our mighty race is free of the mental shackles that hold us down.
I hate what my white ancestors did, and some whites do, but I don’t hate white men—though I definitely don’t go within a mile of some who say that it is God Who allowed it. I won’t hate, but I will insist on the truth. What they did was horrible, and their perpetuating their superiority myth is contemptible. While I can’t change the past, I can daam well try and change the present and future.
Of my four grandparents, only one was phenotypically Black, my paternal grandmother, Eunice Locke Hyde. My maternal grampa, a red/brown-skinned Kriol named Bill Belisle, I didn’t know him because he died when I was a baby. He was a hardworking man who worked the sea and the land, and his favorite subject for study was Math. His wife, my maternal grandmother Eva Lindo-Belisle, was half-white and half Kriol/Maya, and she grew up very well-off. I visited her a lot when I was growing up, but I didn’t know her that well. She was a seamstress.
My late uncle, James V. Hyde – wow, all my uncles are gone now – told me that white people are impressed by material wealth. I don’t know about my maternal grandparents, but my paternal grandfather, James B. Hyde, a mechanic and boat captain, definitely was not impressed by material wealth. Phenotypically James B. had the muddy white complexion of a Bill Lindo or a Melvin Hulse, and their fairly straight hair. He had no ambition to become rich, like one of his bosses did, Bob Turton.
My grandmother Eunice, affectionately known to all her grandchildren as Granny Hyde, was black. She was not as dark as her half-sister, Muriel Graham nee Phillips, or another half-sister, Lena McKoy, both of whom were as dark as Garvey, but to my knowledge she was more like Garvey than they or any of my other grandparents were.
Granny Hyde was all business. She insisted that all her children get an education, and she would not let anyone derail her plans. She had a grocery shop, and when the gas stations closed at night, anyone who needed fuel could drop by and get some from one of her drums. She was about setting up a hardware store, but the big hurricane derailed that.
Granny Hyde was a seamstress, and many of her clientele were so-called “bad” girls. She said their money was as good as anyone else’s, and they always paid on time.
When James B. borrowed money from his boss to buy a second house, Granny Hyde partitioned a section and rented rooms to a tailor and a shoemaker, to earn extra income to pay the extra bills, because not for hell would they run short on the monthly payments… because she had young daughters to protect.
My paternal grandmother saved money, invested money, and bought land in Belize City for her children. Mullins River stock, her yard always had chickens, a vegetable garden, and fruit trees. She was a mother to all her offspring. When I had sores she called me over every evening and gave me milk to drink, until my skin cleaned up. She ripened her bunches of apple bananas under her bed, so she could guarantee everyone got a share.
My grandmother, Eunice Locke Hyde, was a dynamic black woman, a true Garveyite, and the great and fantastic thing was, she was not alone in her generation. Our country had many proud people, of all our tribes, and they were dedicated to making the colonial masters know that we could build a great Belize. When you read Granny Hyde’s daughter, Chrystel Hyde Straughan’s book, From British Honduras to Belize: one family’s drama, you get a sense of how proud and dedicated our people were back then.
What went wrong, especially for the Afro people in Belize? Guatemala held a sword over our heads, and I believe that sword over our heads is big with blame for the failure of many of our leaders to keep the torch of greatness going. But not all these leaders have the big excuse. And before somebody runs off and says that people get the leaders they deserve, let me put them right. A people get the leaders that the political system allows.
There is still greatness in our people, all our people, and on Marcus’s birthday it is appropriate that we stir it up by echoing his call: Up, up, you mighty people!