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Our Marcus and their Du Bois

In the United States of America, the country with the second largest group of people who can trace the whole or part of their ancestry to the eleven plus million Africans who were kidnapped and brought to this part of the world to slave to increase the wealth of the European race, this month, February, is celebrated as Black History Month. Five hundred years ago the slave trade began, and over one hundred and fifty years ago slavery supposedly ended, but the conditions of many of the children of Africa today are not much better than they were when their first ancestors came.

The struggle for true liberation is ongoing, and in that vein this article takes a look on a couple essays, one written by Jamaican writer, Valerie C. Dixon, which Brother Louis Guild shared with me, and one by Mr. Colin Grant, the author of the book, Negro with a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey.

In Ms. Dixon’s essay she discusses her book, Too Black to Succeed, and the great Black liberator, Marcus Mosiah Garvey. If she’ll forgive me, for now I’ll mostly excerpt from the parts that focus on our Marcus. Both essays discuss the division between Garvey and another celebrated Black American liberator, W.E.B. Du Bois.

Dixon describes Marcus and his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) as the “real McCoy”, and states that he was inspired to liberate us after traveling extensively in North, Central and South America and seeing everywhere he went that most of our people were living and working in deplorable conditions and that violence and segregation were the experience of many of them.

Dixon says the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) is a Black rights organization that was actually formed by white liberals. She says that after race riots in Springfield, the white liberals called a meeting to discuss racial justice and of 60 people who turned up, seven of them were African Americans, one of them Du Bois.

Dixon said that in the minds of the sophisticated mixed-race founders of the NAACP, like Du Bois, the terms Negro and Black denoted inferiority, they were terms used to identify Blacks who were uneducated and poor, the kind of term used to disparage a man like Garvey. They preferred to be called, “Colored”.

Dixon said Garvey was aware of their prejudice and he lamented: “I was a black man and therefore had absolutely no right to lead; in the opinion of the colored element; leadership should have been in the hands of a yellow or a very light man. On such flimsy prejudices our race has been retarded. There is more bitterness among us Negroes because of the caste system of color, than there is between any other people, not excluding the people of India.”

Racism is endemic in the USA, in other parts of the Diaspora too, and Garvey saw that no matter how hard men like Du Bois tried to be accepted, they couldn’t make the grade. Dixon says it didn’t matter how wealthy and/or educated the children of Africa became — “no matter how much they tried (even to current date) to bleach away their blackness, while ladies wear wigs made from other races’ hair, they are still viewed as being black and no matter how some black people think they have ‘overcome’ racism, they are still dependent on the benevolence of white legislature or white society to give them a ‘pass of approval’ so that they can be ‘accepted’ into white society.”

Dixon says black people have sacrificed their “indigenous cultures in the hope that it will erase racism from our world”, but remain “divided along racial admixtures and hybridization” and mired in “problems associated with social injustice, racism and immorality.”

Dixon says that the change has to come from within, and that in his final years Du Bois “came to the realization that Marcus Garvey was right.” She said it is high irony that Du Bois “renounced his USA citizenship and is buried in Ghana, Africa, while Marcus Garvey’s feet never touched the African soil.”

Grant’s contribution, “Du Bois and Garvey Meet: No Blood Is Shed!”, published on the Oxford University Press Blog in February, 2008, discusses the history of the relationship between the two giants. Grant says the first time Du Bois and Garvey met was May 3, 1915, in Jamaica, on the grounds of the official residence of the governor.

Jamaican newspapers had described the Harvard-educated Du Bois “as a scholar who certainly ‘belonged to the aristocracy of intellect in America’”, and said that “a stocky dark-skinned black man was one of the last in line to extend a proud hand of welcome.” Grant says that Du Bois would recall Garvey’s ‘remarkable intensity’, and little else about “the man who was destined, over the next decade, to become his nemesis.”

Garvey, who at the time was just beginning his journey to become a liberator of his people, was delighted to be given the opportunity to meet the “eminent, noble-headed” Du Bois, whose titles at the time included “editor of the prestigious Crisis magazine” and “founding member of the NAACP”, an organization with several hundred thousand members.

Both men loved learning, the self-educated Garvey scraping up money to “take some lessons in law at Birkbeck College in London”, while Du Bois gained his “framed, embossed university qualifications.” Grant says Garvey wasn’t modest, oftentimes billing himself as “Professor Garvey, late of London University,” and he loved parades and pageantry. Both men were conservative, had Victorian taste, hated any injustice done to black people, and very quickly became “convinced that the other was the very worst type of Negro.”

Grant says that when Garvey arrived in New York in 1916, he “set his sights on wooing arguably the greatest African American leader of the time (a would-be mentor, old enough to be his father): W.E.B Du Bois”, and not meeting Du Bois when he visited the NAACP’s office he left an invitation for him to take a place of honor at his, Garvey’s, first public lecture. Garvey later said that when he visited the NAACP’s office there were so few colored staff there he couldn’t tell if he “was in a white office or that of the NAACP’”.

Grant says there was discomfort over their respective classes, that to a point Du Bois was embarrassed by Garvey’s “gauche uncouth bombastic nature”, though some said he was really “jealous of the younger man’s great powers of oratory and common touch”, because while Garvey inspired “the great mass of working class blacks”, Du Bois, primarily and unashamedly, spoke to “the ‘talented tenth’ of the race who were going to integrate mainstream society.”

Grant says that Garvey’s career took off quickly in America, and Du Bois was dismayed to see “the calibre of people who began to make their way to Liberty Hall, to savour something of the energy, excitement and theatrics of the ecstatic meetings.” When, in 1920, 25,000 of Garvey’s supporters followed him “from Harlem to Madison Square Garden to witness his coronation as ‘provisional president of Africa’, Du Bois was apparently spotted in amongst the crowds, squirming in his seat.”

Du Bois, Grant says, did everything in his power to derail Garvey, printing in his newspaper detailed stories about “the inept financial shenanigans of Garvey’s failing shipping enterprise, the Black Star Line”, and he used his good relations with the leaders in Liberia to get them to help him kill the fantasy of Garvey’s “back-to-Africa movement.”

For Du Bois, Garvey was a “dangerous and embarrassing demagogue”, and for Garvey, “Du Bois was the ‘unfortunate mulatto who bewails every drop of Negro blood in his veins’.”

Hmm, this Garveyite is on the outside looking in at the Du Boises as they work their plan, with the aid of their newly muscled allies, the LGBTQetc.

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