Tuesday 18 December 2012


(We review some books that would make thought-provoking gifts this season.)

Negro With A Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey, by Colin Grant

Reviewed by Patricia Viseur Sellers

The breadth of Colin Grant’s biography of Marcus Garvey will satisfy, intrigue and evoke sighs from the reader. The book’s cover revives the emblematic photograph of Marcus Garvey - stiffly crowned emperor of Harlem - as he presides over the Universal Negro Improvement Association parade in 1920, when adherence to the UNIA neared its apogee.

The framing of the photo, slightly derivative of the nineteenth-century miniature of Toussaint L’Ouverture with plumed “chapeu”, is iconic. Yet, the frozen imagery belies the wearer’s adeptness at navigating the tightrope of the colour line.  

Grant relentlessly recounts Garvey’s evolution, starting with his passages within Jamaica, from St Ann’s Bay and eventually to Kingston.  This internal migration forges the self-taught boy into a young man who becomes not only a printer but also an “elocutionist” for the Jamaican working poor.

Garvey’s re-invention was spurred on first as a timekeeper cum newspaperman at the United Fruit Company and then by his travels to Ecuador, Honduras, Colombia, and Venezuela, where he bore witness to the indignities suffered by Jamaican migrants alongside other Caribbean and Central American blacks, toiling as neo-slaves.

Garvey returned briefly to Jamaica as a “Colon” man, a lauded worker on the Panama Canal, before setting off to England. In London, Garvey the journalist/student experiences the social and metaphysical status of the “black man (who) is both visible and invisible” -  the European negritude life.  The initial constraints of Old World expatriation plunges Garvey into books, such as Edward Wilmot Blyden’s racial exhortations and essays on the mistrust of mixed race Negros, and Booker T. Washington’s treatise, “Up From Slavery”.

Garvey re-emerged as what used to be termed a “race man”, albeit not one pinned to the parochial views of Washington but rather bathed in Pan-Negroism.  This archetypical journey abroad and into Garvey’s own interior expands into a collective calling for racial change and personal recognition when he lands in Harlem, the Mecca, in 1916. There, amid the competing racialist philosophers and firebrands seizing upon the political ripening of the New American Negro(s) freshly seared by World War I, Garvey preaches/beseeches and soon culls his followers-to-be of the UNIA. Grant aptly denotes this period the “second coming of Marcus Garvey”.  

Author Colin Grant in Jamaica
And it was a glorious existence. Political activism caroused with journalism, the arts and religious-like acts aimed at the redemption, improvement and resurrection of the Negro Races.  However, all gallops toward self-realized freedom by the UNIA drew confrontations, denunciations and deceit from several other black organizations, most notably the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People.

Grant details the bitter battles between the NAACP’s revered leader, light-skinned intellectually enthroned W E B Dubois, and Garvey who championed his working class, urban and agrarian-based UNIA.  Their philosophical divergences, the UNIA’s Back to Africa program and the NAACP’s political and social integration platform, frequently erupted into public intra-black showdowns. 

If the number of adherents signified the utility and worth of a black liberation philosophy, the UNIA (brimming with its international analysis of racism, especially concerning the New World Negro) won decidedly. However, there existed no neat measuring rods nor finishing lines in these intra-racial struggles for the souls of the Negro, and pithy success was to be discerned by concessions from the outside, non-black, world.

Moreover, the internecine animosity of Negro liberation organizations, and other political movements such as socialism or unionism, fuelled and played into the clutches of the encroaching US governmental surveillance of the UNIA. Garvey was ultimately charged with fraudulent use of the US mail, a federal offense.

Grant charts the UNIA’s demise as a viable commercial enterprise, and Garvey’s demise as its leader through his trial and imprisonment.  The author writes that the imprisoned Garvey lashed out at his black, half-caste tormentors, especially Du Bois, and censured them more than he blamed the inimical racist political constraints of the New World.  

Back to Jamaica but not to Paradise
The third act of Garvey’s life, told briefly, comprises his deportation to Jamaica.  This era is significant because it shows the political gap between the two countries. The UNIA philosophy of return to Africa appealed to US blacks who lived in a nation structured along racial apartheid.  It, however, proved more discordant in a still colonial Jamaica that toiled under a caste and feudal system, administered by appointed British whites.

Broken, Garvey leaves on his final sojourn to England.  This results in no return to glory, nor, more critically, any progression of Garvey’s or the UNIA’s philosophical bases.

Grant honours the reader by granting an unflinching aperture into this devolving, ruminating Garvey, too bound to his world view. It is an oft told tale of third acts. Garvey disdains deep self reflection. His evolution has sputtered then halted. In the aftermath of the Great War, he deftly seized upon former slaves’ seminal yearning for black pride and created an organization that offered a seemingly permanent solution – return to Africa. Two decades later, he remained myopically tethered to its untenable execution.   

As Garvey retakes to the Speakers’ Corner in London, the UNIA’s urging of separation and black colonization of Liberia misreads the new generation of Africans whose priority was European decolonization. He also misreads the American-based race movements’ determined struggle for political enfranchisement.

Colin Grant at a reading in Jamaica
Tellingly and sadly, Garvey, who prophesied the rise of a King from Africa, is stunned by Haille Selassie’s refusal to receive him and is angered, inconsolably, by London liberals’ enchantment with Paul Robeson. Grant’s dense, fact-packed biography, viewed mostly through Garvey’s eyes and personality, occludes Garvey's insistence on his now ill-suited vision of colonisation. Not enough distance is provided for the reader to fully contemplate how Garvey comprehends the political world he inhabits.

Thankfully Grant stopped to direct a word to the reader on that fateful day of the UNIA parade.  Grant observes and avers that if Garvey were the embodiment of a Roman charioted emperor, at the cessation of the roar of the crowds, a dutiful slave would have whispered in his ear, “ Remember you are only human’.   The advice is not necessarily about scornful pride, but possibly about the confines of humanness and human clairvoyance.

Upon concluding the book, one should again glance at the cover to refocus on Garvey’s eyes, not his hat. Those solemn eyes seemingly gaze at the inevitable unfolding of history, some of which he prophesied, even in his flawed way, and some of which may still come to pass as he foresaw.

(Patricia Sellers is an international criminal lawyer.)


Bridges is a remarkable compilation of 45 stories by writers from more than 15 countries, many of whom are renowned internationally, and all of whom have a passion for the short story. Edited by Maurice Lee, dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Central Arkansas, the anthology represents diverse cultures and is aimed at a global audience.

Lee says that the anthology began as a “family affair” to support the writers attending the 12th International Conference on the short Story in English that took place in Little Rock, Arkansas, in June of this year. But once he began collecting the stories, Lee realized that the anthology would be “one of a kind”, with writers representing the United States, Caribbean islands, France, China, Indonesia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and other countries.

The stories underline that we are in a “global society, and we now have to become global citizens”, Lee says. He hopes that the book will assist readers in “embracing that reality”, and with such an engaging, wide-ranging collection of stories, his wish just may be fulfilled.

For more information: www.temenospublishing.com.

Black Paris Profiles is an e-book written by Monique Wells, an African-American professional who has lived in Paris for 20 years. The collection of articles provides an up-close and personal view of what life is like for people who have left the United States and the Caribbean to settle in the French capital, with all the challenges of being a "foreigner". 

The book profiles 24 contemporary African-American and Afro-Caribbean expatriates (including SWAN's editor Alecia McKenzie) who have launched and developed careers, started families and shaped lives and communities in France, in their homelands, and in other countries as well. 

So, how do you give an e-book as a present? All you need to do is go to Amazon.com and click on the button that says “Give as a gift” in the box at the top of the right sidebar.  Then, follow the instructions on the gift purchase page.

Wells says that it’s not necessary to own a Kindle device, as free apps are available from Amazon that allow you to read Kindle books on major types of computer, tablet, or smartphone.  You can download the app that you need.


Snapshots from Instanbul, by Jaqueline Bishop, the Twelve-Foot Neon Woman, by Loretta Collins Klobah (see sidebar), and Jubilation!, edited by Kwame Dawes, are just some of the poetry collections we've also enjoyed this year. Check them out at: peepaltreepress.com.