Sat | Dec 15, 2018

Marcus Garvey: The avowed father of modern political movement

Published:Thursday | December 6, 2018 | 12:00 AM
GARVEY
P.J. Patterson
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P.J. Patterson, ON, OCC, PC, QC, was Jamaica's sixth and longest-serving prime minister from 1992 to 2006. His book, My Political Journey: Jamaica's Sixth Prime Minister, published by The University of the West Indies Press, will be launched on December 12. The Gleaner will be publishing excerpts every day until the launch. This is Part Two.

The decade of the 1930s represented a major water-shed in the history of Jamaica and the Caribbean. In March 1935, the avowed father of the modern political movement, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, had left Jamaica for the last time.

He announced his intention to pursue political ambitions in England, where he would live until his death in 1940. It marked the end of Garvey's political career in Jamaica, but it was the beginning of an era that, influenced by his activism and writings, would culminate in the birth of modern Jamaica. For the first time, the issues of the mass of Jamaicans would take centre stage. We were about to witness the emergence of a new breed of leaders in Jamaican politics and the workers' and nationalist movements.

 

GALVANISING BLACK PEOPLE

 

Garvey expanded on the teachings of Dr Robert Love to create the philosophy of pride and upliftment that would change the perspective of black people internationally. From his base in Harlem, he built the Universal Negro Improvement Association, which spawned branches across the globe, wherever there were communities of black people.

His work was phenomenal and garnered for him admirers and critics alike. His success in galvanising black people made him a target for the white establishment, which engineered his imprisonment and deportation to Jamaica in December 1927. Jamaicans had been keeping abreast of his activities and gave him a hero's welcome on his return home.

According to a report in the Daily Gleaner of December 12, 1927, "deafening cheers were raised" when his ship arrived in Kingston Harbour.

He continued his seminal work in Jamaica, "taking his message of black nationalism to all who would listen and read".

He spread the word on national pride and political awareness through his journals the Blackman (later the Black Man) and the New Jamaican and through his many meetings, debates and lectures. Thousands of Jamaicans thronged weekly to his cultural headquarters, Edelweiss Park in Cross Roads, to hear his messages of enlightenment and inspiration.

His own political ambitions were not realised in Jamaica, as the supporters of his People's Political Party were not able to meet the voter registration requirements. The manifesto of the party would, however, provide the main planks on which future political parties would build their constitutions. In it Garvey called for social and economic legislation, the promotion of native industries, minimum-wage legislation, the establishment of a Jamaican university, the establishment of a legal-aid department to assist the poor in the courts, legislation to protect voters, and land reform.

Decades would pass before Jamaica caught up with Garvey's vision. He consistently campaigned for social reform which would see the improvement of the ordinary Jamaican. He fought relentlessly against injustice and oppression, advocating for schools, better working conditions, improved wages and other benefits for the majority of Jamaican workers who toiled in the banana and sugar industries. He was prophetic when he warned that if their situation was not improved, working-class Jamaicans would rebel against the status quo.

While Garvey may have spoken specifically of Jamaica, his words would ring true for the entire Caribbean, and the mid-1930s would see labour uprisings protesting the unspeakable poverty and arduous conditions faced by the majority of people in the region. The unrest brought to the fore men who would lead Caribbean labour movements - the first successful political movements - and whose names are now recorded in the annals of Caribbean political history.