Story and art for Garvey
Published: Wednesday | August 19, 2009
Members of the Akwaaba Drummers performing at a ceremony at Liberty Hall in Kingston on Monday, to unveil a bust of Marcus Garvey on the occasion of the celebration of his 122nd birthday. - Ricardo Makyn/Staff Photographer
There were multiple Usain Bolt references at Liberty Hall, King Street, on Monday morning - not about what his track heroics have done for Jamaica but what Jamaica's first National Hero made possible for him.
The story and image of that hero, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, were further officially inscribed into history at Liberty Hall on his 122nd birthday. The words are on a raised storyboard in the garden while a bust of Garvey, donated by Dr Wykeham McNeill, now looks out across King Street.
The storyboard was donated by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT).
The Akwaaba Drummers ushered in visitors and also announced the significant event to passers-by with song in the Liberty Hall Garden while the bust and storyboard were still covered, Professor Rupert Lewis hosting the section of the ceremony before the actual unveiling taking place on the building's rooftop. Senator Warren Newby, representing Minister of Youth, Culture and Sports Olivia Grange, said the bust and storyboard "represent our continued thrust to engrave the spirit, the work, the energy of Marcus Garvey into the generation that is upcoming".
Mayor Desmond McKenzie pointed out that "I represent an entity that was once a part of a division represented by Garvey in the KSAC (and that) speaks volumes on his impact on my life". He questioned, however, if we are really preserving and promoting Marcus Garvey's life and work as we should, and concluded no. "Marcus Garvey has done more for Jamaica than any other Jamaican has done," McKenzie said.
Laying the foundation
"We sing the praises of Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell and those making the track lively today, but someone had to lay the foundation. And Marcus Garvey laid that foundation."
McNeill gave the history of the bust in his family, as well as the connection with Garvey, saying that if his father and grandfather were looking down on Monday they would be "happy, really pleased, they would be proud".
"It is only fitting that the bust takes its place at Liberty Hall," McNeill said. The sculptor is still unknown.
The JNHT's Coleen Douglas said "A storyboard is one way of sharing the story of our past with children, adults and visitors," adding that while the world continues to ask about the exploits of a small nation, we should spread Garvey's message to show them how we do it.
Professor Barry Chevannes, chairman of the Council of the Institute of Jamaica, placed Garvey's life between the Berlin conference and World War II. Speaking to an era where "to be white was to be privileged", Chevannes said that skin colour "was like a dye you could dilute", going on to differentiate various levels of that privilege.
"It is that white wall that (Alexander) Bedward lashed out against and was acted so swiftly against by the colonial authorities," Chevannes said.
He said that there was a time when port workers were not allowed to walk up King Street, as they were deemed too black and unkempt for the tourists. And Garvey dreamed of tearing down the barriers, founding the Universal Negro Improvement Association when he was 27 years old.
"The rest, as they say, is history. What a remarkable history that was," Chevannes said.
Chevannes emphasised at the opening that Garvey gave to the black intelligentsia to define itself, naming many of those who stepped through the cracks Garvey created. He also noted the McNeill family's commitment to public service.
The storyboard was unveiled by Patrick Stanigar, chairman of the JNHT's board of trustees, while Senator Newby removed the cloth with the McNeill family nearby on the red steps and allowed Garvey's gaze to go into the distance. Acting director/curator of Liberty Hall, Nicosia Shakes, thanked all and Jimmy Tucker led the singing of the Universal Ethiopian Anthem/UNIA Anthem.
( l - r ) Mckenzie, McNeil