Letters

Marcus Garvey and the two Bahamians who deeply influenced him

Dear Editor,

In her book titled “Garvey and Garveyism”, the late Amy Jacques Garvey claimed that the late Pan-Africanist and Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) founder, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, was deeply influenced by a Bahamian physician, activist and politician named Dr. Joseph Robert Love.

Love, born on New Providence in October 1839, started publishing the influential Jamaica Advocate newspaper in 1894, while living in Jamaica, where he worked assiduously to improve the overall conditions of the Jamaican Negro population.

Garvey followed in the footsteps of his role model by publishing several newspapers during his controversial career: Garvey’s Watchman, the New Jamaican, La Nacionale, La Prensa and the Negro World. The Negro World served as the official organ of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League — a civil rights organization that Garvey, along with his first wife, Amy Ashwood, founded in August of 1914 in Jamaica. Garvey probably followed Love’s example in engaging in civil rights activism.

Garvey would also work for Pan-Africanist Duse Mohammad Ali’s African Times and Orient Review publication while living in England between 1912 and 1913. At its peak, the UNIA had a membership of over six million, with branches throughout the United States, Central and South America, Africa and the West Indies.

A UNIA branch was in The Bahamas during the 1920s and 1930s, as per E. David Cronon in his Black Moses. The Black Moses, as Garvey was called, as was Sir Lynden O. Pindling, would influence many prominent Black leaders, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, Elijah Muhammad, Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela and possibly even Pindling.

Headquartered in Harlem, New York, after his migration to the United States in 1916, Garvey’s UNIA experienced phenomenal growth, much to the annoyance of W.E.B. Du Bois and other NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) executives, who viewed Garveyism as a threat to race relations. Garvey’s arrival was one year removed from Booker T. Washington’s death, whom he had hoped to meet at his Tuskegee Institute.

Garvey, as was the case with King and other Southern Christian Leadership Conference officials, was closely monitored by J. Edgar Hoover and the Bureau of Investigation. Unfortunately, Garvey’s meteoric rise coincided with the First Red Scare, in which many civil rights organizations were suspected of having communist ties.

Born in Saint Ann’s Bay on August 17, 1887, Garvey was born four years before Haile Selassie I and 10 years before Rasta pioneer Leonard Percival Howell. All three are the most important figures in Rastafari, with Selassie and Garvey, along with the late Prince Emmanuel Charles Edwards, being members of the Ethiopian Africa Black International Congress triumvirate.

Notwithstanding his prominent status in Rastology, Garvey was a lifelong Roman Catholic.

UNIA delegates would condemn the Rastafarian sect at one of their conventions in Jamaica in 1935 or thereabouts, despite Howell being a Garveyite, according to the late Jamaican anthropologist Barry Chevannes.

Interestingly, another Bahamian would have a massive influence on Garvey and his movement: one Joshua Cockburn.

According to historian Dr. Gail Saunders, Garvey, while giving a speech in Nassau during the 1920s, referred to Cockburn as a “damn scamp”.

Cockburn had persuaded Garvey to purchase an old unseaworthy ship named the S.S. Yarmouth for $165,000, with the down payment being $135,000, for Garvey’s Black Star Line shipping company.

The S.S. Yarmouth was renamed the S.S. Frederick Douglass. According to Amy Jacques Garvey, Cockburn, a certified boat captain, allegedly received a kickback of $1,600 for the sale, despite receiving a lucrative monthly salary of $400 from Garvey. In 1919, $400 had the purchasing power of $5,990.77. Cockburn was a well-to-do Bahamian living in Harlem, perhaps within miles of the UNIA Liberty Hall.

Cockburn would go on to serve as a key prosecution witness in Garvey’s mail fraud trial in 1923. The Black Star Line shipping company would be Garvey’s undoing, owing to the blatant incompetence and negligence of crew members, some of whom were Hoover agents.

Being convicted by an all-white jury, after a four-week trial, Garvey would go on to spend about three years at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, after about two years of appeals.

With his five-year prison sentence being commuted by President Calvin Coolidge in 1927, he was subsequently deported to Jamaica as an undesirable alien.

Without the financial backing of his African American base, Garveyism died a slow death. And a Bahamian, Joshua Cockburn, played a significant role in its demise.

Two unknown Bahamians, Dr. Love and Cockburn, influenced the greatest civil rights leader in the first half of the 20th Century.

One assisted in his meteoric rise, while the other assisted in his demise.

Kevin Evans

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