Dr. Fraser- Point of View
September 9, 2011
Marcus Garvey’s Visit to St.Vincent

Marcus Mosiah Garvey visited St.Vincent twice in October 1937. His movement was then no longer the force it had been following his forced relocation in Jamaica. He had to some extent mellowed. The socio-political situation had changed remarkably since the riots of 1935. There was at that time greater racial consciousness stimulated by the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, by the Garvey movement itself and by the 1935 riots.{{more}} The middle class which had distanced itself from the Garvey movement when it existed in St.Vincent in the second decade of the twentieth century was very conspicuous, even the white Administrator was present.

Garvey having concluded a tour of Canada was on a visit to Guyana and the Windward and Leeward Islands. When he visited St.Vincent on October 19 he was actually in transit to Guyana. As the Investigator newspaper reported, “A large crowd waited on the jetty to get a glimpse of the world renowned leader who was accompanied by his Secretary, Miss Daisy White.” Garvey’s visit and the decision to allow him to speak were met with certain conditions. This was indicated by Governor Popham to the Secretary of State in August 1937. According to the Governor, after consultation with Governors of Trinidad, Barbados and the Leeward Islands, and with the knowledge that there were no reports of misbehaviour or trouble elsewhere, he raised no objection to his visit. He was, however, asked to give an undertaking “that any meetings which he addresses shall be held indoors and there shall be no reference to politics.” It appears that conditions were attached everywhere following the hard fought efforts by Captain Ciprani to get him to come to Trinidad.

There was a charge to hear Garvey, of one shilling for the front seats and six pence for the back seats. This was to help to defray the expenses involved in hosting him, the arrangements being coordinated by George McIntosh’s Working Men’s Association. (Imagine asking the general public today to pay a fee to listen to a lecture!) Among others present were the Attorney General H.A O’Reilley, H.J Hughes Labour Commissioner, Byron Cox, Acting Magistrate, E.J Romer Ormiston- Sub-Inspector of Police. A report on the lecture indicated that there were other leading citizens and “a huge gathering of the general public.”

The Times said about Garvey: “There can be no doubt that apart from the fact that this great Negro Leader is an Orator of the Select Class, his logic and philosophy are two of the factors that compel the earnest respect and admiration of any race.” Garvey’s expressed desire was to help others, particularly the ‘man lowest down’ with the hope that it would help to lift him up from the state in which he existed. His theme was “The Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man”. He reminded his audience that God had said that man shall eat bread by the sweat of his brow and that remained unchanged. He charged that Negroes wanted others to do something for them and wanted everything for nothing. They were more content to beg for a copper than work for one. He wanted them to change that attitude.

The Investigator summed up Garvey’s address: “Mr Garvey in simple English making a brilliant show of his oratorical ability emphasized the importance of gaining and using intelligence…What had been done by men of any race can be done by men of the Negro race. His theme was uplift through the use of opportunity and intelligence. With touches of humour here and there in the address Mr. Garvey held his audience in rapt attention the whole time. It was a delivery from which every one present gained inspiration and gratification.” His address was described as a moral lecture and not a political outburst. The meeting was chaired by George McIntosh, with A.C DeBique giving the vote of thanks, which was seconded by H.A Davis.

Garvey was impressed with “the scenic grandeur of St.Vincent” and expected to see more of it on his return. His return was on October 27 on his way back from ‘British Guiana’. On his second visit the boat arrived late, at about 7:45 pm. The party, including those who met him, went straight to the Carnegie Library, where there was a short musical programme, after which Garvey delivered his address on the same theme of self help and racial pride. The papers were again in full praise of his oratory and his message. “He …seems to possess an internal ‘something’ which casts a spell upon all within its radius…which pleases everyone and seems to divert one’s attention from exterior to inner beauty.” He was considered a philosopher of “tall order”, “and though simple and plain appears his philosophy, yet behind lies an abundance of deep thoughts…” “Again let Mr. Garvey pass as a man, but a ‘superman’, a man with a master mind and is willing to serve man even at the expense of his life.” The Times newspaper in an earlier issue had indicated that in 1928 Garvey was in England judged the third best Orator in the world, described as the “Black Demosthenes” (Demosthenes was a Greek Statesman and celebrated Orator of Ancient Athens)

Garvey’s theme and focus were not an effort to meet the conditions set on him by the Governor. His focus had always been on uplifting the negro, the issue of racial pride and convincing persons of his race that they could achieve anything that others had. The Colonial authorities were quite pleased as can be seen in Governor Popham’s correspondence to the Secretary of State informing him that “…the Administrator of St.Vincent has reported…that Mr. Garvey’s presence in that Colony on the occasion of his visit on the 19th and 27th of October were in any way embarrassing and that he considers that Mr. Garvey’s address contained ‘most excellent advice.’ “ In the 1930s following disturbances in the period before 1937 in a few of the colonies, including St.Vincent, the Colonial authorities were extremely worried about the political climate and were, therefore, very pleased with the focus of Garvey’s address.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.