VINSON: Forgotten factor in the civil rights equation
MIKE VINSON, Post Columnist
1. Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka (Kansas), where, in 1954, the United States Supreme Court “declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional.”
2. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. from his role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-1956 to his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, and his tragic assassination in 1968.
I wonder, though, how many readers are familiar with the name “Marcus Garvey,” as well as his role in the civil rights movement?
Very few, I wager.
Marcus Garvey was born Aug. 17, 1887, in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica.
Traveling around, and living in the Caribbean during his early years, Garvey landed in London, England, in 1912, where he attended Birbeck College.
In 1914, Garvey formed the Universal Negro Improvement Association/UNIA, with headquarters in Jamaica.
Having corresponded with the likes of Booker T. Washington, Garvey first arrived in the United States in spring 1916, and commenced touring and lecturing with the ultimate goal of raising the money to build in Jamaica a school modeled after the Tuskegee Institute, located in Tuskegee, Ala., a school of academic renown, in which Booker T. Washington played a pivotal role as an instructor.
After arrival in the U.S., with New York City as his base, Garvey quickly set about to improve “at home and abroad” the conditions “of those of African ancestry.”
June 1919, the Black Star [Shipping] Line of Delaware was formed by members of the UNIA, with Garvey as president.
In September 1919, the Black Star Line of Delaware acquired its first ship, the S.S. Yarmouth. However, there arose considerable concern, in some circles, when the S.S. Yarmouth was rechristened the S.S. Frederick Douglass in a relatively short period of time.
Apparently, this concern was shared by Edwin P. Kilroe, assistant district attorney in the District Attorney’s office of the County of New York, which launched an investigation into Garvey and the UNIA.
Garvey rebutted by writing an unflattering editorial on Kilroe, which was published in Negro World, a weekly newspaper in New York City that, to a large degree, served as the “voice” for Garvey and the UNIA.
On Oct. 14, 1919, as he sat in his Harlem-based office, Marcus Garvey was paid a visit by a man named George Tyler, who, purportedly, told Garvey that New York ADA Kilroe had sent him, Tyler, to kill Garvey.
Tyler pulled out a revolver and fired several shots, wounding Garvey in the process. Garvey was rushed to the hospital, and Tyler was arrested.
Records indicate that Tyler, the next day, committed suicide by leaping out of the third floor of the Harlem Jail, as he was being arraigned.
A highlight for Marcus Garvey came on Aug. 1, 1920, with UNIA membership having grown to a reported 4 million, more than 25,000 people from all over the world crowded into Madison Square Garden to hear Garvey deliver a speech.
Still, in 1922, Garvey traveled to Atlanta, Ga., and personally met with Edward Young Clarke, the Imperial Giant for the Ku Klux Klan.
Though some felt Garvey was genuinely attempting to establish racial rapport, others denounced him. W.E.B. Du Bois stated that Garvey was “either a lunatic or a traitor.”
Ultimately, Garvey was convicted of mail fraud and served time at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary from February 1925 until November 1927.
Upon his release from prison, Garvey was deported to his native Jamaica. He continued to be a major proponent of the “Back-to-Africa-Movement,” which encouraged those of African descent to return to their homeland.
Garvey died on June 10, 1940. Though overlooked and forgotten, he will remain a colorful, larger-than-life figure for die-hard students of the civil rights movement.