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How Marcus Garvey influenced Trinidad

By Kim Johnson
August 23, 1998

Throughout the whole of last week, Marcus Garvey's birthday was commemorated at the Abiadama Centre for Lifelong Learning. There were lectures and displays on things African, music and food from the motherland, all in celebration of the great leader of the African diaspora who was born on August 17, 1887 and died on June 10, 1940.

Today he is vaguely known in Trinidad mainly through the influence of reggae music, but in the 1920s and 1930s he was the most famous, most loved and most hated black man in the world. Garvey's organisation, the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), had millions of supporters in branches throughout the world; his newspaper Negro World was sold-and banned-wherever there were Africans. And Trinidad was no exception.

Furthermore, Trinidadians played central roles in the Garvey movement, starting with Charles Zampty from Belmont, who met Garvey in Panama. Zampty migrated to New York in 1918 and by the following year founded a branch in Detroit. In 1922 he was the UNIA auditor-a post he held until 1977 when he met Tony Martin.

But it was the 1919 dockworkers' strike which revived the dormant Trinidad Workingmen's Association (TWA) and introduced Garveyism to the masses. Howard Bishop, the leading light in the TWA, reprinted articles from Negro World in the Association's Labour Leader. TWA secretary James Braithwaite was on occasion president of the Port of Spain UNIA.

Such was the fear Garvey instilled in the colonial authorities that Negro World was banned in Trinidad as in many British colonies throughout the world. Braithwaite, for calling the 1919 strike, was jailed for 30 days. Other TWA leaders were deported, including Grenadian John Sydney de Bourg, who went to New York where he became the UNIA's Leader of the Negroes of the Western Provinces of the West Indies and South and Central America.

De Bourg became Garvey's right hand man and he was made a Knight Commander of the Nile and Duke of Nigeria and Uganda, and was awarded the Gold Cross of African Redemption. Sadly, de Bourg fell out with Garvey and testified against him in the infamous 1932 trial.

Trinidadians also held shares in the UNIA's Black Star Line. Randolph Flanner and Allan Berridge, both workers from the Government Foundry, became engineers for the Line's ships. Joshua Parris was a fireman there too. But the links between Trinidad and Garvey grew closer in the form of the flamboyant Hubert Fauntleroy Julian, aka the Black Eagle.

Reputedly the first black man to qualify as a pilot in the US, Julian flew a Curtis biplane painted with UNIA slogans as a surprise for Garvey's 1922 Convention. He buzzed the parade-there were as yet no restrictions against low flying-and later Garvey introduced him to a mass meeting as an example of black achievement.

By then there were over 30 UNIA branches in this country (Jamaica had only ten). Garvey historian Tony Martin lists the following as having UNIA branches: Balandra Bay, Carapichaima, Caroni, Cedros, Chaguanas, Couva, D'Abadie, Enterprise, Gasparillo, Guaico, Iere Village, La Brea, Los Bajos, Mucurapo, Marabella, Matura, Morne Diablo, Moruga, Palmyra, Penal, Port of Spain, Princes Town, Rio Claro, Ste Madeleine, San Fernando, Siparia, Tableland, Victoria Village and Williamsville.

These organisations stimulated African racial pride and self-reliance but doubled as friendly societies to pay death benefits. In March 1922, the charter for the Port of Spain branch was unveiled at the Ideal Hall on Tragarete Road.

The meeting started at 3 p.m. with a procession of UNIA youth and the UNIA choir. Local UNIA President Stanley Jones, Vice President Thomas O'Neale, Chaplain Reginald Perpignac, Black Cross Nurses Director Louise Crichlow and Commissioner for Trinidad Percival Burroughs followed before a detachment of Black Cross Nurses.

Dressed like an Ethiopian queen, Nauma Brathwaite unveiled the Charter. Burrows presented each officer with his emblem of office-a gavel for the President, a Bible for the Chaplain, and so on. TWA leader Howard Bishop delivered the feature address.

Burrows eventually became the UNIA Commissioner for District 5 of the Foreign Fields-which included Trinidad, Grenada, St Vincent, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela. Surprisingly, one Hucheshwar Mudgal, who was born in India and grew up in Trinidad before moving to the US, became editor of the Negro World and was foreign affairs columnist for Garvey's Daily Negro Times.

Cyril Crichlow, a Trinidadian in New York, was the official UNIA reporter and he moved to Liberia with Garvey when the latter attempted to shift base to Africa. Crichlow got into a squabble with the Liberian UNIA leader Gabriel Johnson and Crichlow sought the assistance of the US minister in Monrovia and sued Garvey for backpay.

Due to hostile propaganda, but also because of its latter day connection with Rastafarianism, Garvey's message is thought to be a simplistic one of repatriating all black people to Africa. Actually, Garvey preached that the negro race needed a strong nation which would necessarily be based in Africa, for the protection of black people the world over, much as Europeans and Americans are protected by their countries.

Nor was Garvey's idea of racial pride a matter of envy towards other races. Rather, he advocated self-discipline as the basis of pride, and was severely critical of complainers: "We are too envious, malicious and superficial, and because of this we keep back ourselves."

By the time Garvey finally got permission to visit Trinidad in 1937, the UNIA had been broken by internal corruption and US government harassment (both given great assistance by Trinidadians). He was given a big welcome at the Globe cinema. Smoke from June 19 was still in the air, but Garvey agreed to not hold public meetings. His friend Capt AA Cipriani had criticised Butler and the strikers, and Garvey was succumbing under the conservatism that age brings.

Three years later he died of heart failure in London.

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