If you work as I do on the anthropology of the Caribbean, then Marcus Garvey and Garveyism cast a long shadow. By any standards Garvey's legacy is worthy of reflection. Reading Colin Grant's fine biography gave me pause for thought regarding Garvey and also the excuse to put those thoughts into a review for the OAC. Garvey was the leader of the largest black internationalist movement that has ever existed, but a movement of a unique kind. Most of the internationalisms of the Twentieth Century had some kind of socialist orientation, not so Garveyism. Garvey looked to the creation of an African empire for those 'at home and abroad'; that is to say for those who had been born in Africa and those born in the Americas. His was a hierarchical utopia, but his utopianism struck a chord and was quickly actualised in the form of millions of dollars donated to his cause. Where was the money coming from? Why would people as far away as Panama donate to build a political movement centred in New York?
From the review (which you can download here):
"Perhaps what drew more attention to Garvey’s movement – including astonishment and ridicule – than anything else was the mass pageantry of the UNIA. UNIA members often war quasi-military garb, with sabres and epaulettes for officials and black serge uniforms for ordinary members. Garvey would parade as a Professor in a gown and mortarboard, or as a Potentate in a turban, or, most recognizably, as an imperial Governor (or perhaps as Toussaint L’ouverture) in his cocked hat and braided uniform. This carnivalesque quality of the UNIA surely had West Indian roots. Marcus Garvey was no more a university professor than the 1960s calypsonian Lord Kitchener was an English lord, but there is more to the symbolism than either a cheeky inversion of the established order or an expression of a stereotypically colourful Caribbean parade. This aspect of the phenomenon of Garveyism asks for further explanation, but to interpret it we need to know something more about the West Indian colonial culture than we can gain from this book. Within the colonial situation, while acknowledging official power with its offices, rituals and uniforms, colonial subjects developed parallel frameworks that mimicked the official hierarchy appropriating some of its symbolic forms. But again, behind that fact, we also need to recognise how, by the beginning of the Twentieth Century, the Caribbean had become a society of migrants who, wherever they arrived, reorganized their social situation in particular ways..."