THE MARCUS GARVEY AND UNIVERSAL NEGRO IMPROVEMENT ASSOCIATION PAPERS Volume Four: Edited by Robert A. Hill with Emory J. Tolbert and Deborah Forczek. Illustrated. 1,125 pp. Berkeley: University of California Press. $65.
Edited by Robert A. Hill with Emory J. Tolbert and Deborah Forczek.
The first three volumes of this magnificent set of papers covered the origins, growth, and development of Marcus Garvey’s influence internationally and in the United States. Volume Four covers the period from Sept. 1, 1921, to Sept. 2, 1922 – a time of crisis in Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. Here we see Garvey battling black political figures like Cyril Briggs and W. E. B. Du Bois and being spied upon by the F.B.I. We also see the Black Star Line, the shipping company Garvey hoped would carry blacks back to Africa, sinking in red ink and financial mismanagement.
This book, edited by Robert A. Hill, who teaches history at the University of California, Los Angeles, fully displays Garvey’s penchant for hyperbole – he called Harding possibly the greatest President since Washington and Lincoln. With rhetorical overkill, Garvey traduced his opponents in America and argued that white America’s racial attitudes were best represented by white supremacist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan.
I hope this volume and others in the series will enable scholars working on the evolution of American black politics to address the problematic role language has played in shaping black political consciousness. As Shiva Naipaul, the late novelist and journalist, wrote, words ”can when handled promiscuously, gradually begin to take the place of reality. They can, in the course of time, become a complete substitute for it.” Readers of this volume will see that words served this function in efforts by the ”Black Moses” to lead his people out of bondage. Garvey’s speeches reprinted here suggest that beneath the imperial rhetoric of ”Africa for the Africans” simply lay a sense of politics based on the call of blood and a racialist interpretation of history.