When Marcus Garvey visited Saint Lucia a century ago!

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When Marcus Garvey visited Saint Lucia 100 years ago in 1921, Saint Lucians turned out in large numbers to see and hear the leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and the League African Communities (ACL).

They had heard of the UNIA and its influence among black people around the world and in the British West Indies at the time; now they could see it and hear it, live it and lead it.

Saint Lucia was among ten British colonies Garvey would visit two years after the UNIA was launched, becoming the world’s largest black organization overnight, with three million registered members and becoming an influence of more than 11 million worldwide.

Garvey’s visit was momentous in many ways, from his many nightly lectures at Clarke’s Cinema to oral historical reports on how the local UNIA branch handled his security.

The Archives Authority will have reports from The VOICE covering what Garvey said at the movies, but his message was well received not only by St. Lucian intellectuals, but also by the average clerk and stevedore, laborer of ‘factory or domain – including those who have never heard of him. but were encouraged by others to listen to it.

UNIA’s Saint Lucia branch was headed by Wilberforce Norville, who lived on Hospital Road in Castries.

According to anecdotal accounts, since Garvey always had to be watched here by the colonial police, he was officially domiciled at Bishop’s Gap in Marchand, near the official residence of the Chief of Police.

But the UNIA leaders here had no confidence in leaving Garvey’s safety in the hands and eyes of the colonial police and devised an interesting scheme to take him, unseen, at night, to safer quarters. .

This was done by having Garvey lie down in a traditional emergency hammock (a bed sheet folded to hang on a bamboo pole carried by two men) and carry him out of the house ‘from the back’ to Marchand’s main road, where no one would have thought Marcus Garvey was being transported in the day’s domestic ambulance.

Garvey would then be taken to Norville’s private residence in Fau-a-Chaux, in the house next to the community’s centuries-old public standpipe.

There are three aspects of Garvey’s connection to Saint Lucia that I wish to address on this 101st anniversary of his visit.

First, the connection with Arthur Lewis, who was only six years old when Garvey arrived…

Garvey died in 1940, but a year before that Lewis wrote his seminal first book Labor in the West Indies (1939) which embraced much of Garvey’s and UNIA’s philosophies, arguing for reparations for people from descent in the British West Indies after centuries of slavery, colonial exploitation and neglect.

Lewis’s book, written immediately after taking leave as the first black university professor aged 23 on the London circuit to tour the British West Indies islands that had revolted in 1938, to observe the conditions that led to what he clearly called “revolutions”.

Lewis would be greatly influenced by Garvey’s words and works later in life when he was an economic adviser to President Kwame Nkrumah when Ghana became the first British colony in Africa to gain independence.

The name of Garvey’s famous “Black Star Line” (four ships purchased with supporter contributions to bring Africans around the world home) was also given to the new country’s first shipping company.

My second point of reference is John Quinlan, a Saint Lucian, who, like Garvey and Lewis, but long before both, championed the causes of people of African descent after the supposed abolition of slavery and emancipation. .

Garvey was born in 1887 and was only ten years old when Quinlan, a humble land surveyor from La Clery in Castries, addressed the British Royal Commission set up to investigate the conditions of former slaves after emancipation and learning.

Like Garvey, Quinlan had a global view of the conditions faced by black people in the British and European colonies and he traveled to Curacao, Panama and Cayenne to personally witness the conditions in which ordinary migrant families in Saint Lucia suffered to live.

Fifty years after abolition, ’emancipated’ ex-slaves had endured five decades of abandonment across the colonies, replaced by indentured laborers imported from India so that the plantations would continue to produce profits for their European colonial masters. .

Quinlan was associated with the Pan-African movement and made a representation to the Royal Commission in 1897 on behalf of the millions of former slaves and their descendants in the Americas and the West Indies; and later he would attend the launch of the Pan-African Congress in London in 1900.

A third Saint Lucian, of mysterious origin, but who falls into this category of unknown or unrecognized “heroes of emancipation” is Joseph Seligny Baron, described by researcher Lawrence Poyotte as “a colored native of Saint Lucia , who was for some time a merchant in Shanghai in the Empire of China.

It was the Baron who paid for the construction of a Gothic structure in Castries to house injured, abandoned and destitute former slaves abandoned by the owners because they could not “work”.

Not much was known about how Baron made his money in Shanghai, but he left quite a large sum to build the original house for the destitute and abandoned in Castries, which was deemed too good for the people destined and transformed into the former police headquarters. the last building still standing on Bridge Street.

Officials then built a second structure at Malgretoute in Soufriere, commonly known as ‘Lopital Bawon’ and historically treated as a leper home at the end of Baron’s Drive (Coin l’Anse) along the Soufriere seafront.

Baron, who resided in the United Kingdom, had left “two-sixths” of his financial estate in Saint Lucia to care for ex-slaves and abandoned people, with that money instead being diverted to uses that did not fully guarantee his desire to help those most in need. of his fellow Saint Lucian citizens.

Indeed, Garvey’s visit to Saint Lucia was not just an event…

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