Marcus Garvey’s Vision of Pan-Africanism

By By Rupert Lewis | Black Perspectives

Marcus Garvey left Jamaica in 1935 with colonial state officials in panic at the number of disturbances occurring in the country. During the 1935 election campaign, the Riot Act had to be read in one rural parish, labour organizations had sprung up among the workers and the unemployed, and “white candidates were physically assaulted.” The storm clouds of unrest were gathering. A weekly newspaper known as Plain Talk had started publication at the printery which had earlier published Garvey’s newspapers and pamphlets. Plain Talk had started out gingerly by supporting progressive politicians in the Jamaica legislature and reporting on the activities of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Jamaica. However, it got caught up in the forward movement of agricultural and industrial labour in the Caribbean and had to grow apace. Plain Talk’s development owed much to the Ethiopian cause and it played the leading journalistic role in promoting the cause of Ethiopian sovereignty in the British Caribbean.

One of the important political documents published in Plain Talk (11 and 18 September 1937) came from the International African Service bureau and was signed by George Padmore of Trinidad and Wallace Johnson of Sierra Leone; it was a memorandum to the West Indies Commission investigating the strike among the oilfield workers in Trinidad. The memorandum started out by stating the political position of the bureau:

“The strikes in Trinidad have been basically for economic demands, but they have taken a form which proves conclusively that the population of the island has reached a stage far beyond the constitution under which it is governed. The International African Service Bureau claims that the future of Trinidad and other West Indian islands should be decided by the people themselves.”

Garvey at this time was returning from Canada after attending the 1937 UNIA regional conference. His boat had stopped at several eastern Caribbean ports and also in British Guiana. He was allowed entry into Trinidad but was not permitted to speak because of the unrest caused by the oilfield workers’ strike; colonial officials evidently saw his speeches as having the possibility of adding more fuel to the fire of labour.

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