garvey: a giant


With bewildering rapidity, Garvey rose from being a so-so street orator to a public speaker of supernatural eloquence, with a voice “like thunder from Heaven”, capable of filling Madison Square Garden and holding every spectator rapt, even the ones who had come to mock. He founded a black newspaper that soon became the most influential of its then-thriving kind. He transformed his pan-African organisation, the Universal Negro Improvement Association, into a thousands-strong body that soon rivalled its more moderate counterpart the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). He decided that what the Negro race really needed was its own fleet, which he named the Black Star Line, and managed to persuade countless thousands of African Americans that this was their dream, too. People who could barely afford canned food would buy shares, and (though the story ended in tears) they lived to see Black Star Liners being sailed under black captains, and were thrilled. No wonder Garvey could ride in triumph through Harlem in a great open car, sporting quasi-military finery and a tricorn with white feathers.

more from The New Statesman here.