Colin Grant: Negro With A Hat

“Marcus Garvey’s words come to pass
Marcus Garvey’s words come to pass
Can’t get no food to eat
Can’t get no money to spend…”
–Burning Spear, Marcus Garvey 

Colin Grant: Negro With A HatSo what and who, exactly, was Marcus Garvey? It all depended, apparently, on who you asked. To the faithful–who, from the early part of the twentieth century to about 1940 were legion–he was equal parts Black Moses, visionary, and prophet without honor. To his detractors–who were just as numerous, and highly vocal–he was a charlatan, a mountebank, or (in W.E.B. DuBois’ memorable phrase) simply the “negro with a hat.” Colin Grant takes on the unenviable task of sorting out the mess that was Garvey’s life and legacy, wisely leaving some loose ends to the reader’s imagination and judgment.

The life contained in this book is a study in contradictions. Marcus Mosiah Garvey was, in no particular order, a one-time Anglophile, a conservative who’d do Stanley Crouch proud, and a staunch Roman Catholic. He was also, however, an IRA supporter, a Black nationalist who made common cause with the KKK, a one-time Zionist turned anti-Semite, and a man who proudly claimed to have invented Fascism before Mussolini. For all his talk of self-reliance and entrepreneurship, he seems neither to have had much of a head for business, nor the sense to take the advice of those who did; numerous business ventures foundered amid a fatal blend of good intentions, poor planning, and intramural squabbles.  Continue reading “Colin Grant: Negro With A Hat”