This article tells the journey of three men: their discovery of “The Shero of Our Story,” the lack of a marker on her grave, and the founding of the Henrietta Vinton Davis Memorial Foundation to rectify that historical oversight.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JULY 20, 2013 is HENRIETTA VINTON DAVIS GRAVE MARKER UNVEILING
-Events to recognize cultural icon-
Washington, DC –Today the Henrietta Vinton Davis Memorial Foundation (HVDMF) announced plans to unveil a marker at the grave of its namesake in National Harmony Memorial Park. The Foundation has as its mission to raise awareness of the life and legacy of Shakespearean actor, elocutionist, dramatic reader and activist Henrietta Vinton Davis.
Miss Davis remained relatively unrecognized until July 1983 when an article entitled “Henrietta Vinton Davis and the Garvey Movement” by Professor William Seraile was published in the journal ‘Afro-Americans in New York Life and History’. Nearly a year later, acknowledgment of her contributions increased with the publication of the book ‘Shakespeare in Sable’ written by Professor Errol Hill of Dartmouth University. Her home in Northeast Washington, DC has been listed on Cultural Tourism DC’s African American Heritage Trail since 1999.
On Saturday July 20, 2013 the HVDMF starts the day off with an award presentation and celebration at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, culminating with the unveiling of a marker at Miss Davis’ grave site at National Harmony Memorial Park. Guest speakers and celebrants include:
Dr. William Seraile (Bruce Grit), Barbara Eklof (For Every Season), Kevin Grace (Friends of Joe Gans), Nnamdi Azikiwe (Vinton Davis Weblog) and Mwariama Kamau (UNIA). Producing partners for the occasion are Vaunita Goodman (MTPC) and Michon Boston (Iola’s Letter). Clayton LeBouef (Something The Lord Made, The Wire, Homicide) will serve as Master of Ceremonies.
In 2008, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty issued a proclamation designating August 25 ‘Henrietta Vinton Davis Day.’ The decree acknowledged Davis as the first African American to work at the DC Recorder of Deeds office beginning in 1878, before Frederick Douglass was appointed Recorder. She made her career debut as a Shakespearean actor, elocutionist and dramatic reader in Washington, DC on April 25, 1883 where she was introduced by Douglass, a family friend. The proclamation acknowledges the success of Miss Davis as a public speaker and cultural icon.
Celebration / Award Presentation recognizing Vera J. Katz, (Professor Emerita Howard University Theatre Arts) and others will be conducted in the A-5 Auditorium 11am-1:30-pm at the Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial Library 901 G Street, NW, Washington, D.C. (202) 727-0321
Livication / Henrietta Vinton Davis Marker Unveiling will be conducted 3pm-5pm at her grave site in National Harmony Memorial Park 7101 Sheriff Road Largo, MD (301) 772-0900
Events are free and open to the public.
About Henrietta Vinton Davis
For thirty-five years after her debut performing “Shakespearean delineations”, original plays and dramatic readings with her own performing company, and local troupes throughout the United States, South America and the Caribbean, Henrietta Vinton Davis broke new ground as a successful theatrical artisan. Her commitment to her craft gained her recognition as the first African American “woman of the stage.”
During 1919, a year notable for its “Red Summer,” she joined the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League headed by Marcus Garvey.
As a leader of the African Redemption Movement, Davis made use of her acting skills to promote the aims and objectives of the UNIA. Her ability to “transport her listeners” to another place with her oratorical skills played a key role in both attracting members to the organization and promoting the Black Star Line Shipping Company. As such, she was elected to numerous positions including International Organizer, and Third Assistant President General of the UNIA. Additionally, as Vice President and a Director of the Black Star Line, Davis was the de facto authority aboard the Black Star Line’s flagship vessel, the S.S. Yarmouth, on its maiden voyage. The ship was laden with a cargo worth upwards of $5.000.000 destined for the Caribbean. On the ship’s return Marcus Garvey proclaimed Miss Davis “the greatest woman of the [African] race today” in a meeting at the UNIA’s Liberty Hall.
About The Henrietta Vinton Davis Memorial Foundation
Initially organized to raise funds for a marker at the grave of Lady Henrietta Vinton Davis
in 2005, the mission of The Henrietta Vinton Davis Memorial Foundation has evolved to include publishing books, producing plays, films/videos and conducting symposiums educating the general public about her life and the times in which she lived.
A scene from the play Christophe by William Edgar Easton
Proclamation for Henrietta Vinton Davis Day
Though the phrase “emancipate yourself from mental slavery” is commonly associated with “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley, few know the concept originated with Marcus Garvey. During a speech given in October 1937 at Nova Scotia’s Menelik Hall entitled “The Work That Has Been Done,” Garvey stated:
We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. Mind is your only ruler, sovereign. The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind …
Marcus Garvey’s memory has been kept alive worldwide. Schools, colleges, highways, and buildings in Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and the United States have been named in his honor. Garvey has also been immortalized in song and literary works both fiction and non. What follows is an attempt to delve into the influence Marcus Garvey continues to hold despite the fact he joined the ancestors more than seventy years ago and efforts by those who oppose the redemption of Africa to render him something other than influential.
Of primary significance is the UNIA red, black, and green flag which was presented to the world over ninety years ago on August 13, 1920. Since then it has been adopted as the Black Liberation Flag. In 1980, a bust of Garvey was placed in the Organization of American States’ Hall of Heroes in Washington, D.C.
Malcolm X’s father Earl Little met Malcolm’s mother Louise at a UNIA convention in Montreal, Canada. Little also was the president of the UNIA division in Omaha, Nebraska and sold the Negro World newspaper while his wife Louise was a contributor to the Negro World.
Kwame Nkrumah named the national shipping line of Ghana the Black Star Line in honor of Garvey and the UNIA. Nkrumah also named the national soccer team the Black Stars as well. The black star at the center of Ghana’s flag is also inspired by the Black Star Line.
During a trip to Jamaica, Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta Scott King visited the shrine of Marcus Garvey on June 20, 1965 and laid a wreath. In a speech he told the audience that Garvey “was the first man of color to lead and develop a mass movement. He was the first man on a mass scale and level to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny. And make the Negro feel he was somebody.” Earlier that day at the National Arena, Dr. King was given the Keys to the City of Kingston after delivering another 40-plus-minute address. In his introductory remarks he was quoted as saying that “In Jamaica I feel like a human being.”
King was also the posthumous recipient of the first Marcus Garvey Prize for Human Rights on December 10, 1968 issued by the Jamaican Government and presented to King’s widow.
The United States of Africa first saw light in a 1924 poem by Garvey and is still discussed to this day.
Garvey and Rastafari
Rastafarians consider Garvey a religious prophet, saint and sometimes even the reincarnation of John the Baptist. This is partly because of statements renowned to have been uttered by him in speeches throughout the 1920s, usually along the lines of “Look to Africa, when a black king shall be crowned for the day of deliverance is at hand!”
His beliefs deeply influenced the Rastafari, who took his statements as a prophecy of the crowning of Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. Early Rastas were associated with his Back-to-Africa movement in Jamaica. This early Rastafari movement was also influenced by a separate, proto-Rasta movement known as the Afro-Athlican Church that was outlined in a religious text known as the Holy Piby — where Garvey was proclaimed to be a prophet as well. Thus, the Rastafari movement can be seen as an offshoot of Garveyite philosophy. As his beliefs have greatly influenced Rastafari, he is often mentioned in reggae music, including that of Burning Spear and Dubwize (New Zealand).
Pop culture references
There have been pop culture references to Marcus Garvey since he first came on the international scene. Garvey is cited repeatedly in a diverse variety of books, songs and films as a legend worthy of emulation. As such, he stands out among leaders, historical and contemporary, for having continuously sustained a broad cultural relevance.
One of the first such instances was probably the tune “West Indies Blues” composed and written by New Orleans musicians J. Edgar Dowell with Spencer and Clarence Williams in 1923. The team was also responsible for another Garvey related tune “The Black Star Line”, first recorded by jazz singer Rosa Henderson in 1924 for Vocalion’s Aeolian label.
The reggae genre stands out for continuing to pay homage to Garvey as a great man worthy of recognition. Bob Marley, one of the most famous Rastafarians, coincidentally had his first hit song “Simmer Down” during early 1964. At the time negotiations had commenced on the disinterment and enshrinement of Garvey as the first National Hero of Jamaica. The song has a theme similar to that of Garvey’s own “Keep Cool”. Marley refers to Marcus Garvey in his song “So much things to say”, saying, “I’ll never forget no way: they sold Marcus Garvey for rice”. The song criticizes anyone willing to betray independent African leadership and the pittance the traitors receive (hence the phrase “for rice”). Marley’s, “Redemption Song” and “Africa Unite” echo the basic tenets of Garvey’s philosophy. ‘Redemption Song’ is significant in this instance in that a key phrase “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our mind’ is a paraphrase from a speech given by Garvey in 1937 while touring Nova Scotia. The entire speech was published in Garvey’s ‘Black Man’ magazine. Marley’s son, Damian Marley has a song entitled “Confrontation” from his 2005 Welcome To Jamrock album, with three excerpts of Garvey challenging his listeners to succeed.
Burning Spear, a well-known Jamaican reggae artist, has repeatedly mentioned Garvey, in albums including Garvey’s Ghost and Marcus Garvey. He released “Marcus Garvey ” in 1975, with two of the songs mentioning Garvey. Throughout Burning Spear’s career, Garvey has been a major influence on nearly every song.
Sinead O’Connor’s reggae-influenced 2005 album Throw Down Your Arms opens with a cover of Burning Spear’s song “Marcus Garvey”. O’Connor performed the song that year on The Late Late Show sporting a Garvey t-shirt. Erstwhile reggae producers Sly and Robbie joined her along with the Jamaican All-Star Band.
The group Culture wrote a song about Marcus Garvey’s “prophecy” on leaving the Spanish Town prison entitled “Two Sevens Clash”. The 1976 album of the same name also had the song “Black Star Liner Must Come”. In 1975 Big Youth recorded a song entitled “Marcus Garvey Dread” on his album “Dreadlocks Dread”. The Gladiators, a reggae band, often sing of Marcus Garvey, for example, their song “Marcus Garvey Time.” Jamaican harmony trio The Mighty Diamonds wrote a reggae song called “Them Never Love Poor Marcus”, referring to Garvey. They also refer to him in their song “I Need A Roof”.
In the intro to The Orb’s song Towers of Dub a prank caller, Victor Lewis-Smith, phones the London Weekend Television security desk and leaves a message for Haile Selassie saying that he should meet Marcus Garvey in Babylon. The ska band Hepcat has a song entitled “Marcus Garvey” on their album “Scientific”. The band Piebald has a song entitled “If Marcus Garvey Dies, Then Marcus Garvey Lives” on their album “If It Weren’t For Venetian Blinds, It Would Be Curtains For All Of Us.”
Zacheous Jackson Conscious message reggae music singer/songwriter refers to Marcus Garvey in his songs “Garvey Garvey” and “The Conspiracy” , which highlight the work of Marcus Mosiah Garvey and the conspiracy against him, and Zacheous also mentions Garvey in another of his songs called “Too Much A Wi”.
In the 1987 song “The Spirit Lives” on the album “Hold On To Love” by “Third World” the following verse appears:
Oh, the spirit lives
It’s living in the people and it can never die
Marcus Garvey, he lives on
He told his people they’ve got to be strong
One God, one aim, one destiny
Let Marcus Garvey live in you and me – well -
Hip hop groups also standout for having included references in their songs to Marcus Garvey. Progressive hip hop group Arrested Development, in their epic song “Revolution”  (from the soundtrack to the 1992 Spike Lee directed film Malcolm X) mentions Garvey near the beginning and end of the song. Hip Hop duo Black Star (consisting of rappers Mos Def and Talib Kweli) took the name of their debut album from the Black Star Line. The group Brand Nubian on their 1993 album “In God We Trust” had a song ‘Black Star Line’ with Redd Foxx. The cut was redolent with themes reminiscent of the 1924 song of the same name but with Garveyism in every verse.
Rapper Nasir Jones (AKA. Nas) made reference to Marcus Garvey in his debut album from 1995 Illmatic. In “Halftime” ( a song originally issued as a single and part of the 1992 Zebrahead soundtrack) he raps,
“And in the darkness
like when the narcs hit
word to Marcus Garvey”.
Nas also appears on the Wu-Tang Clan album The W in the song “Let My Niggas Live” with the following lyrics:
I scream at the mirror, curse, askin God, “Why me?”
Run in the black church, gun in my hand, y’all try me
I’m God-son, son of man, son of Marcus Garvey
Rastafari irie, Ha-ile Selassie 
On another Wu-Tang Clan track ‘I Can’t Go To Sleep’ featuring Isaac Hayes, the RZA states the following:
‘They… Exported Marcus
Garvey ’cause he tried to spark us
With the knowledge of ourselves, and our forefathers’.
The video has images of Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy. 
In the song “Ah Yeah” from the album KRS-One a verse is as follows:
They tried to burn me, lynch me and starve me
So I had to come back as Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley
They tried to harm me, I used to be Malcolm X
Now I’m on the planet as the one called KRS.
Ludacris, in his popular video “Pimpin’ All Over the World”, is wearing a T-Shirt with Garvey’s image and the legend: “A people without the knowledge of their past, history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots,” a quote attributed to Marcus Garvey. The Haitian-American rapper Wyclef Jean, in his appearance on Chappelle’s Show, performed his song “If I Was President”, that references Garvey:
“Tell the children the truth, the truth …
tell em about Marcus Garvey …”
Dead Prez refers to Marcus Garvey in most of their songs and live by his Red, Black and Green philosophy.
Daz Dillinger refers to Garvey in the song “Our Daily Bread”, in his album “Retaliation, Revenge and get Back” on Deathrow Records.
The perennially sampled funk group Funkadelic has the Red, Black and Green flag on the Pedro Bell drawn cover of their 1978 album “One Nation Under a Groove”. The image portrays a group of people planting the flag on the planet earth in a manner reminiscent of the Iwo Jima flag raising. The flag has the letters “R&B” emblazoned across it in white.
Other References to Garvey
Jazz Musicians Roy Ayers, Pharoah Sanders and Gil Scott-Heron each have completely different songs with the title “Red, Black and Green”. The Red, Black and Green flag originated with the organization Garvey founded, the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League on August 13th during their 1920 convention.
Fictional books also have made mention of Garvey, although to a lesser degree than in the musical realm. He is referenced in African-American novelist Ralph Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man’ on page 272 of the Vintage printing, while the Random House edition of 2002 has him mentioned in passages on pages 206 and 277. Ellison may have used Garvey as the basis for the book’s character Ras the Exhorter. He is a West Indian black nationalist “demagogue” who eventually leads to the book’s protagonist having an epiphany about his membership in a white-controlled group known as “the brotherhood”.
In William Gibson’s dystopian cyberpunk novel ‘Neuromancer’, Marcus Garvey is the name of the space tug which delivers the protagonists to the scene of the climax. Garvey appeared on the AP United States History exam on May 11th, 2007 on the multiple choice section. The question incorrectly labeled Garvey as the leader of the Black Power movement to help Blacks economically. In The Autobiography of Malcolm X, his name is stated as “Marcus Aurelius Garvey,” referencing Roman Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius. Malcolm’s father, Earl Little was both a UNIA Division President and distributor of the Negro World newspaper.
The HBO television drama, The Wire, has an episode where African American mayoral candidate Clarence Royce uses Marcus Garvey posters in his campaign to win votes in majority Black Baltimore, Maryland. Royce is then accused by State Delegate Watkins of hiding behind the posters to win votes.
In the 2003 film “Antwone Fisher” the character of Antwone Fisher (played by Derek Luke) receives a copy of “The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey” from Dr. Jerome Davenport (played by Denzel Washington) as a gift.
1. The Black 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential African-Americans, Past and Present By Columbus Salley, Page 82, 1999, Citadel Press.
2. Daily Gleane; rJune 20, 1965: Martin Luther King Jr. visits Jamaica
3. M.G. Smith, Roy Augier and Rex Nettleford, “The Rastafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica,” Kingston 1960, p.5
4. The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, Vol. V: September 1922-August 1924 (Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers), University of California Press, Page 801.
5. Damian Marley – Confrontation, Welcome To Jamrock Album,
6. Sinead O’Connor – Marcus Garvey on youtube
7. Third World The Spirit Lives Lyrics
8. Arrested Development Videos on VH1
9. YouTube – Nas – Halftime
10. TRUE Shit – Wu-Tang’s Let My Niggas Live/I Can’t Go To Sleep
11. Wu Tang Clan – I Can’t Go To Sleep Ft. Issac Hayes
12. Ludacris – Pimpin’ All Over The World: Golden Palace Version
13. “Antwone Fisher” 1:12 at Caption Swap, last accessed on October 31, 2007
Joe Gans was the first African American boxing champion. He won the World Lightweight Boxing Championship in 1902 a full six years ahead of Jack Johnson’s Heavyweight Boxing victory. He is buried in the neglected but historically significant Mount Auburn Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland.
Lady Henrietta Vinton Davis was an elocutionist, dramatic reader, Shakespearean actress and leader of the African Redemption movement headed by Universal Negro Improvement Association founder Marcus Garvey. She is buried in an unmarked grave in National Harmony Cemetery, Largo, Maryland.
Both were born in Baltimore, Maryland the same as Eubie Blake. Blake may possibly have performed with Lady Davis in Jamaica during the early 1900s.
Proceeds of this event will go to the production of a statue of Gans in the Blacks in Wax Museum.
Tickets are $25. The event will be held at:
Eubie Blake Cultural Center
847 N. Howard St
Guest speakers include:
Clayton LeBouef (NBC’s “Homicide:Life On the Streets and HBO’s “The Wire”, Baltimore’s Center Stage, author of The Life & Breath of Henrietta Vinton Davis)
Colleen Aycock (Author of Joe Gans: A Biography of the 1st African-American World Boxing Champion)
Music by internationally renowned blues musican Chaz DePaolo
For more info go to:
Clayton LeBouef has a very clear memory of when he first encountered Henrietta Vinton Davis. It was 1992, not long before he won the role of Baltimore Police Col. George Barnfather in TV’s Homicide: Life on the Street. LeBouef was a Washington, D.C.-based actor performing in a CenterStage production of Shakespeare’s little-produced Pericles. Rehearsals were over, and opening night loomed.
Cultural Tourism DC announced that it will unveil a plaque at the former residence of the Honorable Lady Henrietta Vinton Davis on May 8, 2010 at 2pm.
Miss Davis’ residence has been a part of Cultural Tourism DC’s African American Heritage Trail for nearly a decade. The recognition comes on the heels of a “Livication” program honoring Miss Davis at Washington, DC’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library held on Sunday March 14, 2010. The program was a collaborative effort between the Henrietta Vinton Davis Memorial Foundation and the Martin Luther King, Jr, Memorial Library. The event was the kickoff for an exhibit recognizing Miss Davis’ significance as an elocutionist, dramatic reader and Shakespearean actor.
Her career marked a turning point in the history of Africans in America. She earned a living as a performing artist at a time when there were few with the training and skills to perform with her.