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.
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
Over three thousand persons, members and friends of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, assembled at the Palace Casino, 135th street and Madison Avenue, New York City, Sunday evening, June 15, to greet Mr. Marcus Garvey, president-general and International Organizer of the association, who has just returned to the city after an extended lecture in Michigan, Virginia and Canada.
Mr. Edgar M. Grey, general secretary of the association, called the meeting to order a few minutes after nine o’clock, by the singing of the opening hymn, “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains.” After a few brief remarks by the chairman, a musical program consisting of one violin solo by Master William Wilkinson, and a piano solo by Miss Irene Callender was rendered. Mr. George Tobias, treasurer of the association, was next presented to the audience and surprised his hearers and friends by revealing unsuspected talent as a reader, when he gave an impressive rendition of Wendell Phillips’ great oration on Toussaint L’Ouverture.
The next speaker introduced was Miss Henrietta Vinton Davis, the popular and talented elocutionist ofWashington, D.C., who, as a tribute to the children who had so splendidly entertained for the evening, recited a poem entitled “Little Brown Baby with Sparkling Eyes,” written by Paul Lawrence Dunbar, poet laureate of the Negro Race.
In order to make the recitation as realistic as possible, Miss Davis used for the occasion a large colored doll manufactured by Berry & Ross, who had very kindly loaned it for the occasion. At the end of the recitation Miss Davis made a stirring appeal for support for the factory that was doing so much to inculcate a spirit of race pride in the Negro race.
Following this the chairman asked for a silver collection, which was heartily and liberally responded to. Taking as his theme, the subject of race pride, the chairman then made a few short and cryptic remarks in which he pointed out that the principal concern of the race was not so much in finding out how to die but in learning how to live.
At the close of his address the chairman then introduced as the next speaker the person whose commanding personality was responsible for the vast assemblage that evening, Mr. Marcus Garvey. Mr. Garvey began his address by thanking all those who had supported the officers of the association, while he was absent touring the West, Canada and the South. He then told how efforts were being made by enemies of the association to discredit both himself and the organization. He specifically named Mr. William Bridges, editor of the “Challenge Magazine,” and a well known stepladder orator on Lenox avenue, as having assailed him in many ways while he was away. On his return to the city he had taken up the gauntlet and challenged the editor of the “Challenge” to meet him in open debate, which Mr. Bridges at first declined, but under pressure of public opinion was compelled to accept. Mr. Garvey then outlined the debate which had taken place the night before at the corner of 138th street and Lenox avenue, and which he assured his audience resulted in the complete and inglorious defeat of his opponent. The speaker also told of the plots engineered against himself and the organization by a cabal of envious and malicious individuals, who being incapable of thinking internationally, were doing everything of an underhand nature to wreck the organization; but inasmuch as the organization had firmly established itself in a majority of the States of the Union, the islands of West Indies, several republics of South and Central America and on the west coast of Africa, it was next to impossible for any group of men or any government to entirely destroy it. He was there that evening, he said, for the purpose of defending himself and the organization, and to give a detailed explanation of the feasibility of the Black Star Line project.
He then roused his audience to the highest pitch of enthusiasm when he recited to them the prowess of the Black race and how it was possible for the scattered millions of Negroes all over the world to accomplish the liberation of Africa by supporting the plans of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. Dramatically striking his chest, Mr. Garvey convincingly assured his hearers that all cowardice had departed from his anatomy, “for,” he said, “if I could have died on the field of Flanders of France in the white man’s cause, I can die in America fighting for myself and my race.” At this a storm of applause rent the building. Men and women rose to their feet and handkerchiefs were waved over head as every individual vied with his neighbor to show that the orator had transmitted the spirit of courage from himself to the entire audience.
After scathingly condemning those who were opposing the organization as “white men’s niggers” and cowards, the speaker told of the great work that was being done by the Newport News branch, which had pledged itself to subscribe $100,000 for the purpose of making the Black Star Line a reality. At the close of his address, which lasted for over an hour and generously applauded throughout, Mr. Garvey made an eloquent and impressive appeal for funds to help the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities’ League in the prosecution of its many plans for the liberation of the Negroes of the world and the founding of a Negro nation on the continent of Africa. The audience showed their sincere appreciation of the evening’s exercises by subscribing most liberally.
Marcus Garvey is the source for Bob Marley’s well known phrase in “Redmption Song:”
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; None but ourselves can free our minds.
That famous lyric originated with Marcus Garvey. In his 1937 speech “The Work That Has Been Done” given at Menelik Hall in Nova Scotia Garvey states:
We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind.
The mental emancipation Garvey spoke about has yet to become significantly widespread among the human race. One indication humanity has yet to achieve mental emancipation is the fact criminal charges are still on the records of the United States Federal Government. Does such fact Garvey’s of universal emancipation warrant his exoneration? With such a powerful statement having influence on people worldwide to the extent they seek further knowledge as to source of Bob Marley’s lyrics it would seem the answer is in the affirmative.
The only evidence used to convict Marcus Garvey was actually an absence of evidence. At trial a single empty envelope was presented. Allegedly the envelope once contained a flyer which suggested the Black Star Line owned a ship named for Phillis Wheatley, the first African-American to have published poetry. Garvey was out of the USA at the time and therefore could not have created such a flyer if one actually existed.
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 Menelik Hall Sydney, Nova Scotia October 31, 1937 From the speech “The Work That Has Been Done.”
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. Efforts to render him something “other” than influential by those who oppose the redemption of Africa continue to the present.
Of primary significance is the Red, Black and Green flag. which was presented to the world nearly one-hundred years ago on August 13, 1920. Since then it has been adopted as the Black Liberation Flag. The Red, Black and Green is not just a pop culture symbol referencing Garvey. It is also the flag of the Sovereign United States of Africa. Garvey, in his words, works and deeds mentioned the United States of Africa numerous times. Most notably was its first appearance in his poem “Hail United States of Africa. “The United States of Africa first saw light in a 1924 poem by Garvey and is still discussed to this day.
In 1980, a bust of Garvey was placed in the Organization of American States’ Hall of Heroes in Washington, D.C.
Kwame Nkrumah named the national shipping line of Ghana the Black Star Line in honor of Garvey and the UNIA. Established on 10 September 1957, the state shipping line was 60 percent owned by Ghana and 40 percent owned by Israel. The first ship it purchased was named the “Volta River.” 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. The company’s assets were sold in 1982 by the Provisional National Defense Council.
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.
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 the African Redemption 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 tune contains the lyrics relating to Garvey:
Some time soon or later, When I come back to this great land, You better watch me, Harvey, ‘Cause I’m gonna be a great big man Like my friend Marcus Garvey!
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. It’s chorus lays out the plan:
Get on board country man, I say, get on board, leave this land, Gwine back on be Black Star Line. A-get on board, country man,
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.
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 stand out 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,
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 They thought they had me By puttin holes in my chest Nowadays through hip-hop I manifest Now I’m on the planet as the one KRS. Kickin the metaphysical…spiritual… tryin to like get with you showin you you are invincible Whether you know it or not you’re in a race against time the finish line is control of your mind…Ah yeah
Ludacris, in his popular video replete with numerous African elements “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 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 first chapter of the book is essentially about three topics: Marcus Garvey, Malcolm’s father the Rev. Earl Little, and the organization of which they were both members, the U.N.U.A.
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.
Garvey is mentioned in three episodes of the HBO’s Boardwalk Empire series: “The North Star,” ‘White Horse Pike,” and “Farewell Daddy Blues.” Actor Jeffrey Wright portrayed Dr. Valentine Narcisse in the series. Narcisse came to be involved in efforts by J. Edgar Hoover to provide intelligence on the UNIA.
The 2003 film and directorial debut of Denzel Washington, “Antwone Fisher” features the Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey. Main character Antwone Fisher (played by Derek Luke) receives a copy of The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey from Dr. Jerome Davenport (played by 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 Gleaner June 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
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.
“We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind.”
The Work That Has Been Done, Marcus Garvey, October 31, 1937, Sydney Nova Scotia
Those words are widely associated with the lyrics in “Redemption Song” by Robert Nesta (Bob) Marley:
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; None but ourselves can free our minds.
“Redemption Song” by Bob Marley
Few know those sentences and the song’s true meaning. We can trace those words to Marcus Garvey. In fact, though outsiders have disparaged Garveyism as being a “Back to Africa” movement, Garvey and his supporters refer to it as a movement for “African Redemption,” which has a reference in the song’s title. A letter written by Benjamin Lundy on May 28th, 1833 is the earliest known reference to the concept of “African Redemption.” Lundy addressed the letter to the Annual Convention of Free People of Color Convention due to meet in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Lundy’s words to that effect are:
A new era has opened upon the world! The “dark age” of African oppression is drawing to its close; and the happy “millennium” of African redemption is near at hand! Let the inhabitants of that ill-fated continent rejoice, and her children wherever scattered, sing praises to the Most High, on the “banks of deliverance.”
In Garvey’s only work that can be considered an actual book “The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey” Volume 1 is “Dedicated to the true and loyal members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association in the cause of African redemption.”
We can claim Bob Marley paraphrased Marcus Garvey’s speech “The Work That Has Been Done” for not only that key lyric, but the song’s title as well. We present the speech in its entirety below.
MARCUS GARVEY SPEAKING IN MENELIK HALL, SYDNEY, NOVA SCOTIA.
THE WORK THAT HAS BEEN DONE.
Printed in Black Man 3 Number 10, July 1938
The meeting started with a musical programme. Among those present on the platform were the Mayor of Sydney, the Rev. Ford the Chairman, the Hon. Mr. Morrison, M.L.C., Officers of the Divisions and the Choir.
the Rev. ford said: your Hon. President-General, Your Worship, Ladies and Gentlemen: At this meeting, the first of a series that the hon. Marcus Garvey is going to deliver, I stand before you expressing a peculiar and personal greeting to him this evening. We extend greeting to you from this City of Sydney and Cape Breton. In the person of the Hon. Marcus Garvey we have a man of the race who is conscious of his task. In him we have a captain at the helm. He has been called to administer to the people of African descent. He is a tried and true captain. We send our sons and daughters to college because they must cope with conditions. You must answer whether this race is ready for true leadership. We must hope for that time when every man of the race can say, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
There was a musical programme, after which the Chairman called upon His Worship, Mayor Mather, to say a few words.
Mayor Mather: Rev. Mr. Chairman, Hon. Mr. Garvey, Ladies and Gentlemen: I think that this is the second time that it has been my pleasure and privilege to meet you in this hall. I was present at the opening of this hall and I was pleased to have been here. It was a pleasure just as it is now to be with you again. When the committee asked me to be here tonight to say a few words to your President-General I was glad in the first place because I have the opportunity of welcoming him and in the second because I would be allowed to be present to hear the stirring message which I am sure he will deliver to you tonight. On behalf of the citizens of the city of Sydney I extend to you a very cordial welcome to our city of Sydney and hope your stay will be a pleasant one and the message will be of such a nature as will induce you to gird your loins about you and accomplish greater things than they have done so far. The coloured colony in this city is one of which may well be proud. All you have to do is to look around and see this hall that they have built themselves, and it is theirs and theirs alone. This is a hall which any group of citizens in any community in Canada may well be proud. It shows what can be done with united effort on the part of any group. There is one great thing about your colony here. It is a minority colony. The object lesson to be drawn, therefore, is that while granting to the community the same rights, you should stick together in forwarding your own race. If you do that there is no limit to which you will not reach. If you bicker and are jealous of each other you cannot accomplish much. One of the first principles you must have is unity among yourselves because you are a minority group among other large groups. I am glad Mr. Garvey has come to this part of the country, and I am glad to be here to welcome him and to listen to his message. I thank you very much.
Mr. Ford: Your message has been a stimulant to each and every one of us this evening. (A piano solo was rendered.) I will now call on him who by guidance of god will say much that will be uplifting and inspiring.
Mr. Garvey: citizens of Sydney, Ladies and Gentlemen: this is the first time I have had the opportunity of visiting Nova Scotia. In my administrative capacity as President-General of the U.N.I.A. I have had to deal with communications and business matters going through the many Divisions or Branches of the Association in this section. Not having the privilige of knowing some of you by correspondence. I was very pleased at the hearty reception you gave me this morning, but tonight I am flattered with the genuine and spontaneous hospitality extended to me, evidenced by your large and truly representative gathering. I understand that the group of you who live in this section of Canada asked your Mayor to extend to me your goodwill, not only yours but those who could not find it possible to get here. Indeed I am flattered, indeed I am pleased, and I wnt to assure you i shall never forget this myfirst appearance in Sydney and in Nova Scotia.
I have come here to you from the Parent Organization with Headquarters in London as part of a tour I am making in the interest of the Organization. i came to Canada about six weeks ago direct to Toronto to preside over a regional Conference of the Organization of the American and Canadian Branches. I can only spend a short time in your midst. I am visiting two other Divisions — Glace Bay and New Waterford. On the 7th I sail for the West Indies to speak to those islands of the Leeward and Windward group and British Guiana. The U.N.I.A. is engaged in presenting its programme for the next twenty years. We have just passed the first twenty years with glorious achievements. The first twenty years reveal that this Organization did more in this twenty years than any movement since we lost our imperial power in Africa. We brought a consciousness to the race that never existed before. We organized our race throughout the world without the exception of one spot. Africa, the West Indies, the United States, South and Central America, whereever the Negro was to be found the U.N.I.A. reached him and took to him a consciousness of his race and of his responsibility. In the past twenty years we have given consciousness to the race professionally and otherwise. There are people who would not think of their success but for the inspiration they receive from the U.N.I.A. Thousands in the professions, in the Civil Service of the Colonial powers, who never would have had a chance but for the advocacy of the U.N.I.A. which we call the first epoch of the U.N.I.A.
I come to you with the best of fellowship, with the best of spirit, with the desire that you maintain that good relationship with the good Canadians with whom you live.
Mr. Mayor, I thank you very much, sir, for your welcome and for the way you have plainly stated the case of our group here. Indeed, are a minority and a small minority at that. I hope we will all realize it. Minorities wherever they happen to find themselves should unite because they are in the midst of a majority. The temper of the majority cannot always be guaranteed even with the best Government. We have had evidence of that in Germany and in other continental countries. Minorities must be very thoughtful in living in the midst of majorities. Your conduct must be of such as to leave no loophole to constitute you an annoyance to the majority, as to give the majority the idea that you are not a people to be in their midst. Alien minorities are always at a disadvantage because they are not in their homeland. We have our homes and we have one principal home, and that home is Africa. that home is disturbed today — the peace of it — the intrusion of others. Our respective homes have been intruded upon. The result is that a large number of us are abroad because of those circumstances and conditions. But wherever we go as a race we have always maintained the peace, we have always assumed and carried the peace. We have never been the aggressors in any society or any form of government. We have always been a peaceful people, sir, and I feel sure you will never find fault with those who live in Sydney. We are not Communists, we are not Reds of any kind. We are just working in co-operation with others. We are radicals though in connection with our country. We want to restore our country to its ancient glory. We are seeking to restore the land of our fathers. We came here not by our will — we were pulled here. We had a terrible time in those early days. We did our bit under difficult circumstances here to build up the glory of the race that enslaved us at the time. We contributed a lot to that civilization. If for nothing else that race owes us a lot. We think there is no country more able to help us than Canada. Canada has always played a fair game. Canada is conscious of the wrong that was imposed upon us to help build up the civilization of which Canada is a part. We were brought to lay the prop of the present civilization. We toiled for it. We bore on our shoulders the heavy burden of this civilization. Cane, sugar, rum, cotton, were the industries on which the present civilization was built. We carried the load upon our shoulders. If a picture were to be shown as to how the present civilization was built you will find the Negro building it up. We are glad that you are giving the Negro a chance in Sydney. The U.N.I.A. realizes that it has a responsibility not only to the group but to the world at large to place the Negro in his proper place. You, sir, and all, do realize that our world is undergoing changes now — very important changes — changes that are affecting all groups. The changes in the world today are affecting all groups of men. This has led to the particular group seeking its way out. The Jews are seeking the way out; the Japanese, the Chinese, the Hindu, the black man, is seeking his way out, but we are seeking our way out in a different way to other people. We believe in the law of reason and not in the law of the gun. We believe the gunsman is a dangerous man to society anywhere. We believe that nature never intended man to be a gunsman or the Creator would have given him a pistol in the Garden of Eden. The use of the pistol is contrary to the laws of nature. We believe nature is a mighty power. She acts carefully and slowly but she grinds positively. We believe nature is on our side. If we keep within the laws of nature, that first cause and the Almighty Power will in time take care of the human situation. We are not using any pistols where we are. I do not know if in the whole of Sydney you will find more than five pistols among Negroes. I believe you will find more Bibles and Prayer Books than pistols. Whether with or without pistols, the Negro is looking up for his place in the world and i feel sure no self-respecting white man will blame him. We have been the most faithful servants, whether in the stable or in the mines. We have never been disagreeable workers anywhere. We have worked in this Western world to help others, and we feel that the conscience of others will cause them to help us. So long as Canada is Canada and the Negro lives here, he will be a good citizen. But like the Irish in Canada, he has to be thinking of that homeland across the seas. Not that he will think of going there, but he is helping to restore the land of his fathers. The Irish Canadian has helped to restore Ireland, although he has not disturbed Canada. He thinks he should bestow some rights on Ireland. Although we have been away for three hundred years, yet we still have a feeling for the homeland.
In 1928, when I was at the League of Nations, among the many statesmen who gave encouragement to us was the then Prime Minister, the Hon. McKenzie King. He then assured me of his goodwill toward our cause, and he has ever been a good friend of our cause. (A voice: He has to be elected next election.) So long as you have good men like the Hon. McKenzie King you will get your rights as citizens.
Scientists said once that the Negro was the missing link, but now they realize that the Negro is the oldest man in creation. He is so old that he is black, and everything darkens by age, therefore he could not be the missing link. Something must be missing from his link. That the Negro is old and that accounts for his colour there is a lot behind it. Because once upon a time we were a great people. We built the Pyramids and the Sphinx. When history is written in truth you will find that the first civilization was projected from the Nile on the Congo Basin. In the earliest dawn of civilization you found the Negro in Benin, in Timbuktoo, in Alexandria. Anthropologists will tell you that the Pharoahs were black men. When they dug up the mummy of Tutankamen and saw he was a black man they would not tell you the truth. Civilization went across the north to Europe to India, to China, all the way down and proved that the black man had circumnavigated the world. The North American Indian, the Australian Aboriginal, the Aztecs of South America were all people who became what they were through the contact of Africans who had travelled across the continents when they were carrying their civilization, just as how the great white man is travelling around the world to-day and planting the evidence of his race, but before modern history was written and produced in the different continents there were different shades of colour, each had their original civilization. Like all great people we fell. The present civilization is not the only one that existed, but before this we had Roman civilization, Greek Civilization, Persian civilization, Babylonian civilization, and even medieval Egyptian civilization, but the Negro civilization anti-dated that. The African went down with his blundering civilization, the Persian, the Greek, the Roman all went down and we do not know how long this civilization will stand with its Mussolinis and its Hitlers. Civilization is a cycle. It changes. I should like to see black and white get on so well toghether that the black man will remember how kind he was. It is the only way we are going to get along because man is man for that. The white man is no missing link, nor the black man, nor the yellow man either. Surely no animal could achieve what Marconi did, what Edison did, what the great engineers did, what the great scientists did. Surely no man could do what the Japanese are doing, no missing link could do what Carver is doing at Tuskegee. He is the greatest chemist to-day, who can bring out of one product so many chemicals. No monkey could do what the brown bomber did to the Welshman. If man will let a monkey beat him then he is lower than a monkey. We are men whether we are white, yellow or black, because we have one origin. We came from the same place and we are going back to the same place. The Negro went to sleep for a long while, resting from his labours, but he slept too long, so everybody stole a march on him and therefore he is the only man without a country; and so the U.N.I.A. seeks to restore the Negro to his own vine and fig tree. Economically, for his own interest, the white man will not like it, but deep down in his heart he will say that the Negro is right. I would like to see Canada for the Canadians, England for the English, America for the Americans and in the same way I want to see Africa for the Africans, those at home and those abroad, so that when we are sick and tired and weary we may lay our heads in the lap of our mother and ask her to comfort us, bless us before we die. Every people should have a flag, a land of their own, and the U.N.I.A. points you to achieve something. A large number of you were and are members and I bring you the greetings of those in the other parts of the world.
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, because man is related to man under all circumstances for good or for ill. If man is not able to protect himself from the other man he should use his mind to good advantage. The fool will always carry the heavy burden. The fool will always be crushed without a tear from God or man because God Almight never made a fool. God is all wise. When God Almight made man in His own image and likeness, it wasn’t the physical, it was the mind that was like God. Every man represents God in his unitary intelligence. When man abuses that intelligence he lowers himself. God has given you intelligence to take care of you. He hasn’t repeated Himself yet. God was so thoughtful of man and his progeny that he made a variety of things so as to pander to the taste of the Adams that would come after the first. When God made you He made you the masters of the world, not serfs and slaves, but your mind must be developed intelligently. It is your mind that rules the body. You cannot go further than that mind to seek truth and to know truth and to re-act to truth. That is the only way you will be able to protect your group. The white man is still doing research work with his mind. It has taken him to the bowels of the earth to extract what nature placed there for him. On that same intelligence he has gone into Heaven. What you see in Sydney, in Nova Scotia is only the fringe of the white man’s intelligence. Everything that you see that is methodical is the product of the white man’s mind. He visualizes nations and kingdoms and he has them. There is nothing spiritual around his materialism. They are all objective things realized, dreamt and thought out. Sydney is only what men have visualized to a greater extent. The British Empire was the visualization of men like Raleigh, and Drake, who seeing things of value, attached them to the mother country. If places are not well protected then men take them and add them to their Empires. The U.N.I.A. is dreaming of a day when the Negro will possess himself of a homeland, when he will build for himself. The man who cannot build for himself is not only a poor fish in the sea, but ultimately will be a dead fish, plodding for himself. Nobody wants to die except the fool, because life is a worth-while thing. It is only people who are together can survive now-a-days. It is only by organising that we can get anywhere, as the Mayor told you. We are looking for the redemption and the freedom of our homeland. (We hope, sir, to invite you to Sydney, in Africa, because there we shall have different things than you have in Canada.)
Our obsession is like that of the Jews. They are working for Palestine. We are working for Africa, like the Irishman, he is working for Ireland, and the Canadian is working for a grand and noble Canada. We are helping to send on the great force of power of Canadian industry when the Canadians will realize that they too can help us to do some good as we have been helping them to do some good. We have been helping to build and up to now we are not dead, we have not fallen. The Negro has the power of resistance. He can do the job. I feel sure, as you have done in the past, you will continue in the future, whether I come here or not. Remember the primary purpose that has brought me here — goodwill, co-operation, unity from the rest of your fellows in the United States, Africa and the West Indies. We have celebrated the happiness, the glory of our Organization’s accomplishments. We have had our ups and downs and failures, but that was only a drop in the bucket. If the Mayor were to tell you of the failures of his race, you would wonder at their patience. When the Liberals fail they go out of office and let the Conservatives go in, and the Government goes on. If you Negroes have a penny bank and it fails, you swear that you will never put another penny in it again. You should kick out the first dishonest man and put in an honest one. That is why you will have to it swim to Barbados, Trinidad and Demerara. You know how many times the Canadian Pacific failed until they now have their wonderful system? The only way you can be happy is to lay the foundation in one generation for the succeeding generation. If you do not build ships for the next generation you will always be walking. Take the white race, sometimes you see an old man president of the bank, knowing well that their grandchildren are coming after them and they are storing up for their generations to come after. Our disposition is to eat everything and let the boy work for his. We cannot treat our children as our fathers treated us, so do not eat up everything you get, for God’s sake. Remember that the boy who is coming up is to carry on until God comes. Do not be here as serfs and slaves because God never made you anything else but men. Whatever that has happened to the man it is his own mind that puts him there. He has abused the force of power of that mind. Men can create the environment to suit himself. When you do not use your intelligence you fall and will be submerged. It is because we do not live up to the state of our intelligence why we suffer so much. Before I close, I want to appeal to you to use your intelligence to work out the real things of life. You have to apply that intelligence to the management of your own individual and collective racial affairs. Every race has to lok after its own affairs. You have formulated no legal or moral claim. That is why people are taking away Africa today, just how Mussolini took away Ethiopia because he thought the Ethiopians had no use for it. One man used his intelligence and knocked out while the other tried to pray.
The time you waste in levity, in non-essentials, if you use it properly you will be able to guarantee to your posterity a condition better than you inherited from your forefathers. The U.N.I.A. is carrying throughout the world the message of goodwill. The message is going on. It has reached you. It will go to others, so that we may have one outlook, one purpose in life. I do hope the friendship will continue, sir, economically, politically and that you will never have cause to believe that we are not what we seem. (Cheers.)
The Chairman, Rev. Ford: Speaking on behalf of the peoples of this community permit me to say that hey have enjoyed this message of goodwill immensely. Please take back for us the message that we, in Cape Breton, shall stretch out the curtains of our habitation with this in view — one God, one aim, one destiny. I have spent over six years in college learning the various ologies, but to-night you have taught me one ology and that is Negro ology. The hon. Marcus Garvey told you to-night that the man who doesn’t love his people cannot love his God. This is an epoch-making event. Let us bind ourselves together, not only when he is here, but when he is gone, so that we may be lifted up with wings as he goes.
(At this stage Mr. Pat Comeo rendered a violin solo.)
Hon. Mr. Morrison, M.L.C.: As the hour is growing late and your distinguished guest must need rest, I will not take up much of your time. My first impulse is to break out into politics. I have been wondering if this is a proper place for me to be — a clergyman on my right and a choir on the other. I begin to think that a sinner like me is out of place here. The splendid manner in which they rendered their numbers must be work indeed on the part of themselves and their choir master. I was telling His Worship the other day how a solicitor feels when he is examining his witness. No doubt His worship and myself have found ourselves in worse places. I am a bachelor, and so is he. We will be glad to go to the Kingdom of Africa, but I will be satisfied to eat apples. I think Mr. Garvey made a mistake in not mentioning Eve. I met a gentleman who said that Canada was dis-united As far as the City of Sydney is concerned we are a happy community of various sects, colours, and religion and we get along admirably together. To-day, we welcomed to Sydney the Governor-General, who is over all Canadians, no matter what race, colour or creed. The fact that we welcomed him and your leader shows that we can all be faithful to the one sovereign and adore that which is best in our particular races.
(After an anthem by the choir, Mr. Garvey said he thought is was time for the Sydney Division to commence moving on, as it used to do. It should be resurrected. I should like to meet those who are not at work on Monday.)
Washington, DC –Today the Henrietta Vinton Davis Memorial Foundation announced plans to host Livication Day 2009. 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 Seraille 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. In 1994, actor Clayton LeBouef received a commission to write a play on her life entitled ‘Shero: The Livication of Henrietta Vinton Davis.’ Her home in Northeast Washington, DC has been listed on Cultural Tourism DC’s African American Heritage Trail since 1999.
In 2008, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty issued a proclamation designating August 25 ‘Henrietta Vinton Davis Day.’ The designation furthers the Foundation’s efforts to raise awareness of Miss Davis’ life and garner funds to place a marker at her grave. The decree issued in 2008 acknowledges Davis as the first African American to work at the DC Recorder of Deeds office beginning in 1878, before Frederick Douglas was appointed Recorder. The proclamation also recognizes Miss Davis’ significance as a cultural icon. She made her career debut as a Shakespearean actor, elocutionist, dramatic reader and impressionist in Washington, DC on April 25, 1883 where she was introduced by Douglas, a family friend.
The proclamation also acknowledges the success of Miss Davis as a public speaker. During 1919, a year remembered for its “Red Summer,” she joined the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League headed by Marcus Garvey.
The Livication Service will be conducted at her grave site located in National Harmony Memorial Park 7101 Sheriff Road Largo, MD (phone:301-772-0900). on Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 10:00 A.M. Other activities are also in the planning stages.
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 in the United States. Her dedication to her craft gained her recognition as the first African American “woman of the stage.”
As a leader of the African Redemption Movement beginning in 1919, 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 solely to place 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 educating the general public on her life by producing plays, publishing books, producing documentary 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