This is the second day of our roundtable on Adam Ewing’s book, The Age of Garvey: How a Jamaican Activist Created a Mass Movement and Changed Global Black Politics. We began with introductory remarks by Stephen G. Hall on Monday. In this post, Komozi Woodard praises Ewing’s work for capturing the significance of grassroots Garveyism in the African Diaspora.
It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of Adam Ewing’s The Age of Garvey: How a Jamaican Activist Created a Mass Movement and Changed Global Black Politics. This book represents the dramatic paradigm change underway in Africana Studies that in turn informs significant changes in American historiography. The old scholarship and Cold War historiography was dismissive of Marcus Garvey and the phenomenal global reach of Grassroots Garveyism; thus, Marcus Garvey and the UNIA were either ridiculed or minimized. The Cold War academy routinely dismissed the claims of the UNIA as a mass movement until the file cabinets holding the membership records of the UNIA were accidentally found in a Harlem office building that was being demolished. Then the new biographers went to work; however, that first generation of scholarship was stuck in the quicksand of the ideological battles from the 1920s framing the issues in terms of Black Nationalism versus Communism– or race versus class. On the one hand in Race First, Tony Martin was a pioneering revisionist who condemned and corrected the dismissive work on Marcus Garvey and the UNIA. On the other hand, Judith Stein summed up the significance of Marcus Garvey and the UNIA as a mass movement that failed because of its business ethos. Tragically that framework blinded students to the vast and complex conversations about ideology, organization, politics and political economy that took place under the big tent of Grassroots Garveyism.
Fortunately, Adam Ewing’s work benefits from several important interventions in this scholarship: intellectual, ideological and geographical. Intellectually, Jeffrey B. Perry’s work on Hubert Harrison–Marcus Garvey’s editor of the Negro World—was a giant step in this paradigm change. The criminally neglected Hubert Harrison was the working-class intellectual renowned as the Socrates of the Harlem Renaissance. And, Harrison was at the center of a crowded circle of Harlem intellectuals in that golden age of Black Radicalism.1
Ideologically, in Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia: Caribbean Radicalism in Early Twentieth-Century America, Winston James took another giant step by situating Marcus Garvey in the context of an important strain in the Black Radical Tradition propelled by Caribbean intellectuals. Geographically, the international and chronological dimensions of Marcus Garvey and the UNIA were interrogated in an important volume edited by Michael O. West and his colleagues, From Toussaint to Tupac: The Black Internationalism Since the Age of Revolution.
Since Adam Ewing explores and explains the rich findings in the new scholarship, this book is ideal for teachers and professors because in addition to the works I just mentioned. It also summarizes the dramatic rethinking of Booker T. Washington that is underway right now. Prior to this book, my students would have to consult a library of scholarship to begin to appreciate the global scope of Marcus Garvey and the UNIA. And, there is so much misleading interpretation in that library. By contrast, Adam Ewing’s judgments are sound. In other words, Ewing connects the dots in this vast literature and concentrates that voluminous body of knowledge into one book focused on Marcus Garvey, mass movement and global black politics. Finally, Marcus Garvey and the UNIA is receiving the kind of serious scholarship that they deserve.
I salute Adam Ewing for this important work on Marcus Garvey and Grassroots Garveyism. And, I would enthusiastically recommend the book to teachers and professors who need an informative and reliable introduction to the scholarship on Marcus Garvey and that Age of Grassroots Garveyism. Indeed, this book will also be helpful for students of Malcolm X and the Black Power Generation. It explains the rich foundations of Black Power Politics. For today’s activists, the book also demonstrates what poor people’s movements have done in terms of organizing locally, regionally and globally in the 20th century.
- See Jeffrey B. Perry, Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918. ↩