Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Black History Month - Marcus Garvey and Mary Seacole

What happens to the rooster can happen to the chicken too. (Mozambique, Zimbabwe)

1935 - Marcus Garvey wrote "First Message to the Negroes of the World From Atlanta Prison"

Only when I lived in Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana did I understand what Marcus Garvey achieved for Black people all over the world. In Ghana, Marcus was a hero, Nkrumah’s Pan-Africanist model and mentor. In Jamaica, the British rulers of the time led us to believe Marcus Garvey was a scamp and a thief.

This Black man who left school at fourteen, made the colonial powers nervous when he created the greatest mass movement for Black people, stretching from Latin America to Australia. It was no wonder that he attracted the attention of J Edgar Hoover, head of the United States general intelligence division.

Hoover, threatened by Marcus’ message of Black pride and dignity, tried to find ways to expel Marcus from the United States where he had set up his headquarters. Hoover wrote in a memo, “Unfortunately, however, he [Garvey] has not as yet violated any federal law whereby he could be proceeded against on the grounds of being an undesirable alien, from the point of view of deportation.”

Ultimately, Marcus was charged with mail fraud. His organization, the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) was selling stock of the Black Star Line. It was alleged that the UNIA had not yet bought the ship that was shown in the stock brochure. Marcus’ followers saw this as a trumped-up charge, as the Black Star Line owned other ships, and was negotiating the sale of the disputed ship.

Marcus was tried and sentenced to five years in a Georgia prison. He started serving his sentence on February 8, 1925, and on February 10 he wrote a famous letter in which he stated:

Look for me in the whirlwind or the storm, look for me all around you, for, with God's grace, I shall come and bring with me countless millions of black slaves who have died in America and the West Indies and the millions in Africa to aid you in the fight for Liberty, Freedom and Life.

2004 – Mary Seacole named the Greatest Black Briton

I was among the first students to live in Mary Seacole Hall, a hall of residence for
female students attending the University of the West Indies. Before that, my colonial education had featured Florence Nightingale, but not a whisper about this Jamaican woman who was also a nurse in the Crimean War.

Mary Seacole (1805-1991) learned tropical medicine from her mother who had a boarding house in Port Royal, Jamaica, where she nursed army officers and their wives. After Mary’s mother died, she took over the boarding house and her mother’s nursing practice. She later went to Panama where she also cared for the sick.

She traveled to Britain and offered to go to the Crimean war to treat wounded soldiers. When the authorities turned her down, she borrowed the money and went to Crimea by herself. During this war, she distinguished herself by treating soldiers from both sides while under fire on the battlefield. She dislocated her right thumb in one incident when she threw herself to the ground to avoid being blown up.

Mary Seacole succeeded despite the racism and sexism of her time. she was voted the most important person in Black British history in the 100 Great Black Britons award.

Both Mary Seacole and Marcus Garvey had global influence and became icons because
of their tremendous courage.

Also on this date in:

1927 - Leontyne Price was born

1937 - Roberta Flack was born

1966 - Andrew Brimmer is appointed by President Johnson to become the first African-American governor of the Federal Reserve Board.

1978 - Reggaeton artist Don Omar born William Omar LandrĂ³n Rivera in Carolina, Puerto Rico.


jaycee said...

There are so many days in my life when I wish I had the passion of a garvey/seacole. Where I was so consumed by the need, the call to do a particular thing that no obstacle is too great and no task too small for me to throw myself at it. Its truly astounding and I wonder is there a flip i can switch or does God simply lay something on your heart with such fervor you can't ignore it and others he just does not. Well, be it a blessing or a curse such passion is surely and sadly for me a rare commodity.

Here's a Garvey quotation i saw for the first time this month and fell in love with it. "Do not remove the kinks from your hair--remove them from your brain". Take care now.

Yvonne McCalla Sobers said...

JC, thanks so much for introducing me to that Marcus Garvey quote.

On the matter of passion, it is indeed both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes the person who is driven might wish they could be just like "normal" people, not caring enough to drop everything (sometimes, career, family, income, personal safety) to follow a cause.

I think seeds of passion exist in us all, and something may happen in our lives to provide the elements needed for the seeds to grow. For example. the birth of an autistic child has given some mothers a passion for educating the public on autism and improving the lives of autistic children.

I would love to hear your further thoughts on this topic.

jaycee said...

They say Buckminister Fuller once said "All children are born geniuses but 9,999 of 10,000 are swiftly and inadvertently degeniusized by adults". I laughed the first time I read it but there is more than a germ of truth. I believe like you that the seed exists in all of us but some are swiftly and inadvertently "de-passionized" by someone, something, somewhere along the way. Their seed falls on stony ground then it dies and others fall on fertile ground and it flourishes. Not to suggest there is anything at all that was handed on a platter to either Marcus or Mary but you can't fake passion. Its either there or not and it takes much more than mere passion but its nigh impossible to make a start without it and even more impossible to slug it through without it.

I once read a quotation at the start of a chapter in a wonderful book called "The Impossible Will Take a Little While" by Paul Loeb it said “The tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isn’t a calamity not to dream. It is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for. Not failure but low aim is a sin.”

There was so very much in this statement that held profound meaning for me that I can't begin to do justice to how much I agree with him as at the time of reading that described me to a T. Now that something has finally stirred I am a bit bemused cuz the passion doesn't seem to match the skill sets I have. Hehehe God does have a wicked sense of humour I think. So now, like many others I feel like a rodeo bull in the pen waiting to be let into the ring and he's snorting and stamping the ground. He just wants to get into the ring and get into action but there's this Gate.... For me some times the gate is not someone or something or some circumstance but just the absence knowing what to do with this budding passion/burden. This year I have decided to work towards creating the outlet and not wait for it to be created for me but I remain afraid of my own "humaness" meaning the failure to remain committed, fear of how easy we give in to our egos and sell out our soul and most of all the failure to have the answers if people start looking to you for them.

But it came to me quite recently what the answer to that problem might be, its not waiting to be released from that fear, as nice as that would be, but its waiting for when the size of the need to achieve this goal exceeds the size of my fear. I think that's the tipping point, til then I am trying to ready myself. I am actually watching a wonderful documentary on Nelson M. on TV as I read your blog response so I guess that explains my lack of brevity cuz he sure does make one think on such things. But Yvonne thanks for inviting me to talk about it a bit more…it helped. Thanks a mil for the blog entries.

Yvonne McCalla Sobers said...

Hi Jeanette,

I think many of us, well-intentioned as parents and as teachers, drain the genius and passion from our children so they can become "normal" people.

I like your quote about the importance of aiming high. So often, those who didn't make it to the stars open the way for later generations who may well take the stars (desegregation, end of apartheid,adult suffrage) for granted.

Thanks much for sharing your thoughts. In my mind, whatever makes us think is also helping us to grow. At the same time, fear can also mask itself as analytical thinking. But the more we think and act, and act and think, the better we know ourselves. And that is when we can tell the difference between fear that keeps us from acting, and fear that drives us to act and let the consequences take care of themselves.

I value comments and your support of the blog.




When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at