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  • The Age of Garvey: How a Jamaican Activist Created a Mass Movement and Changed Global Black Politics by Adam Ewing
  • Courtney S. Cain (bio)
Adam Ewing, The Age of Garvey: How a Jamaican Activist Created a Mass Movement and Changed Global Black Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), 320 pp.

Marcus Garvey, the Jamaican black nationalist leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), has remained an important figure in both popular culture and academic scholarship. Adam Ewing's The Age of Garvey: How a Jamaican Activist Created a Mass Movement and Changed Global Black Politics is among the newest additions to this scholarship. While most scholars focus on the 1910s, the height of Garveyism, Ewing shifts the temporal frame and argues that Garveyism entered a second period—the Age of Garvey—in the 1920s and 1930s, serving as a vehicle for diasporic politics to emerge across the African diaspora.

And yet, much of Garveyism's legacy was forged after 1924 in more cautious and mundane circumstances, a product of the second period commitment to what Garvey described as the work of the "quiet and peaceful penetration."


It is through a focus on this era, according to Ewing, that scholars can truly begin to understand and appreciate the long-term influence of Garvey and Garveyism.

Ewing argues that Garveyism was a fluid and malleable form of mass politics for the African diaspora in the mid-twentieth century that functioned simultaneously at local, regional, national, and global levels, and therefore [End Page 191] spoke to the various experiences within the diasporic community. Indeed, in the introduction, he states that "Garveyism [was] not [so much] an ideology but . . . a method of mass organic politics" that operated in diverse geographical locations and bridged urban and rural black communities across the world (4, 5). That is, Garveyism was able to bring together the black experience in the US and Caribbean, whether those experiences were shaped in urban or rural areas, whether the people were young or old, men or women. Although not a comprehensive history, Ewing's text covers a great deal of information, using "a selection . . . of stories that can be written about the consequences of Garveyism" in order to support his main claim (9). Ewing splits the text into two parts: "The Rise and Fall of Garvey" and "The Age of Garvey," with four chapters in each part. Part 1 contextualizes Garvey's life and ascent into the global historical context and highlights the various black activists who influenced his politics. These figures include Edward Wilmot Blyden (the father of Pan-Africanism), John Chilembwe (a pastor and educator), and Booker T. Washington (the famous civil rights activist, educator, and founder of the Tuskegee Institute). Ewing argues:

The organization Garvey founded in Kingston in 1914 bore the scars and projected the ambitions of eight decades of racial struggle and reorganization inaugurated by the dawn of freedom in the British Empire.


This section provides important background information and establishes the framework for part 2, which looks at the period after Garvey's incarceration and the demise of the UNIA to see where and how the UNIA stayed relevant and influential. Specifically, Ewing argues that through word of mouth and circulation of diasporic presses, like the UNIA's official news outlet, the Negro World, Garveyism was coopted as a language and vehicle to battle white supremacy.

Ewing's text is an important addition to the scholarship on Garvey and Garveyism because it challenges the common narrative. First, he provides a new viewpoint of the topic and a great deal of evidence to support his main claims, which remain salient throughout the text. For example, his discussion of Garveyism in Malawi and Kenya provide new understandings of how black diasporic consciousness emerged in the early twentieth century. Each chapter begins with a compelling introduction, and Ewing engages the reader throughout. His use of photographs are equally powerful, as many of these black leaders are often elided from the grand narrative of politics in the twentieth century.

However, Ewing's analysis of identity politics is not as compelling despite his claims in the introduction to investigate how issues of race...


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pp. 191-193
Launched on MUSE
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