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Chapter Three Africa for the Africans! Several months after the war, serving as a colonial agent in a remote outpost in northern Nigeria, the aspiring Anglo-­Irish novelist Joyce Cary was summoned to adjudicate a peculiar case.A young man had been arrested by the local emir after he had been overheard “talking sedition” about a black king, armed with a great iron ship and an army of black soldiers, preparing to set out for Africa to drive the whites from the continent. To his great surprise, Cary was informed by his trusted political agent, an elderly Hausa man named Musa, that the story of a “white man’s ship” operated by black sailors had been spreading widely through the local markets, where it was being discussed with breathless enthusiasm. Musa, a cosmopolitan, shrewd, and pragmatic operative, was himself swept up by the idea. “[T]he notion of a ship with black officers and crew, coming across the ocean, moved him to some deep and private excitement,” wrote Cary. “He was unwilling to believe that such a ship did not exist.” It was only later, when Cary learned of Marcus Garvey, his Black Star Line, and his designs for Africa, that the rumors made sense. In his anticolonial tract, The Case for African Freedom, Cary retold the story to emphasize his own dawning realization of the futility of British rule. The prevailing narrative of the Black Star Line’s rise and fall, he noted, cast Garvey as a comical figure.And yet “Garvey’s Manifesto went all through Africa.” It had reached Cary’s tiny station, several days’ journey from the nearest telegraph office and even further from the railway. “Seeing primitive people in their isolated villages,I assumed their ideas of the world were primitive,that they were isolated also in mind,” wrote Cary. “But they were not. In a continent still illiterate, where all news goes by mouth and every man is a gatherer, news of any incident affecting the relations of black and white, a strike in South Africa, war with Abyssinia, spreads through the whole country in a few weeks. It is the most exciting of news, above all, if it tells of a black victory.”1 In the years following the First World War, Marcus Garvey and adherents of his Universal Negro Improvement Association captured scores of Africa for the Africans! • 77 followers by broadcasting this very narrative of victory. They did so on a scale, and with a dramatic flourish, previously unimagined by peoples of African descent. The end of the war unleashed a massive wave of labor agitation , anticolonial mobilization, and civil violence—­ an “ecumenical radicalism ” that posed a hydra-­ headed challenge to capitalists, empire builders, white supremacists, and other purveyors of the status quo.2 Garveyites argued that this “reconstruction period” offered a crucial opportunity for the members of their race to renegotiate the terms of their relations with the white masters of the world. Peoples in Ireland, in Egypt, in India, in China were demanding their right to nationhood and self-­ determination.Negroes must likewise organize, pool their capital and resources, and construct the foundation of their own statehood-­ in-­ exile.Just as Europe was for the Europeans and Asia for the Asians, Africa was for the Africans. On this premise rested the fate of the Negro race, at home and abroad. The consequence of European intransigence was revolution, race war. Garveyism was carried with impressive thoroughness to every corner of the “Negro world” by an engaged collection of sailors, migrant workers, activists,and community leaders.Recent work has correctly emphasized the extent to which members of the British West Indian diaspora acted as what Robert A. Hill calls a “transmission belt” for the establishment of a global UNIA infrastructure.3 But the spread of radical Garveyism transcended this West Indian skeleton, enlivening the dreams of black men and women throughout the Americas and Africa, projecting a dazzling interpretation of world events and scriptural destiny that built on and paid respect to rich histories of struggle while plotting a new future and a new identity—­ a New Negro. Radical Garveyism urgently articulated a moment in which the outlines of the postwar world were uncertain, and in which peoples of African descent sensed an opportunity to redraw them. Its dramatic reception both explained a moment of global mass politics and catalyzed new and often explosive expressions of dissent. The Rising Tide of Color “Whether the Caucasian reads the news despatches from Egypt...


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MARC Record
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