AFRICANGLOBE – The imposing statue of Marcus Garvey in Lawrence Park, St Ann’s Bay, Jamaica has a powerful story behind its unveiling that, at the time, demonstrated a determined alliance with the African freedom fighters’ movement thousands of miles away.
It is a moving story, and one that should be told over and over again, not only in Jamaica, but across the continent of Africa, as it is a tale that endorses Garvey’s legendary gift of prophecy, vision, and conviction, and connects a group of humble Jamaican workmen to the icon of the African freedom movement, Nelson Mandela.
The statue stands in front of the St Ann Parish Library and almost at the foot of the hill which leads up to Garvey’s unimposing birthplace. This is how the story goes.
The statue was sculpted by Alvin Marriott and was unveiled on October 17, 1976 during National Heroes’ Week. An imposing stone wall was constructed behind the statue with Garvey’s fighting words, “We declare to the world Africa must be free” affixed. But, over time, and with several public functions held at the park, observers noticed that one stone at the top of the eastern section was missing. Questions were raised, and when the contractor Hezekiah Green was quizzed, he said that the masons who had built the wall had asked that the last stone be laid only when all of Africa became free.
Note that this was in 1976. Nelson Mandela was still in jail. African nations like Rhodesia and South Africa were going through the turmoil of liberation struggles without any direct expectation of when victory would be achieved. But these humble workmen had no doubt about the final outcome. Every day at work they had been reminded of Garvey’s pronouncement. The simplicity of their determination not to lay the stone was a powerful symbol and expression of their belief and faith in Garvey’s statement.
Cynthia Graham, who was then the secretary/manager of the St Ann Parish Council, saw to it that the request was upheld and was gladly supported by the council and parish officials.
Well, on Sunday, February 11, 1990, Jamaica watched with the rest of the world as Nelson Mandela walked, hand in hand with his wife Winnie, from his imprisonment at the Victor Verster Penitentiary.
Green and his workmen watched as well. And, on August 17, 1994, following the first multi-racial elections held in South Africa electing a black man, Mandela, as president, a small ceremony was held at Garvey’s statue in Jamaica. The Nigerian High Commissioner Professor Emmanuel Ugochukwa did the honours. Prayers were said. Garvey’s message was solemnly repeated. And the last stone was finally laid.
This amazing story is taking on extra significance this year as Graham, supported by her St Ann’s Bay Improvement Committee and the St Ann Homecoming and Heritage Foundation, takes steps to finally convince the National Heritage Trust, and whatever powers that be, to make a special monument around that stone, and to enshrine the story on a board in the park for all to see and read.
It’s taking a long time to impress upon the nation the immense value and lessons to be learnt from Garvey’s role in the emancipation of our minds. I hear on the radio that, with President Obama’s impending visit, we should be preparing a petition to request that Garvey’s name be expunged from any criminal record in the USA.
During his time as PM, Edward Seaga started the process of seeking to secure the removal of Garvey’s unjustified criminal conviction from the judicial records of the USA. We understand that efforts are still being made here and in America to clear Garvey’s name and remove the cloud that has hovered over the reputation of our first national hero.
But guess what? Garvey also had a sentence imposed on him in Jamaica in 1929. He was cited for contempt of court when he accused the judges of corruption after his UNIA property was seized. So, before we clear his name abroad, we have to clear his name at home. Absolutely nothing has been done in that regard, so it would be pointless and unfair to approach Obama with what would amount to a rather shameless request.
By: Lance Neita