Prologue to Negro With a Hat
A Premature Death
In death I shall be a terror to the foes of Negro liberty.
Look for me in the whirlwind or the song of the storm.
Look for me all around you.
Atlanta penitentiary, 1925
At the end of May, 1940, Marcus Garvey sat cold and forgotten in a tall draughty rented house at 53 Talgarth Road in West Kensington, London. Recovering from a stroke which had left him partially paralysed, he was sorting through the newspapers that his secretary, Daisy Whyte, had placed beside his bed when he came across a headline which he knew could not be true: ‘Marcus Garvey Dies in London.’1 He scanned the other papers, some of which also carried notices of his death. They were not kind obituaries. It took almost a week for many of the papers to issue corrections. By then wakes and memorials had been held for Marcus Garvey in the Caribbean and the United States. Garvey found himself eulogised by a number of people whom he’d considered enemies and vilified by others had not forgiven him for his alleged exploitation of black people. Miss Whyte tried to shield her boss from some of the more uncharitable news stories but he insisted on seeing them all. Garvey was still weak from the stroke. But more than the distress and embarrassment of his disability, he was deeply upset by his public and private impotence; by his inability to arrest the decline of his mass movement, and by his estrangement from his family: two years previously, his wife had left him and returned to Jamaica with their children; he hadn’t seen them since. Even if he’d been physically able to travel; there were few transatlantic passenger ships prepared to run the risk of being sunk by the German U-boats patrolling the high seas.
Marcus Garvey was now, ‘faced with clippings of his obituary [and] pictures of himself with deep black borders,’ wrote Daisy Whyte, ‘[and] after the second day of this pile of shocking correspondence; he collapsed in his chair.’ Reading through the damning accounts, written by former friends and enemies, Garvey had suffered another massive stroke: he died two weeks later, on 10 June, 1940.