Book Review: Negro With A Hat: The Rise And Fall Of Marcus Garvey

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by Colin Grant

    Publication Date:
    List Price: Unavailable
    Format: Paperback, 352 pages
    Classification: Nonfiction
    ISBN13: 9780099501459
    Imprint: Knopf
    Publisher: Penguin Random House
    Parent Company: Bertelsmann
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    Book Reviewed by Thumper

    I'm not an average reader of biographies. I am now realizing the older I get, the more biographies and history books my reading palette finds attractive. I have been curious about Marcus Garvey for a long time. Granted, not curious enough to read up on him, but he was always there at the back of my mind and on my large, ever growing ,’To Read’ list. I vaguely remember my father and uncles discussing Marcus Garvey but I knew extremely little about him. His name was always spoken with scant contempt, if at all during my childhood. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s name was always mentioned with reverence. Only in the past 30 years or so had Malcolm X's name garnered the type of respect and acceptance he so richly deserved. To me, Marcus Garvey was found on the outskirts of a civil rights, black history conversation. I remember hearing something about taking black folks money on a back to Africa scheme in which he was jailed and kicked out of the country, never to be heard from again.

    I finally decided to discover Marcus Garvey with Negro with a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey by Colin Grant. Negro with a Hat is one helluva book! Marcus Mosiah Garvey lived one helluva life. All of the shadows and blank spaces I had concerning Marcus Garvey, his life and his place in American history are now completely filled. The author Grant opens the book with Garvey's death in London and begins to tell of his life from his birth on to his early days, as a printer, to his inevitable journey to Harlem to start the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), to the rise of the movement, Garvey's incarceration, the implosion of his movement, to his penniless dying days. Grant painstakingly took me through the building of the UNIA that would boast several chapters nationwide as well as chapters in several countries. While Grant covered Garvey's positive attributes, he did not shy away from any of Garvey's negative traits. For instance, Garvey's ego, failure to pay attention to the details and lack of organizational skills were major factors responsible for the ultimate failure of the UNIA as Garvey's prison term. When the last page of this book had been read and turned, the man and his message of black independence and self reliance remains strong and inspirational. However, I can not rectify the notion that if Garvey had the opportunity and education to enter another field, where the financial gains was attractive, he would have been in it, the uplifting of the black race be damn.

    I appreciate the time and details Grant put into this wonderful biography, but I have to admit that the portion of the biography that had me glued to my seat was the constant bickering and snipping between Garvey and his nemesis W. E. B. DuBois. *big smile* You all know I love drama. The battle that Garvey and DuBois engaged in is the stuff movies should be made of. I loved it! Not only did the two see their differences from an ideological point of view, which in my opinion Garvey and DuBois were closer than apart, but it got ugly. DuBois taking Garvey to task over Garvey's perceived uncouthness and his black skin and Garvey attacking DuBois on his preference for light skin, and his Talented Tenth approach to race, the barbs the two traded is amusing and sad. I cannot help but to think that if the two had set both of their egos aside and worked together, the civil rights movement would have taken place and succeeded 40 years before.

    Negro with a Hat is an excellent read. Frankly, that is da bomb ass compliment considering I have a phobia for thick books. Negro with a Hat comes in at nearly 500 pages. Normally, I would have shied away from the book because of the size but my curiosity concerning Garvey got the better of me. Grant satisfied my curiosity. What's that old adage, curiosity killed the cat but satisfaction brought it back. Recently on the discussion board I posed a question about finding a definitive account/biography. While there were various answers, I will say that if anyone who is the slightest bit curious about Marcus Garvey, Negro with a Hat is the place to start.

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