Literary Garveyism: Garvey, Black Arts and the Harlem Renaissance - Tony Martin
"Martin performs a valuable service....[Garvey's literary contribution] has been largely overlooked in studies such as Nathan Huggins's Harlem Renaissance, David Levering Lewis's When Harlem Was in Vogue, and Jervis Anderson's This Was Harlem." CHOICE
"In language that is elegant and richly anecdotal, Tony Martin has served notice that anyone who wishes to study the Harlem Renaissance or trace the development of the Black aesthetic must acknowledge the important influence of the Garvey movement." Joanne Veal Gabbin, AFRO-AMERICANS IN NEW YORK LIFE AND HISTORY
"Successful in showing that the popularly rooted Garveyites displayed as much zeal for literature as did the now better-known NAACP and Urban League, Martin's book serves as a corrective work...." John M. Reilly, AMERICAN LITERARY SCHOLARSHIP.
204 pgs. Paperback.
At first glance, one can settle back and anticipate a storyteller who eliminates any pre-judgments or divisiveness among Black folks. Tony Martin brings Woodson, Rogers, and Harrison together on his dedication page with no concern for artificial turf. From that moment, the reader is introduced to content within this compact book that speaks volumes. Martin provides a “get out of nonsense” escape hatch at a time when aggressive assaults force some viewers to accept the gentrified crumbs left by co-opted documentaries. He refutes those who comply to “bubble gum for the eyeball” simply because what’s available is “better than nothing”. Martin responds with evidence that it is not only foolish to settle for crumbs, but much more rewarding to digest facts, and primary sources written by and for Black people that are based on independent terms and standards. This book is as relevant today as when first published in 1983. Martin reminds us of Garvey’s ability to practice many art forms, primarily literary and performance. Garvey supports those who understood the power of Black expression towards Liberation. Today, in spite of 67 years of desegregated schools that have had opportunities to exchange and balance America’s art efforts, many Black artists are once again faced with bogus questioning about the need to determine when and how we are to respond in Black literature, visuals, music, and performance. Martin reveals how this questioning influenced the Harlem Renaissance. He accurately presents what Garvey knew, wrote about, and demonstrated on the topic of Black Aesthetics. Garvey knew the value of expression whether in words, visuals, music, or movement towards independent thought. His weekly magazine, The Negro World, offered critical outlets for artists and academics who honed their skills without the extra burden of imposed artificial arbitrary standards of excellence that are still lacking within disciplines of Art Criticism and Administration. As a gifted elocutionist, Garvey might be attributed for the spawning of today’s rap and spoken word artists. Garvey wrote poetry “for the people” and performed in theatrical productions as needed to inspire viewers who might option to “see” Blackness instead of just reading about it. The Negro World weekly rivaled the monthly efforts of other Negro magazines of the day, and often raised the ire of many who held their academic credentials far above their allegiances to Black people. The Negro World was a think tank for many of its contributors. It was funded by Black people, and for Black people. Unlike many organizations of that time, the UNIA (the Universal Negro Improvement Association) was unapologetically focused on the issues that still plague African America today. While many authors used Garvey as a stepping-stone, and then chose disloyalty by testifying against him, Martin reveals how many of today’s Black icons from the Harlem Renaissance era spoke, and wrote, with forked tongues. The power of the Arts is clearly illustrated in Martin’s book. He introduces Garvey’s understanding of Aesthetics, and its value to equip Black people when encountering subliminal messaging by the dominating societies. Countering external intellectual intrusions was uppermost a part of Garvey’s Aesthetics. There is no compromise within Garvey’s aesthetic values that tolerated misguided individualism that would distract from the importance of cultural pride in family, and uncompromised loyalty to collective work and responsibility. Martin provides detailed evidence of internal turmoil between Black leaders during the Harlem Renaissance. Power struggles over crumbs among highly regarded Black leaders, with the intentions of starving Garvey’s influences and leadership, has proven unsuccessful over the years. Fortunately, their efforts have not succeeded, and there are still many Black artists who recognize how Garvey’s Aesthetics continues to resonate among those who desire authentic and relevant symbolism for the good of the global Pan-African community. Clearly, Martin is often overtly biased and unapologetic for his personal interpretations of events. His indignations for many anti-Garveyites are apparent, especially in his chapter that identifies the “Defectors”. He further provides details within his Endnotes. His conclusions reveal how petty internal jealousies, betrayals, and deceptions were instrumental in non-Africans imposing their influences upon symbolic narratives that continue to plague independent thought and creativity among Black artists. Some are still satisfied with just belonging to “get along”. Martin’s Literary Garveyism offers facts, interviews with primary sources, and hours of research in reliable Black archival centers. Clearly, he is not appealing to an audience that compromises authenticity just to belong to a community of academic charlatans. Black Classic Press is to be congratulated for re-issuing the work of Tony Martin’s Majority Press. A generation that is in dire need of balanced scholarship can benefit from this book that goes beyond the surface of the brain or eyeball. Martin gets to the heart of Garvey’s Black Aesthetics, and that still matters.