Marcus Garvey 1887-1940 (1967)

New Beacon’s second book was a short biography of the influential Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey. At the time of its publication there were no equivalent monographs on Garvey that offered an accessible introduction to his life and ideas. This was a valuable tool that attracted many readers given the rising status of Garvey in the Caribbean with the strengthening of Rastafarianism (which claimed Garvey as a prophet), the repatriation of Garvey’s body to Jamaica in 1964, and the reassessment of Garveyism throughout North America in the late 1960s with the rise of black nationalism and the Nation of Islam.

In his introduction, Adolph Edwards notes the challenge faced by a biographer of this mercurial figure and his disputed legacy:
Today, more than at any other period, questions are being asked as to what ‘concrete’ and ‘tangible’ thing Garvey did for the Jamaican or African people […] Some have even indulged in the facile pastime of advocating a committee of experts to determine whether Garvey should be called a Hero – as if Heroes are made by experts! (36)
Marcus Garvey 1887-1940 (1967) by Adolph Edwards. 43pp.


In the late 1960s, Garvey was a controversial and divisive figure, described variously as “‘a rogue’, ‘a swindler’, ‘a crook’, ‘the greatest thing that happened to black man’, and ‘a National Hero of Jamaica’” (Edwards, 3). New Beacon’s second book offered a narrative of Garvey’s life which described itself as “a factual exposition rather than an analytical critique” (3). It is composed of the following main sections, organised chronologically: Early Life, Work in the United States, Work in Jamaica, Exile in England, The Garvey Legend. Each section is divided into shorter sections with sub-headings that enable easy navigation of the book for the widest possible readership. The text describes the development of Garvey’s projects in founding the United Negro Improvement Association, running for office in Jamaica, and setting up The Negro World and The New Jamaica newspapers. There is relatively little analysis of the concurrent development of his ideas. The book can be read as an attempt to recuperate Garvey’s reputation, both in terms of his individual character and his lasting achievements (18) by setting out a readable and ostensibly more objective account of his life.


Adolph Edwards was a PhD student in London at the time of publication. He subsequently returned to Jamaica, where he worked as a successful lawyer. His text on Garvey was first presented as a talk at a study group for West Indian students run by C.L.R. James in December 1964. It was then presented as a paper at the West Indies Society of the London School of Economics and Edwards was approached regarding a possible publication at Africa Unity House. Following the coup that deposed Kwame Nkrumah in February 1966 however, this plan was postponed, after which La Rose approached Edwards to publish at New Beacon Books.
New Beacon Publishing was now in its stride and the production file for the book contains the original contract with Adolph Edwards, setting out his 10% royalty and New Beacon’s Commonwealth rights. From the US royalty, 80% would go to the author, and 20% to the publisher.
The book’s first cover was a painted face on brown card by Art Derry. There was some discussion over whether to use a photograph or an existing portrait, though John La Rose was reluctant to use the image (commonly featured on later books published elsewhere) of Garvey dressed in his admiral’s uniform, the epitome of his controversial pomp and theatricality. The portrait by Paul Milliner of Garvey dressed in a suit with bowler hat was used for the later edition, but Derry’s cover offered a simpler, stripped-back representation of the book’s content: man rather than myth. La Rose wrote to Derry regarding his original design:
I love that face. My only reserve is about the 3 small tears. I feel the African or the Afro West Indian, or the Negro American who was Garvey’s main concern is not crying. Not as before. I like the face as is but for the tears. (8.1.67 JLR to AD, LRA/01/0259)
La Rose here intervened to change this detail in the design, making it more affirmative and less melancholy than Derry’s initial idea.
La Rose was keen to distribute this book as widely as possible, in particular to Caribbean Ministries of Education and other public bodies. He mentions in a letter to Amy Jacques Garvey that after correspondence with the Publications Division of the Ministry of Education in Jamaica, he has been informed that it was in the “Specimen Text-Book Library where it would be available for inspection to all teachers, and that it would also be submitted to the Publications Advisory Committee for consideration for use in schools” (28.5.67 JLR to AJG, AE, LRA/01/0276). In August 1971, Sarah White wrote to Edwards with his royalty cheque: “Marcus Garvey continues to sell steadily though the schools still haven’t taken nearly enough (just 1000 in Jamaica)” (12.8.71 SW to AE). In the end, however, the book sold more than 10,000 copies (47) and was reprinted 1967, 1969, 1972, 1987, with a French translation appearing in 1983.


The book sold very well, making it New Beacon’s bestseller. Reviews were mixed, and reflected what its author clearly realised was the difficult task of how to represent this subject with any critical distance. Poet and sociologist, Calvin Hernton wrote ambivalently in Peace News:
Whether you or I like it or not, whether historians like it or not, Garvey was and is a powerful fact. And the facts, along with some of the myths, of his influence of the course of modern history are recorded with almost too much objectivity in the present volume. But read it. You will be alarmed; not so much by the person or by the outlandish programme of Marcus Garvey, but by the madness of the people who make men like him necessary. (7.7.67, NBB/1/2)
The review also praised the work of New Beacon: “judging from the present volume, their physical and literary standards are of exceptional quality”. Another review in Public Opinion was generally positive and highlighted some gaps, due to the book’s modest scope:
Despite these lapses and the author’s pro-Garvey bias, this pamphlet is probably the most objective work yet written on Garvey by a black man, and as such, it can serve as a useful skeleton guide, not only to present-day readers, but also to the future author of the definitive work on Garvey and Garveyism. (11.8.67, J.A. Carnegie, NBB/1/5)
When accounting for the possible biases of Edwards’ work, and the legacy of Marcus Garvey, it seems essential to take into account the publishing context for this book and what it tells us about the intended readership.
The production file contains a series of correspondence with Garvey’s second wife, Amy Jacques Garvey, an activist in her own right who also dedicated much time to editing and publishing the work of her husband. In her letters to Edwards and La Rose, she expresses her regret at not being consulted regarding the publication and encloses a list of factual corrections. She asks the publisher to insert an errata slip into the book and suggests that Garvey was in fact much better known in the Caribbean than Edwards’ book claims. She requests copies of the book, complaining that she cannot find it in the bookshop in Kingston. The tone of her letter suggests a certain anxiety to protect – and to (re)construct – Garvey’s legacy, following the recent repatriation of his body. She compares the book to another publication: Garvey and Garveyism (1963), compiled by herself and sets out her role:
My desire is to have the true facts about him available to as many Readers as possible. It is a heavy financial burden to carry, but posterity will appreciate the sacrifices I have made during his life-time and since his death 27 years ago, to defend his name, and to place his work and worth in world perspective. (AJG to AE, 6.5.67, LRA/01/0276).
Among her factual corrections, Amy Garvey denies that Garvey gave himself the title, “His Highness the Potentate”, asserting that “you will find that only a native born African can be elected a Potentate of the Organization. Was this falsehood intended as a slur?” (6.5.67, AE, LRA/01/0276). Edwards took pains to respond swiftly to the points raised, confirming his source as George Padmore’s Pan-Africanism or Communism. Amy Garvey also suggests that Garvey’s sons should feature in the book – a suggestion that Edwards refutes given the scope of the book – and that her own role be amplified. As it stands there is only a passing mention of Garvey’s family life in the book, and a brief footnote referencing his wife’s important role (16; 41fn60). Edwards wrote in response:
In reading about Garvey for many years now, few things have impressed me more than your unflagging devotion to him and the immense contribution which you made to ‘Garveyism’. Yet, I realised that this short study was not the appropriate place to give you the credit which you fully deserve, and I only made very brief reference to you. However, I felt so strongly that readers should be made aware, however slightly, of your courage and devotion that I could not help including Garvey’s remarks about you when he was about to start his sentence. Because of the restricted nature of the booklet, I was only able to do this in a less prominent section – the footnotes (p41, footnote 60)”. (1.7.67, AE, LRA/01/0276).
Amy Jacques Garvey had pointed out, with some irony, the strategic benefits to New Beacon and Edwards of this book:
Your young Publishing firm is fortunate in having you write about Marcus Garvey, for it was said in the United States of America that to ‘write something about Marcus Garvey’, whether good or bad, facts – distorted into sensationalism, or fantasy with a jungle flavour – brought the writer into the limelight. (6.5.67, AE, LRA/01/0276).
Edwards’ lengthy and extremely courteous response shows his awareness of the sensitivities of these family connections to Garvey’s heritage, as well as the need to protect the reputation of the newly formed New Beacon Books.

Further reading

Garvey, Amy Jacques, Garvey and Garveyism. London: Collier-MacMillan, 1963.
Garvey, Marcus. The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey: or, Africa for the
Africans ed. Amy Jacques Garvey. Dover: The Majority Press, 1986 (1923).
Grant, Colin. Negro with a hat: The rise and fall of Marcus Garvey. London:
Jonathan Cape, 2008.
Taylor, Ula Yvette. The veiled Garvey: the life & times of Amy Jacques Garvey.