American Experience: Season 13, Episode 6

Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind (19 Jan. 2001)

TV Episode  |   |  Documentary, History
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Ratings: 7.4/10 from 14 users  
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Life story of the controversial African-American leader Marcus Garvey.



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Title: Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind (19 Jan 2001)

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Episode credited cast:
Narrator (voice)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Carlos Coombs
Brittany Cooper
Webley Dickenson
Sandra Dickinson
Marcus Garvey ...
Himself (archive footage)
Jason Henry
Errol Hurd
Dennis Malcolm
Andrew Moody-Stuart
Teddy Price
Tiffany Rattrey
Lancedale Richards
Elethia Rickham
Lenford Roye


A documentary on the life and times of Universal Negro Improvement Association founder Marcus Garvey utilizing archival footage, dramatic readings, interviews with his own sons, and eyewitness accounts of former UNIA members. Written by IboChild

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Release Date:

19 January 2001 (USA)  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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User Reviews

Well documented on the Harlem period
5 December 2013 | by (Olliergues, France) – See all my reviews

This documentary is central to understand Marcus Garvey and his life. The son of an ex-slave, he was educated in Jamaica by this father in a very harsh way creating or transmitting his Post Traumatic Slavery Syndrome to his son, particularly for instance by making the child spend a night at the bottom of an open grave. Marcus Garvey then lived at the end of the 19th century an experience that is implied as negative in the documentary but thus vision is retrospective imposition. He left school at the age of fourteen, which was a privileged situation when you know that education beyond twelve was for a minority of children in Europe, and beyond fourteen, which meant secondary education was only for a very small elite. I doubt very much all children in the USA in 1901 went to school much longer after the age of fourteen, especially in rural areas and urban ghettos, except the social elite that went to college.

Privileged again, Marcus Garvey became a printer apprentice and soon a qualified printer and then the editor of his own newspaper. In other words he was a member of the educated elite of the island, of the world even at the time. And it is as an elite person he is going to succeed and then fail. He is going to be able to capture the changing trend in the world that started in the USA with the migration of millions of black people from the South to work in the war industry in the North and North East because of the First World War. That will cause the "race war" in East Saint Louis in 1917, an urban riot of the black population defeated by a white backlash during which everything was permitted for the white participants in the race war and no questions asked. The result was an undetermined number of hundreds of black victims as compared to 31 whites.

That's how Garvey becomes what he is known for. He roots in Harlem his Universal Negro Improvement Association, founded in 1914 in Jamaica, and develops it in the black population of the USA, urban population first and then rural population. Success is immediate and it also spreads in the West Indies and Africa. Within two years he has the most important black organization ever in existence in the world. And in 1920 he can organize a one month International Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World in August with a mass meeting of 25,000 people in Harlem and a 100,000 people parade in New York. His force is then clear. He has organized the black population with headquarters in Liberty Hall, a newspaper, the Negro World, the Negro Factories Corporation, the Black Legion in military uniforms, the Black Cross organizing nurses in their all white uniforms, etc. For the first time ever one man and one organization was bringing the Blacks together and organizing them for a frontal battle to conquer their rights and freedom.

Strangely enough it is this success that will cause his fall. He is a very authoritarian person, very antidemocratic too, and he selects his associates according to the level of loyalty they demonstrate and not according to their competence (loyalty being then only one parameter among quite a number of technical, educational and economic criteria). That brings to the leading positions people who should never have been there, social climbers, incompetent parasites, impulsive and uncontrollable people, and one infiltrator from J. Edgar Hoover who gets on the tracks of Marcus Garvey as soon as 1919. This infiltrated informer will enable J. Edgar Hoover to plan and coordinate his various efforts to trap Marcus Garvey in 1922. It is the economic incompetence of Garvey's collaborators who bring down his various companies, and particularly the Black Star Line, his maritime venture. He will be arrested and then convicted and sentenced to five years in federal prison for a ridiculous crime: mail fraud because he used the US postal service to distribute a call for money that included a false piece of information that was considered as misleading people into funding a doomed commercial and irregular project.

He will spend about 3 years in prison in Atlanta before being pardoned and deported by President Hoover in 1927 essentially for medical reasons to avoid his dying in prison which would have been embarrassing in the presidential campaign in 1928. The end of his life is rather banal, though the myth is slowly growing, particularly due to his being promoted to the status of apostle or even shepherd, prophet or messiah, not to speak of his nickname, the Black Moses, by the rastafari movement that started developing in the 1920s and 1930sq with the crowning of Ras Tafari in 1930 as Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. The documentary is totally silent about this myth building procedure. I would say that this silence is avoiding a very embarrassing side of the movement at the time with the production of religious documents and texts, like the Holy Piby that turned the Bible and the Christian religion into a rastafari religion with an entirely black cast and in which the white Adam, Eve, Abraham, Isaac, and a few others are white and the traitors who whitewashed the originally black religion that is brought to its peak of power with the black Jesus, the Black Virgin, his mother, the black Solomon, and the black Noah, with only one discordant note when one of these texts speaks of Noah's son Ham, his crime (seeing his drunk father naked and calling his two brothers in to gloat) and Noah's curse on Ham's youngest son Canaan, the original point of the black race. This religion advocate absolute race purity and Black supremacy, like Marcus Garvey by the way.


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