61. Homeward Bound
Written by Basil Thompson
Performed by Creation Steppers
12” single (Nationwide, UK c.1978)



Homeward bound, we need to be
Just because we want to go home
Whether we are weak
Or even strong
Come together and let’s join hands
Then we’ll move to the Promised Land
One day, one day

We were stolen and taken away
Taken aboard a massive ship
We’re brought to this island
Where we worked as slaves
We get no pay, day by day

Creation Steppers, Basil Thompson, Eric Griffiths, and Stafford Elliot, were a Rastafarian vocal harmony group whose most well known member, Stafford Elliot, aka Fred Locks, is the composer of Black Star Liner (in 1967, recorded in 1975), one of Jamaican music’s most popular commemorations of Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and the Black Star Line shipping company.

Homeward Bound, written by group leader Basil Thompson, aka Willie Stepper, expresses the aspiration at the heart of Garvey’s project – the voluntary return to Africa of people from the black Diaspora created by the slave trade and colonialism. It was an idea premised on Garvey’s belief, for which there was much evidence, that whites did not wish to live with or be governed by black people, and would prohibit black people from achieving the political and economic self determination and the sense of self worth that whites conferred on themselves.

The youngest of eleven children, Garvey was born in Jamaica in 1887, in a climate of economic hardship and social degradation. To give you an impression of the world in which Garvey grew up and against which he developed his thinking, here are a few snapshots of the time: in 1887 the British empire was in rude health. Celebrations were being held for Queen Victoria’s silver jubilee, for which Prime Minister Lord Salisbury called the first annual Colonial Conference. The Conference’s first subject was Imperial Defence. In 1896 in America, where Garvey would spend the most important years of his life, the U.S government had made legal the lowly status bestowed on black people when the case of Plessy v Ferguson made law the doctrine of separate but equal and gave the full weight of law to the belief that black people were the inferiors of whites.

Here is a letter from Garvey which describes his main ideas. It’s from a 1922 edition of his newspaper The Negro World, and its subject is ‘the Negro’s return to Africa’:

‘Fellow men of the Negro Race, Greetings: For four and a half years the Universal Negro Improvement Association has been advocating the cause of Africa for the Africans – that is, that the Negro peoples of the world should concentrate upon the object of building up for themselves a great nation in Africa.

When we started our propaganda toward this end several of the so-called intellectual Negroes who have been bamboozling the race for over half a century said that we were crazy, that the Negro peoples of the western world were not interested in Africa and could not live in Africa. One editor and leader went so far as to say at his Pan-African Congress that American Negroes could not live in Africa, because the climate was too hot. All kinds of arguments have been adduced by these Negro intellectuals against the colonisation of Africa by the black race. Some said that the black man would ultimately work out his existence alongside of the white man in countries founded and established by the latter. Therefore, it was not necessary for Negroes to seek an independent nationality of their own. The old time stories of ‘Africa fever,’ ‘African bad climate,’ ‘African mosquitoes,’ ‘African savages,’ have been repeated by these ‘brainless intellectuals’ of ours as a scare against our people in America and the West Indies taking a kindly interest in the new programme of building a racial empire of our own in our Motherland.

A ‘Programme’ at Last?

I trust that the Negro peoples of the world are now convinced that the work of the Universal Negro Improvement Association is not a visionary one, but very practical, and that it is not so far fetched, but can be realised in a short while if the entire race will only co-operate and work toward the desired end. Now that the work of our organisation has started to bear fruit, we find that some of these ‘doubting Thomases’ of three and four years ago are endeavouring to mix themselves up with the popular idea of rehabilitating Africa in the interest of the Negro. They are now advancing spurious ‘programmes’ and in a short while will endeavour to force themselves upon the public as advocates and leaders of the African idea.

It is felt that those who have followed the career of the Universal Negro Improvement Association will not allow themselves to be deceived by these Negro opportunists who have always sought to live off the ideas of other people.

The Dream of a Negro Empire

It is only a question of a few more years when Africa will be completely colonised by Negroes, as Europe is by the white race. It is for us to welcome the proffered help of such men as Senators McCullum and France. Though their methods are a little different to that of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, yet it is felt that the same object will be achieved. What we want is an independent African nationality, and if America is to help the Negro peoples of the world establish such a nationality, then we welcome the assistance.

It is hoped that when the time comes for American and West Indian Negroes to settle in Africa, they will realise their responsibility and their duty. It will not be to go to the natives, but it shall be the purpose of the Universal Negro Improvement Association to have established in Africa the brotherly co-operation which will make the interest of the African native and the American and West Indies Negro one and the same, that is to say, we shall enter into a common partnership to build up Africa in the interest of our race.

Your obedient servant, Marcus Garvey, President General, Universal Negro Improvement Association New York, April 18, 1922.’

- ‘Return to Africa’, by Marcus Garvey, published in The Negro World, Vol. XII, No. 10, New York, Saturday, April 22, 1922

Garvey established the UNIA in Jamaica in 1914, at a time when few organisations were dedicated to achieving black rights, only two countries in Africa were ruled by their indigenous people, and Africans and people of African descent in the Caribbean, Britain, and America, were subject to colonial rule and legally sanctioned racial segregation.

By 1922 the UNIA had become the biggest black mass movement the world had ever seen, with a membership of six million and over 700 branches extending across America, Canada, Costa Rica, Belize, Panama, Jamaica, Cuba, Ecuador, Venezuela, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, India, Australia, Nigeria, Namibia and South Africa. It had raised sufficient capital, by way of stocks sold to African Americans, to create the Negro Factories Corporation, which at its height owned restaurants, buildings, and trucks, grocery stores, restaurants, farmland, and a printing plant: The Negro World was read by thousands of black people the world over.

To give you a sense of the economic status of black people in America at the time and the background to Garvey’s popularity among people of African descent, the following: in 1916, when Garvey arrived in America 97% of all black women in America were employed as domestics, cleaners, and maids. Which in effect meant that pretty much half the entire black population of America – around 11 million women, were cleaning up after white people. In the south that year at least one black person had been lynched every week. In the previous year the Ku Klux Klan resumed its activities. Abroad, the First World War was raging and black soldiers were playing their part, cognisant, no doubt, of integrationist feeling that their willingness to sacrifice their lives for their country would count as irrevocable evidence that they were worthy of all that was granted to whites who had done the same.

Not that it turned out that way. The years between 1917 and 1919 saw an increase in discrimination and white hostility. Whites in the north had responded to black migration from the south with riots in Chicago and Oklahoma. With slavery still in living memory, it’s unlikely any of this would have made African Americans from the working and lower middle classes kindly disposed toward white America, or made them feel inclined to think they had much of a future among whites. They were enormously sympathetic to Garvey’s message of nation building and self-reliance, his insistence on the nobility and divinity of the African, his valorisation of black beauty, and his entrepreneurial zeal. Within three months of arriving in New York, Garvey’s organisation had amassed 3500 dues paying members. 25,000 people from around the world turned up to see Garvey speak at the UNIA’s first international convention in Madison Square Gardens.

Established in 1919, the Black Star Line shipping company was meant to initiate trade between African descendants in America and the Caribbean and Africa, and also to take passengers to Africa to build an African empire. Garvey’s black left-wing and progressive critics called the Black Star Line venture Garvey’s only original and plausible idea. Their organisations and intellectuals, particularly William Edward Burghardt Dubois, co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People [NAACP], were as committed to African unity as Garvey. But DuBois’ pan Africanism was governed by a concern with self-rule for Africa, rather than the formation of an African empire – especially one ruled by Garvey.
Garvey’s nationalism also had a religious aspect. A devout Christian, committed to establishing a Christian empire, Garvey urged his followers to recast Christ and the Virgin Mary as Africans, and to rethink God in their own image rather than that of their oppressors. For Garvey, black self determination and the making of an African empire were expressions of a future prescribed by God’s will. At UNIA meetings Psalm 68:31 was a fixture in the proceedings: ‘Princes shall come out of Egypt: Ethiopia shall soon stretch forth her hands unto God.’

Garvey shared none of black left’s commitment to affiliation with the white working class, nor did he use a class perspective as a means of shaping his analysis of racial oppression, as they did. He viewed himself as a ‘race’ man, a capitalist and an imperialist whose ideas of racial advancement were based on models of achievement set by the major economic and political, aristocratic and industrial elites of the time, and they all had or were trying to build empires. If whites could do it – especially on African soil – reasoned Garvey, surely blacks could do it too. And surely they had a greater claim to developing Africa as an empire - with the help, of course, from the country’s indigenous peoples - than the whites who were exploiting the continent.

Garvey’s fleet – there were three ships in all – never made it to Africa. By 1922 the Black Star Line had been dissolved amidst accusations of financial mismanagement. Garvey had also attracted the attentions of the colonial authorities: The Negro World was confiscated and banned across Africa. The U.S government were no less anxious to end his activities. An attempt at dismantling the UNIA on tax grounds had proven unsuccessful. Then he was charged with mail fraud.

It would emerge, later, that the charges were based on a technicality, but they were strong enough to stick. The case, Garvey said, ‘involves not Marcus Garvey, but the existence of the United Negro Improvement Association. The ideals of the United Negro Improvement Association are on trial.’

One of Garvey’s ideals was racial separation – ‘the curse of slavery,’ he once said, ‘brought upon us the curse of many colours within the Negro race.’ He was willing to meet with anyone that he thought shared his views. In 1922 he met with Edward Young Clarke, the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Garvey clarified his views on white supremacists in a speech the following year, titled Confessions of A Great Whiteman and Leader, in which he praised liberal Democrat, peace activist, anti Imperialist and man of the people, Williams Jennings Bryan, who in a statement to the New York Times ‘Held to his idea of white supremacy and his belief that government should only be in the hands of the white man because white men are best able to interpret the needs of humanity [...] his views, he feels are the views and opinion of other white people when called upon to give an opinion upon the subject. The statement of Mr. Bryan confirms the opinion and attitude of the Universal Negro Improvement Assn. of five years and confirms my stand in the matter of the Ku Klux Klan and the misrepresentation that other Negroes tried to make of my interview – that all white men in America feel like the Ku Klux Klan, but the only difference is that the Klan is honest enough to give expression to its opinion and carry out its attitude in defiance of any opposition whilst others are not honest enough to give expression but feel the same way.’

For Garvey, the opinions of these white supremacists was vital evidence of the impossibility of a future beyond servitude for black people in America and the impossibility under such conditions – against these conditions, the necessity – of achieving the supreme symbol of mastery, the creation of an empire of no less might than the empires of the nations of Europe and Russia.

DuBois and the NAACP were not alone in condemning Garvey’s views about whites and his meeting with the KKK, nor in feeling that Garvey’s sense of kinship with Klan thinking on race relations had made him the most dangerous enemy of black people in America and the world over. Progressive and left leaning black leaders were by and large of one mind – ‘Garvey Must Go!’

In 1925 Garvey was sentenced to five years in Atlanta federal penitentiary. He was deported to Jamaica in 1927, where he continued to work, founding the island’s first political party, and petitioning the League of Nations. Garvey died in 1940 six months after suffering a brain haemorrhage. He was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery in west London.

Garvey’s ashes were returned to Jamaica in 1964, where he was made the newly independent country’s first National Hero. In 1965, during a visit to Jamaica, Martin Luther King laid a wreath at Garvey’s grave in the National Arena. In a speech, King crystalised Garvey’s contribution to the cause of black empowerment: [he was] ‘the first man of colour to lead and develop a mass movement. He was the first man on a mass scale and level to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny. And make the Negro feel he was somebody.’

Chapters of the UNIA exist in America to this day. The organisation led a national campaign to clear Garvey of all charges made against him by the federal government. In 2006 the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously for Garvey’s exoneration.


Colonialism: an international social, cultural & political encyclopaedia,
by Melvin Eugene Page, Penny M Sonneburg. ABC-CLIO, 2003http://www.books.google.co.uk/books
The Colonial Conference – The Royal Commission on Imperial Defence
Hansard HC Deb 25 March 1887, v312 c1474 http://www.hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1887/mar/25/the-colonial-conference-the-royal
Return to Africa, by Marcus Garvey, Negro World, Vol. XII, No. 10 New York, Saturday, April 22, 1922
Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association
by David Van Leeuwen, the National Humanities Centrehttp://www.nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve.twenty/tkeyinfo/garvey.htm
The Negro Holocaust: Lynching and Race Riots in the United States, 1880-1950,
by Robert A. Gibson http://www.liu.edu/cwis/cwp/library/african/2000/lynching.htm
Philosophy and opinions of Marcus Garvey, Or, Africa for the Africans At Home and Abroad. Marcus Garvey & Amy Jacques Garvey, Routledge, 1967
Marcus Garvey Should Be Pardoned, by Professor David P. Rowe, University of Miami School of Law
http://www.constitution-and -rights.com/marcus-garvey.html
Jamaican Information Service http://jis.gov.jm/marcus_garvey/feature-2.html
The Confession of a Great Whiteman and Leader, by Marcus Garvey, New York, March 18, 1923 http://www.marcusgarvey.com/wmview.php?ArtID=558
The Marcus Garvey and UNIA Papers Project, UCLA http://www.international.ucla.edu



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