August 17th. Couldn’t let this day pass without a recognition to the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, born this day in 1887 in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica (also where my father spent part of his childhood, peace, light and progress to the spirit of
Clarence Laing Jr.). One of the distinctive characteristics of my professor and great Hill District poet and playwright, Baba Rob Penny, was the button he almost always wore on his left side with a picture of Marcus Garvey. I recently learned that my great-grandfather, Mathias Laing, was a Garveyite (thanks, Aunt Mavis) and some of my greatest memories in the Hill District are being a part of the Village 4 an Afrikan Cultural Center and working with folks such as my wife Bonnie, Kwame Ali, James Bryant aka Black Jim, Luqmon Salaam, Sister Sara Jameela Martin, Mary Martin, Darryl Wiley making T-Shirts and many others as we celebrated Honorable Marcus Garvey Day at Miller African Centered Academy and the Hill House Association.
With chapters of his organization, The Universal Negro Improvement Association, all over the world, Garvey’s influence was worldwide, particularly in the United States where his words “Up, You Mighty Race, You Can Accomplish What You Will!” resonated in the spirit of hundreds of thousands. There was reportedly a chapter of the UNIA here in the Hill District housed on Colwell St, and the organization’s influence and iconography are seen all the way to the current moment: Claude McKay, the great Harlem Renaissance poet and writer for Garvey’s paper, The Negro World, first said the Hill District was “The Crossroads of the World”; the Red, Black and Green flag, the UNIA symbol for Pan African unity, flies in front the Redwood’s home (interestingly, it no longer appears to fly in front of Miller African Centered Academy, but shouts to Pittsburgh’s artist activist Paradise Gray, member of the X-Clan, the group that introduced Marcus Garvey to many in the Hip Hop Generation with the famous line “the Red, the Black and the Green with a key…sissy! ); the store of the Ujamaa Collective on Centre Ave, employs “Ujamaa” or “Cooperative Economics” in its name, one of the 7 Nguzo Saba Principles, created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, who was greatly influenced and inspired by Marcus Garvey; we see references to “August Wilson’s Hill District” in our neighborhood library and he was a member of the Black Arts Movement, a movement begun in response to the assassination of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (who formerly referred to himself as Malcolm X), who was a student of Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, and who was a Garveyite as Elijah Poole. Even most recently as the last Mayoral Election we saw the Pittsburgh Black Political Convention, led by Hill District resident Sala Udin, employing the motto “One Vision, One Voice, One Vote” a reference or homage to the UNIA’s motto “One Aim, One God, One Destiny.”
Marcus Garvey said ” A people without knowledge of their past, history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots”, here’s to the Hill District as one of Pittsburgh’s most past honoring neighborhoods and ashe to one of the greatest people in the history of “the Americas” since African people were forcibly brought here and this land’s Indigenous people had their land stolen by the English (and Spanish) and the notion of race was created to justify the theft.