The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers

Editorial in the Sierra Leone Weekly News[1]

Think and Decide

It belongs to us as journalists to watch the interests of our country, to proclaim to our people their needs, and where the necessary vision is granted to us, to act as path-finders.
We have been often afraid lest, after all, it may come to pass that the world-war which is putting things upon a new basis and better, may bring to us of West Africa nothing. This is possible. At present there is dissatisfaction in many native minds that our outlook is sombre if not altogether black. The statement is true, but the blame for the condition appears to be attachable to none but ourselves. How it is, one cannot tell but except for what is done for us by others,—what is engineered by those whom we like to call aliens, our position at the present moment does not favour boasting—the condition which makes the outlook sombre is beyond all controversy a condition of arrested development.
For looking around one is perfectly unable to show from facts that the indigenous population of this land is thrilling with vitality and movement in any department of its life.
It is now a matter of fact that the white man in his irrepressible desire to develop Africa, mainly on lines of self-interest, has strung out aerodromes, for the purpose of aeroplane service on a chain across the five thousand miles of Africa's length, so that the pilot in an aeroplane may find a safe landing ground in every two hours' flying or less. But what interests us most in the business is that in Bechuanaland,[2] Chief khama[3] laid out a ground, at his own expense, in order that his district should be linked up with the route. An African Chief anxious to connect his tribe by aeroplane communications with the white man's world! Is not this interesting? Is it not thrilling? [ . . . ][4]
In Negro America, marcus garvey with the spread nose and the crisp hair by which the true Negro is identified leads a host to endeavour and to victory amidst conditions that would just shatter the Sierra Leonean to pieces. Come along[,] says he to his countrymen, for you are well able, and under his magic wand the Black Star Line of Steamers is now a reality. Never mind, if in ten years they can go no further,—never mind. Man's greatest glory consists not in never Falling but in rising every time we fall. And if those people fall they will rise again, for they are making use of the power which they get.
When, for god's sake, are we of Sierre Leone with all the gifts that have been bestowed upon us—when are we going to link ourselves with the world's great heart—with the enthusiasm, with the movements that are abroad? When shall we begin to help the Government of the land by trying to do for ourselves[?] To-day, is not every leading Sierra Leonean a mere exploiter of his brother's brain, nerves, physical and money efficiency, for his own selfish purpose? In Agriculture what are we achieving as a native Community? In Commerce, what? Even in Education and Religion[,] what? Are we waiting for oppression? If that is so, the world will know what name to call us by.
An Amalgamated Committee which is now in process of being formed by leading Natives who are young in years and enlightened in mind gives us slight reason for hope.[5]
The formation of such a Committee[,] if we remember rightly[,] has been advocated for long and with great earnestness by Professor abayomi cole,[6] and the endeavour which is now being made we consider a step in the right direction. Only, it has to be borne in mind, that the formation will be nothing, unless those who lead the endeavour will also begin with a comprehensive programme and then work with a will. We are badly off at present, and those who will reconstruct our affairs to the greatest advantage will be considered our benefactors for all time.
Printed in SLWN, 17 January 1920. Text abridged.
[1] Newspapers have been published regularly in Freetown since 1855. The longest-lived newspaper was the Sierra Leone Weekly News, founded in 1884 by J. Claudius May (1845–1902), a Methodist minister and principal of the city's Wesleyan Boys High School. May's brother, Theobald Cornelius May (1857–1929), who had trained in England as a printer and journalist, managed and edited the paper. Under Cornelius's direction, the Weekly News was a well-known forum of West African political and cultural thought. It published such writers as Edward Wilmot Blyden, Mojola Agbebi, Orishatukeh Faduma, and J. Abayomi Cole and consistently supported pan-African movements. Even before the Garvey movement, the paper embraced the proposed return of black Americans to Africa; in the 1920s, Garveyism and American blacks were applauded in its pages: "The American Negro appears a man by the side of his African brother who for all purposes of collective achievement is a veritable child" (18 September 1920). The Weekly News ceased publication in 1951 (Christopher Fyfe, "The Sierra Leone Press in the Nineteenth Century," in Sierra Leone Studies, n.s., 8 [1957]: 226–236; idem, "The Sierra Leone Press in the Nineteenth Century—A Revision," Journal of the Historical Society of Sierra Leone 2, no. 1 [1978]: 62–64).
[2] Two places were called Bechuanaland (the land of the Tswana). One was a protectorate separate from South Africa. The other was a region that included that country as well as parts of South Africa's Cape Province. Its boundaries were the Chobe River on the north; the Orange Free State, the Transvaal, and Southern Rhodesia in the east; a line approximating the 28th latitude in the south; and South West Africa in the west (SESA).
[3] Khama (Kgama III) (ca. 1837–1923) ruled the Ngwato in Bechuanaland from 1875 until his death. As chief ruler, Khama imposed reforms that were welcomed by Europeans but greeted ambivalently by the Ngwato, including the prohibition of alcohol and the abolition of certain traditional religious practices and such customs as bride-price and circumcision. He pursued a friendly relationship with the British in return for their protection against the territorial incursions of Afrikaners and the Ndebele. In 1893 he supported the British during Cecil Rhodes's campaign against the Ndebele. He strongly protested the British proposal to have Rhodes's British South Africa Company administer Bechuanaland, however, and traveled to London to lobby for his position in 1895. He was received by Queen Victoria and his arguments were heeded; as a result he maintained control of his territory in exchange for minor concessions (DAHB; SADNB).
[4] The omitted section includes discussion of Chief Khama, Christianity, and events in India.
[5] The Amalgamated Committee attempted to provide fund-raising for three Freetown reform movements: the NCBWA, the criminal code protest movement, and the Deputation Fund Committee. The Sierra Leone Weekly News claimed that the committee failed because all its funds went to the NCBWA (SLWN, 17 January and 6 March 1920).
[6] John Augustus Abayomi Cole (1848?–1943), pastor, lay healer, author, and political figure in the Freetown intellectual community, was born in Ijaye, a Yoruba town in southern Nigeria that was destroyed during a civil war in the 1860s. Cole studied under a local Church Missionary Society (CMS) missionary, Adolphus Mann, and then went to the CMS Grammar School in Freetown, apparently as a ward of Henry Robbin, a wealthy Saro merchant.
While a catechist for the United Brethren of Christ Mission (UBCM) in the Sierra Leone Protectorate's Sherbro district during the mid-1880s, Cole developed his views on cultural nationalism and the importance of uniting the colony's Creoles with the peoples of the protectorate. Under UBCM auspices he published two books, A Revelation of the Secret Orders of Western Africa Including an Explanation of Beliefs and Customs of African Heathenism (1886) and The Interior of Sierra Leone: What Can It Teach Us? (1887). In 1887 he toured the U.S. and spoke to church groups about Africa. The treatment of blacks in America shocked him; he thought black people were treated better in England.
Cole had diverse callings: He was an ordained minister in the American Wesleyan Methodist Church, which he later left to found the revivalist Gospel Banner Mission in Freetown. Also an herbal doctor, he opened a pharmacy selling European and African herbal medicines. He promoted agricultural development and oversaw several large farms in the Sierra Leone Protectorate. Over the years Cole grew increasingly anticolonial. He led a protest against the criminal code from 1918 to 1921. He also was a member of the Freetown branch of the NCBWA. Dissatisfied with life in the British colony, "where the people are not supposed to have developed sufficiently to enjoy in full the rights of freedom," he decided to emigrate to Liberia (SLWN, 7 July 1923).
There is no indication that Cole joined or was associated with the UNIA in Sierra Leone; however, in an address delivered in Freetown in 1923, he praised Garvey's leadership, although he deplored the violence of his rhetoric: "I am no admirer of Marcus Garvey because I could not approve of the method adopted by him as a leader to lead three hundred millions of Africans to freedom. Yet I respect him for his faith as a leader, his enthusiasm, and his hazy vision. . . . [B]ut for his extraordinary zeal, which made him to confuse race pride with race antagonism, which thereby created powerful enemies against his scheme, he would have succeeded in a wonderful degree" (SLWN, 7 July 1923) (letter to Missionary Herald [Boston], 8 February 1888; Rina L. Okonkwo, Heroes of West African Nationalism [Enugu, Nigeria: Delta Publishers, 1985], pp. 59–76; HDSL; EA).
J. Abayomi Cole