The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers

Elu E. Agbebi to John E. Bruce[1]

Dear Sir,

Like the Saint of old whose praise was in all the churches your name is well-known to me and I trust you will excuse the liberty I take in addressing this letter to you.
I heard of you first of all in connection with your kind reception of my Uncle, the late Rev. Dr. [Mojola] Agbebi,[2] about 16 years ago and I believe there existed between you mutual feelings of generous admiration & friendship. It is this circumstance that gives me boldness to write as I am about to do on behalf of his son, Akinbami, who recently visited you (was it not really a visitation?) in New York. He called on me last Saturday and told me of his trip to America, of your generous hospitality to him during his stay and of his appointment as general agent at Lagos for the Black Star Line at Lagos whither he was returning on the 11th instant. I learnt of this last item with great apprehension and regret.
Let me first of all thank you for your kindness to him and for taking him in at all in the circumstances which he narrated to me. May God bless you and Mrs [Florence] Bruce[3] and grant you your hearts' desires.
In the second place I should like to say that I wish the Black Star Line well and no remarks of mine in the course of this letter should be construed in any other light than one for the best interests of the Company.
I am writing to ask you in the name of the friendship you felt for Dr. Agbebi and out of respect for his memory and also in the interests of the Black Star Line to be so good as to see that Akinbami is released from the agreement he signed as general agent to which he said you were a witness, on his refunding whatever monies he received from the Company.
I do not know how or where to begin the reasons for urging for the cancellation. It is a matter for sincere regret that good friends of African & Africans like you do not know the conditions prevailing on the continent and that you form inadequate conceptions of our mode of life, &c. &c. from those of us who visit you & who are not in every case worthy specimens. Otherwise it is difficult to understand how Akinbami could be considered as a likely agent for a Steamship Company. To take his recent adventure alone, there is nothing to warrant such an appointment—a young strapping fellow of about 27 who expects to be maintained and put to learn a trade for nothing and on nothing, who is so remiss as to forget his own boxes and so careless of impression as to go to the New World with only the suit of clothes on his back, so fickle as to change his occupation twice in three months!
I thought at first that advantage had been taken of him but he told me it was he who asked for the appointment. Knowing him as I do that circumstance carries no weight with me because he would have as willingly applied to join a freebooter's expedition, and I should not have been surprised at any arrangement by which his repatriation was secured. Only he said he signed a written agreement which you witnessed & that alters the complexion of things. I can only surmise that you have been too optimistic in your estimate of him.
He is not at all fit for the post; nothing but disaster lies ahead and I earnestly beseech you to effect his release from the contract on repayment of the money he received from the Company.
How can the Lagos public have buy shares from Akinbami? There is nothing to recommend him that I know of in that line[.] At an age when young men are feeling their way to solid success he wan ts to learn a trade which might not be a bad idea if he had [been] working and saving to that end.
A likely and suitable agent for the Black Star Line should be one who has a stake in the country, a shipper who can divert produce to your ships and take over the ballast cargo in his import trade. There are several such persons in Lagos but Akinbami is not one of them & is not likely to be, humanly speaking & miracles excepted.
I hope you will do your best, kind sir, to get him released from the agreement. If the Company care to consider /it,/ I append a list of African gentlemen[4] /of standing/ and substance, any of whom[,] if they are willing to act, will be successful agents of the Company.
Hoping you will assist us in this matter and with kind regards and thanks in advance, I remain, Yours faithfully,
Elu E. Agbebi
NN-Sc, JEB, MS 2B. ALS, recipient's copy.
[1] John Edward Bruce (1856–1924), New York-based intellectual, journalist, and Garveyite, was a key figure in linking individuals in Africa, the West Indies, and the United States in pan-African causes. In 1911 in New York, he cofounded with Arthur Schomburg the Negro Society for Historical Research. He was one of the best-known writers and editors to work on the Negro World.
Bruce spent the first four years of his life as a slave and had little formal education. He began his journalistic career in Washington, D.C., in 1874, and some ten years later was well known by the pseudonym Bruce Grit. His columns—critical of the theory and practice of white supremacy and eager to forward neglected historical evidence of black achievements—were first carried in the African-American press, then in Britain, the West Indies, and West and South Africa.
Bruce served as American correspondent for the South African Ilanga lase Natal. Because of such ties and the wide distribution of his syndicated column, he was well known to many leading Africans, particularly in West Africa. He corresponded with several African intellectuals, politicians, and businesspeople and often hosted African visitors to the United States. His close acquaintances and admirers included Mojola Agbebi, Edward Wilmot Blyden, Dusé Mohamed Ali, John L. Dube, Solomon Plaatje, Joseph Casely Hayford, James E. K. Aggrey, and Moses Da Rocha, as well as American intellectuals Carter Woodson and Arthur Schomburg.
Bruce was also active in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and the black Masons, serving as editor of the Masonic Quarterly Rev iew. He wrote poetry and drama and was often invited to speak on nationalist topics and aspects of African-American and African history. He also maintained a lively interest in pan-African business commerce, serving as a consultant to those attempting to build such enterprises.
During his long career as a crusading journalist, Bruce moved increasingly toward support for black nationalism at home and abroad. He was at first critical of Garvey but devoted the last six years of his life to passionate support for the UNIA. He became a writer and editor for the Negro World and was awarded the UNIA honorary title of Duke of Uganda. Garvey delivered the eulogy at Bruce's 1924 Liberty Hall funeral, which was attended by some five thousand mourners (NN-Sc, JEB; William Glenn Cornell, "The Life and Thought of John Edward Bruce" [M.A. thesis, University of North Carolina, 1970]; Ralph L. Crowder, "John Edward Bruce and the Value of Knowing the Past: Politician, Journalist, and Self-Trained Historian of the African Diaspora, 1856–1924," [Ph.D. diss., University of Kansas, 1994], pp. 292–336; George Shepperson, "Notes on Negro American Influences on the Emergence of African Nationalism," JAH 1, no. 2 [1960]: 309; Arthur Schomburg, "The Negro Digs Up His Past," in The New N egro: An Interpretation, ed. Alain Locke [New York: Albert and Charles Boni, 1925], p. 236; Peter Gilbert, comp. and ed., The Selected Writings of John Edward Bruce [New York: Arno Press, 1971]; Randall K. Burkett, Black Redemption: Churchmen Speak for the Garvey Movement [Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1978], pp. 149–156; Hollis R. Lynch, ed., Selected Letters of Edward Wilmot Blyden [Millwood, N.Y.: KTO Press, 1978], p. 443; Alfred A. Moss, Jr., The American Negro Academy: Voice of the Talented Tenth [Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981]; Brian Willan, Sol Plaatje: South African Nationalist, 1876 – 1932 [Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984], p. 264; DANB; MGP 1:200 n. 2).
Sir John E. Bruce
James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey
[2] Mojola Agbebi (1860–1917), African independent church leader and Nigerian nationalist, was born in Ilesha and educated in Ibadan and in Lagos, where he developed his anticolonialism and racial pride, exhibited in poems that made him the "uncrowned poet laureate of Lagos" (Rina L. Okonkwo, "Mojola Agbebi: Apostle of the African Personality," Présence Africaine 114, no. 2 [1980]: 145). He was ordained as a Baptist minister in Liberia in 1894, at which time he took his African name and repudiated his European name, David Brown Vincent. He frequently used his pulpit to deliver anticolonial sermons. In 1888 he founded the independent Native Baptist Church and later played a role in the 1891 establishment of the United Native African Church and the 1902 founding of the African Church Bethel. He saw these new churches as places, in his words, "governed by Africans, worked by Africans, supported by Africans, minus the trammels, complexion, and dominations of a foreign and alien race" (ibid., p. 153).
Agbebi established ties with members of the Garvey movement and other pan-Africanists in the U.S. He met John E. Bruce in New York in 1903, and the two established a lifelong friendship. The Yonkers Men's Sunday Club held a "Mojola Agbebi Day" in his honor during the same stay in New York. When Agbebi died some fourteen years later, Bruce wrote to his widow, Adeline Adeotan Agbebi, that "of the few African gentlemen of my acquaintance, he was one whom I especially honored and of whose friendship I was proud and I loved him as a brother" (Bruce to Agbebi, 27 September 1917, NN-Sc, JEB).
Mojola Agbebi
[3] Florence Bruce, African-American activist, was the second wife of John E. Bruce. Born in Cleveland, she married Bruce in 1885 and worked with him closely on his literary and political efforts until his death in 1924. The couple were confidants of Garvey, who had them witness his will in June 1923. Involved in various civic, charitable, and political functions in New York, Florence Bruce was also active in the UNIA. She handled Negro World accounts during Garvey's imprisonment in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary and became one of three directors of the newly incorporated Negro World Publishing Company (NN-Sc, JEB; MGP 5:369–370, 688 n. 4; 7:lxxiii, 463 n. 4).
[4] This list was not found.