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Negro with a Hat: Marcus Garvey [Paperback]

Colin Grant
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

29 Jan 2009

At one time during the first half of the twentieth century, Marcus Garvey was the most famous black man on the planet. Hailed as both the 'black Moses' and merely 'a Negro with a hat', he masterminded the first International Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World, began the Universal Negro Improvement Association and captivated audiences with his powerful speeches and audacious 'Back to Africa' programme. But he was to end his life in penury, ignominy and friendless exile, after serving jail time in both the US and Jamaica.

With masterful skill, wit and compassion, Colin Grant chronicles Garvey's extraordinary life, the failed business ventures, his misguided negotiations with the Ku Klux Klan, the two wives and the premature obituaries that contributed to his lonely, tragic death. This is the dramatic cautionary tale of a man who articulated the submerged thoughts of an awakening people.


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Negro with a Hat: Marcus Garvey + Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey (Dover Thrift Editions) + The Souls of Black Folk (Dover Thrift Editions)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (29 Jan 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099501457
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099501459
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 307,632 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Colin Grant is a historian and producer for BBC radio. His books include: 'Negro with a Hat', a biography of Marcus Garvey; 'I&I, The Natural Mystics', a group biography of the original Wailers; and 'Bageye at the Wheel', his memoir of a 1970s suburban childhood in Luton. You can find out more by visiting:

Product Description


"A brisk and well-researched biography... A splendidly colourful book" (Daily Telegraph)

"Gripping and sympathetic...monumental...Grant writes with the quiet authority of a historian who has done a colossal amount of research... and knows the smells and tastes of this period as if he had lived through it. He is slow to pass judgement, but when he does so, the verdict carries real weight... His history reads like a first-rate novel... Grant's book is a fine and valuable monument to [Garvey's] memory" (Kevin Jackson New Statesman)

"Grant is an accomplished storyteller and writes with an elegance leavened by wit and cynicism that makes this book eminently readable" (Margaret Busby Guardian)

"In this superb new biography, Colin Grant portrays Garvey as a showman-ideologue [and] is to be congratulated on this scholarly, well-written account" (Sunday Telegraph)

"Engrossing...Writing in a concise, expressive style...drawing on gargantuan research...Grant meticulously chronicles Garvey's eventful odyssey and sheds light on his revolutionary thinking and formidable public speaking...he shows Garvey's heady triumphs and crushing disappointments, his complexity, his paradoxes" (Independent on Sunday)


`An elegant and well researched biography.'

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timely biography of a fascinating figure 7 April 2008
By chance, I had just finished reading Ralph Ellison's classic novel "Invisible Man" when I started reading Colin Grant's excellent biography. I mention this because the two books are interesting companion pieces and because, if anything, the rise and fall of Marcus Garvey is even more extraordinary than that of Ellison's fictional hero. Although thoroughly researched and grounded in the history of the period, Grant's biography reads like a picaresque adventure story. It is a genuinely exciting page turner of a book.

That said, I wouldn't wish to denigrate Garvey's achievements and his legacy. For all his faults, he emerges as a good, perhaps even a great, man. He was superbly right about a lot of the big issues. And this biography is timely given that we are remembering the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination and looking forward to the very real prospect that the United States will elect its first African American President. Garvey took a lot of wrong turns and over reached himself in many ways, but he is one of the people who laid the ground for the civil rights movement and, if it comes to it, an Obama presidency.

Colin Grant does a great job in showing how a jobless, friendless Jamaican immigrant arrived in Harlem and through sheer chutzpah, bulldozing energy and oratorical brilliance, rose in only a few years to be the true voice and champion of Black America. However, Garvey was certainly not a straightforward hero of his people. Grant shows him to be at once a visionary and a buffoon; his personal and political courage was enormous, but so was his ego; as a politician he was brave, but often nave; as a businessman, for all his big ideas, he was a disaster.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Pablo
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Garvey was a determined and ambitious individual who restored pride in the Black people's heritage (as Africans), shifted the focus from the nebulous promise of a hereafter to justice for Black people here and now, and was a key figure in the development of Black activism and Civil Rights. He was also autocratic, egotistical, demagogic and quite tyrannical in his dealings with people, and was proud of the contention that his at one point very powerful Universal Negro Improvement Association were "the first Fascists". His is not an easy story to write, but Colin Grant does so magnificently. Grounded in extensive research, the author manages to capture Garvey's eventful life and multi-faceted character in this excellent biography.
Grant documents Garvey's early travels - to Central America, England, the US deep south - and their influence on his racial awareness. The creation of his radical Black movement UNIA and its development throughout much of the world is fascinating. Garvey's grandiose schemes, his economic and political naivety, his tendency to be deceived by opportunists and his ability to convince the poorest Black to part with his hard-earned cash are explored in depth. Likewise the development of his political philosophy, his uncritical stance on capitalism, his empathy with white supremacism and "race first" stance. His personal pomposity, his obsession with trappings, his paranoic purging of "disloyal" members and unnecessary creation of enemies oblivious of the consequences are all there. His downfall and that of his organisation, largely self-inflicted, is portrayed with detail and insight, to where, through the saddened eyes of Garvey's estranged first wife, the once-great orator is seen coping poorly with the heckling at Speaker's Corner.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Look for him in the whirlwind 15 Aug 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is a page-turner with a good flowing narrative. Colin Grant focuses on what was going on around Garvey, providing a wealth of information about social and political conditions of the time. The problem is that at no time do I feel that I get inside the mind of Garvey himself. That's a shame, as he was undoubtedly one of the most amazingly, provocatively, and brilliantly outrageous characters of the 20th century.

I found it difficult to bear with the constant stream of petty factual errors and grammatical mistakes that occur throughout the book. As soon as I was told that Garvey crossed Vauxhall Bridge to get to the Houses of Parliament from Borough High Street, I got the feeling that the author was not that familiar with London's geography. Many mistakes could have been avoided with proper proof-reading; a few examples:the references to "ex-patriots" rather than expatriates; the word "psychic" is used as a synonym for "psychological"; battle is "enjoined" rather than joined. "Filmic" replaces the more conventional "cinematographic", and "chivalrous" is replaced by "chivalric". In Liberia, we are told, "Crichlow, Marke, and Gabriel Johnson all thought they were in charge." From the context, it appears that what is meant is that each one of these three gentlemen thought that he himself was in charge.

The Bocas del Toro region of Panama is firstly assigned to Costa Rica, and returns to Costa Rican sovereignty later in the book. The ship that carried Garvey from Key West to Havana is called the "USS" Panhandle, which would indicate a US Navy ship.
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