From Marcus to Marcus

A interactive permanent exhibition on Marcus Garvey is bringing long deserved appreciation to the depth and impact of this international figure.
Donna McFarlane, director/curator of Liberty Hall in Kingston, Jamaica, gave us a sense of global context as we discussed the history of blacks in San Francisco from 1870 to 1921.
She said Garvey built Liberty Hall as a wood structure and rebuilt it in concrete after leaving the United States in 1927.
By then, he had formed more than 1,000 chapters of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, 300 plus in the United States.
For McFarlane, it was a treat to visit Marcus Books at 1712 Fillmore, the nation’s oldest black bookstore, named for Marcus Garvey by founders Julian and Dr. Raye Richardson.
We met her and husband for the first time at the store on Thursday and invited her back for the third session of Come to the Water.
She shared with us that Garvey had remained in Jamaica for eight years before going to London, where he died in 1940.
While there, some of the figures he influenced included Gandhi and Chiang Kai-Shek. McFarlane said Garvey urged Gandhi to leave South Africa and return to free his people in India.
It was consistent with our talk about the global impact of African-Americans from San Francisco at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century.
The most famous entertainer, Bert Williams, and the most famous athlete, Jack Johnson, in the world, both made San Francisco their home in the 1890s Mary Ellen Pleasant’s fortune grew to the neighborhood of $30 million and black entertainers and entrepreneurs were dominant in the waterfront district.
They used that success and influence to break down barriers for blacks around the country, playing integral roles in all of the major movements of the, including the UNIA.
Donna said, in seven years, Liberty Hall has hosted thousands of school children and operates afterschool programs and a publc technology center.
It is not unlike the development of the Booker T. Washington Center by blacks in San Francisco in 1919.
As I did in the prior two sessions of Come to the Water, I showed the audience how to use the primary sources in the new book Come to the Water: Sharing the Rich Black Experience in San Francisco to draw meaning from history.
During an earlier discussion with KPOO’s Donald Lacy on his Wake Up Everybody show, I noted that knowledge of this history is the best way to improve the school performance of African-American youth.
At Marcus, many asked how to get these materials into the classroom. I urged them to provide details to teachers and administrators, not settling for excuses about budgets because funds are categorically obligated to address current learning disparities.
Next week’s session of Come to the Water is Saturday, Feb. 12 at 1 p.m. in the San Francisco African-American Historical and Cultural Society, second floor, 762 Fulton St.

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