Bajan Garveyites

Our guest contributor Nicholas Mayers is the Information Officer for the Barbados Genealogy Group and Editor of the group’s newsletter, Connections. He is an avid family researcher with a special interest in using online resources.


A number of Barbadians played important roles in the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and its conventions or were otherwise noteworthy in the international affairs of the movement.

Barbadian-born Clifford Bourne served as a UNIA banker, high chancellor and treasurer and head of the Guatemalan UNIA. In February 1920, Bourne established the first UNIA branch in the Central American country of Guatemala. He became the president of that branch and was elected UNIA commissioner for Guatemala and British Honduras (now Belize) by Garveyites in those countries. The UNIA branch was instrumental in launching a worker’s strike against the United Fruit Company which resulted in that company giving in to the demand of workers for higher wages.

Rabbi Arnold Josiah Ford. Ford and his wife, fellow Bajan: Mignon Lorraine Inniss, emigrated to Ethiopia in 1930.

Rabbi Arnold Josiah Ford was the musical director of the UNIA. Ford, who was born on 23 April, 1877 to Edward Thomas and Elizabeth Augustine Ford, studied music theory with another Barbadian Dr, J. Edmeston Barnes of London and joined the musical corps of the British Royal Navy in 1899. He served in Europe during World War I and played with James Reese Europe and his military band while stationed in France.

Ford, a black Jew, orchestrated most of the pageantry for Garvey’s convention ceremonies and further contributed to the organisation by writing the song “Ethiopia”. This became the “Universal Ethiopian Anthem” and was required to be sung at every UNIA gathering.

Having adopted Judaism long before joining the Garvey Movement, he carried the title of Rabbi and was the head of the Beth B’nai congregation from which about 600 joined the UNIA. Not only was he responsible for the musical affairs of the organisation but he also co-wrote the handbook of rules and regulations for the African Legion and created guidelines for the Black Cross Nurses.

James Benjamin Yearwood was an assistant president general and secretary general of the UNIA. He was one of many Barbadians who was involved in the construction of the Panama Canal. After its completion he worked on a banana plantation in that country. While working on the plantation, a white man insulted him with a racial slur, which led to them having an exchange of words. Unknown to Yearwood, this man was the plantation owner. He was so impressed with Yearwood’s courage and literacy that he hired him to tutor his children. Yearwood’s courage and boldness led him to become a leader among the workers in Panama and he later formed a protective association for British Commonwealth Blacks in Central America which later became part of Garvey’s UNIA.

J.C. St. Claire Drakes was an international organiser for the UNIA. Prior to joining the UNIA Drakes was a noted civic leader in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked with civil rights leader William Monroe Trotter and accompanied him to Washington for the historic meeting between Trotter and President Woodrow Wilson which, unfortunately, ended in a shouting match. Drakes was initially unwilling to join the UNIA, however, a visit to his homeland Barbados in 1923 resulted in a change of mind. While in Barbados he became concerned about the plight of his countrymen and was impressed with their display of devotion to Garvey. From this visit he saw the connection between all black people and the relevance of Garvey’s internationalism. Drakes was made the president of the UNIA’s Liberty University, which he ran for three academic years.

Lionel Winston Greenidge was a member of the New York Division of the UNIA. He turned to Garveyism as a defence against racial slurs and as an outlet for his anger over the racial discrimination he encountered while living in New York. Greenidge later travelled to Brazil during the early 1920s to work as an electrical engineer.

Bajan Garveyites is reprinted with permission from: Connections: the Newsletter of the Barbados Genealogy Group, Vol. 3, No. 3 (September 2019).

1 thought on “Bajan Garveyites”

  1. Evangelist Osrick Thorne

    I would like BajanThings to go and research the works of Tony Moore who was an authority on Marcus Garvey and the major part played by J Albert Thorne in the UNIA, diaspora, black Bajan / Caribbean / African advancement.

    You should contact Dr. Robert Hill (head of the Garvey papers) who wrote about J Albert Thorne. The gleaner archives, would be a great place to look. You can also locate the newspaper archives, of that newspaper and also, those of Dr. Love published and circulated Jamaican newspaper titled “The Advocate”.

    You can contact “The Lancet” the world famous medical journal that featured Dr. Thorne’s “back to Africa” movement on 25th September 1895.

    Next you should research article interview Thorne had with :“Leslie’s Weekly” done and dated around 31/10/1897.

    The Baptist and Methodist as well as the Quakers also had associations with Thorne. Booker T Washington was a friend of J Albert Thorne and they regularly corresponded with each other.

    The GLC (Greater London Council) under Ken Livingstone also saluted Thorne as one of Britain’s greatest black men of history for his contribution to humanity and they acknowledged Thorne as father of Caribbean Pan-Africanism, and self help black liberation “Ujamaa”.

    J Albert Thorne is regularly taught as a subject at London’s Metropolitan University.

    Despite, this body of evidence our Bajan journalists are feebly unaware and or ignorant about a man who has done more for black lives to matter (worldwide) than almost anyone else, except and possibly even including, Marcus Mosiah Garvey.

    Why is our nation so slow and lazy, to give honour to our great black achievers? Such as Dr. J Albert Thorne, Jackie Opel, Earl Maynard, Sir Frank Worrell, Dr. Velma Scantlebury – Barbadian-born American kidney transplant surgeon, Nanny Grigg and Dr. Juliet Daniel who discovered the kaiso (calypso) cancer gene.

    What are waiting for? It’s high time PM that we made Dr. J Albert Thorne one of our national heroes. He did much to liberate us. Everywhere and everyone else recognise him as a hero.

    Check Malawi national museums and records. Check the Rastafarians websites “dread library “ and “dread history “the rastaman…, who know his history have put it on record, that J Albert Thorne, brought the back -to -Africa idea to Jamaica. Dr. Rupert Lewis wrote his UWI history thesis / article on Dr. J Albert Thorne who was the fore- runner and teacher of Marcus Mosiah Garvey. He was merely a youth, when Dr. J Albert Thorne came to live in his St. Anns Bay, Jamaica neighbourhood/ district.

    The truth don’t lie. The evidence is there and overwhelmingly positively clear. Having said all this, what are we waiting for?

    Evangelist Osrick Thorne

    [reformatted by BajanThings – original message mostly in caps]

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