August 17th, 2011 marked the 124th anniversary of the birth of one of Jamaica’s most influential sons, Marcus Mosiah Garvey.
The earliest family portrait in which I am included, shows the Kambons five, arranged around a large drawing of Garvey, set in a handmade frame, intricately carved and painted in the colours of the UNIA flag.
Gallery-hopping on the Upper East Side one day, I encountered a real, silver gelatin print, of a UNIA procession. I could barely believe my luck and my eyes as I got in as close as I could to absorb every detail of the tiny image. The receptionist kindly obliged my enthusiasm, pointing me to the massive book of black and white images by a man named James Van Der Zee, a fortuitous introduction to a photographer of singular importance to my quest to know Harlem. I immediately telephoned my family to inform them that if anyone had $7500 or so to invest, I had found just the thing. Shockingly, no one took me up on my offer.
I would come across more of Van Der Zee’s well-known images of Garvey’s parades much later into my time in New York, at the Studio Museum of Harlem, the official home of the Van Der Zee collection.
It was with great pride that I counted myself amongst those who had come out to remember Garvey on his birthday.