Interview Clips: Virginia Collins
What was Marcus Garvey like as a speaker?
Marcus Garvey was a very compassionate speaker. He was a person that, when he spoke, that you could feel what he was saying and you know that he meant what he said. Now he was dynamic, but not dynamic in the way that most people look at it today. His, ah, words were compassionate and his words were, ah, from his soul. He spoke from his soul, and, ah, you had this, ah, feeling that you were there, that you are he, too, that you felt the same thing that he was speaking of, you felt that you just want to go on and do what he was talking about... And, ah, Garvey spoke the words that you thought you was speaking yourself. In other words, if you had been in the position that Garvey was in, you would have been speaking the same thing. They were in your thoughts, in your mind, in your brains, but still you did not speak them the way Garvey spoke them. And it... ah, it was in one accord. It was just like, ah, everybody had one mind.
What were black people's lives like in the South that made Garvey's movement so attractive?
Life was, ah, fearful for black people. For one thing, ahm, people had just come from World War I and, ahm, ah, lynchings was going on. Soldiers was being lynched in their uniforms. Ah, there was no jobs then for black people. Ah, black people was having a hard time. Education was a sore, ahm, a sore need for black people. There weren't many schools for black people. It was just a hard time, a hard... people had a hard way to go. And, ah, Garvey had put into black people, ahm, your own business. You know, "Get your own business. Get yourselves together as a group of people." And, ah, he talked about trade with Africa and the people began to look that-away. In other words, people began to have a world perspective, but in having a world perspective, you also looked around you and you knew that things were not right where you were. Black people did not have the right to vote. And that was one of your major things.
Talk about the importance of the uniforms and buttons and hats, et cetera.
The flamboyance of the Marcus Garvey Movement was important to black people because it made a statement. It set you apart from other people or other organizations or other things. Whatever, it set you apart, and when people saw you, they knew that you were a Garveyite. The plumage, brass buttons, the, ah, tassels, all of these things that the uniform said was a statement that black people made that "We are together." That was a physical statement that these uniforms and plumage made to the rest of the world that "We are Garveyites and proud of it." It also gave you that proudness.
What happened the day Garvey passed through New Orleans being deported?
Ah, the day Garvey passed through New Orleans, ah, a lot of people gathered very early so to make sure that they caught the last glimpse of him here in the United States. And, ah, we all went out to the river... And the people could stand on the levee and stand close to the river and, ah, you know, they were for miles and miles, a lot of people. They just stood up and they could wave. They could wave, ahm, you know, waved at Garvey. They saw him, they thought, like I said. I thought I saw him wave, but you could not... he wasn't close enough because you... the ship is high, way up. So it wasn't close enough for you to recognize it was Garvey. But people just felt it was Garvey. Those that were close enough could see him, but the people in general, they just was waving, waving, waving, waving and crying and waving, crying and waving because it was just like you was losing your own, or losing yourself. That's how people felt. "What are we gonna do now?" That was uppermost... It was just like your own leaving you, and for days after he left people just talked and cried and talked and cried. And we had this one lady, she says, "Oh, when y'all leave" ... she said, "When you leave here, if I'm dead, dig up my bones, bring my bones to Africa," 'cause people were so endowed with they had researched over the waters and Africa was our brothers and out sisters. And this is the real theme of, ah, Garvey's Movement. "Africa, Unite."
How did Garvey's deportation affect the movement?
The effect on the movement, on the Garvey's Movement was chaos, because as soon as Garvey left, ah, people felt lost. They felt that something had happened, that a part of them was gone. So people had to regroup, had to get themselves together and again to go within themselves and to think about what we do now. And people began to meet at their homes, at, ah, different areas wherever they could be, wherever they could meet, and then the... the, ah, authorities, they was hard on the people. The menfolk, if they had your name and everything and you were a member of the UNIA [Universal Negro Improvement Association, you'd lose your job. And, ah, they was trying to ... the authorities was trying to break up the groupings of people. So you had to meet in disguise. That was one of the reasons why the Garvey Movement was so thorough in being broke up, because people were afraid because they had to work. They had families, they had to feed their children and, more than that, they would put our men in jail. Our men just had to be careful when the UNIA ... you couldn't even speak it. You whispered it. You couldn't say, "I'm a U... UNIA member. I'm with Marcus Garvey." You whispered it, (Whispering) "Marcus Garvey," whatever.