Friday, December 20, 2013
Besides having three first names, John Edward Bruce was a Harlem resident who was a major figure in the Marcus Garvey’s movement. Born into slavery in 1856, Bruce, until his death in 1924, was a prolific writer for over one hundred newspapers, author of poetry, plays, short stories and a novel. Before joining forces with Marcus Garvey and his race first ideology, Bruce was a tireless advocate for racial inclusion. In this role, he criticized the Republican party (of which he supported) to take an aggressive stand against lynching, political disfranchisement and Jim Crow segregation. In this effort, Bruce joined various organizations including the Afro-American League, the Afro-American Council, the American Negro Academy and the Niagara Movement. Bruce realized that an oppressed people in a racist society had limited means to seek equality. It is for this reason that while he at times argued for militant retaliation against white oppressors, he preferred to fight racism intellectually. Bruce believed that African people had knowledge of greatness that had been denied them via racist textbooks. He devoted his life to exposing to a doubting world the achievements of African people in medicine, wars, inventions, philosophy and other areas. He took pride when King Tut’s tomb was revealed by archeologists because it validated the genius of Africans and it boldly informed the world that Egyptians were Africans and not sun tanned Europeans.
Bruce was active in the lyceum movement to teach African studies in libraries and meeting halls to offset the Eurocentric teaching of public school education. It was in this vein to teach true history that Bruce and Arthur Schomburg organized in Yonkers in 1911 the Negro Society For Historical Research which collected pamphlets, provided lectures, and disseminated knowledge of the African diaspora. Although this effort was quickly supplanted in 1915 by the better organized and financed Association for the Study of Negro Life and History which was established by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard Ph.D, Bruce supported his competitor and eagerly recommended Woodson’s Journal of Negro History to his followers. Although he initially did not embrace Marcus Garvey when he arrived in New York in 1916, Bruce decided on a cold October 1919 night after hearing the Jamaican speak that Garvey offered the best solution to America’s race problem. Once, he considered America the home of African people, Bruce now agreed with Garvey that the black person’s destiny resided in emigration to the motherland. “THINK BLACK” he urged readers of the Negro World “for every white man in this country is thinking white.”
Throughout the decades, Bruce had corresponded with pan-Africanists in Nigeria, the Gold Coast (Ghana), Liberia and Sierre Leone. In this capacity, he was instrumental in introducing Garvey to influential players on the continent. Bruce’ s writings in the Negro World and the Negro Daily Times help also to spread the ideas of Garveyism throughout the United States, the Caribbean, Africa and Central America. A grateful Garvey knighted Bruce as Duke of Uganda in the Universal Negro Improvement Association’s royalty. Bruce diligently sought to aid the Garvey movement’s effort at establishing trade relations between the UNIA and Liberia by entertaining in his Harlem homes ( 260 West 136th Street, 65 West 134th Street and 2170 Madison Avenue) African dignitaries.
Bruce’s funeral in 1924 attracted thousands in two services and he was widely eulogized throughout the diaspora. His close friend Arthur Schomburg pin-pointed Bruce’s significant role as a race first model: Bruce, he noted, was one of those “who think and act and sleep NEGRO.” This is a fitting description of a man who vigorously advocated that the history of African people needed to be disseminated in the classroom. Bruce greatest legacy is that universities and colleges not only in the United States but in many nations including Italy, France, Germany and Japan have curriculums devoted to the literature, culture and history of Africans wherever they have resided.
William Seraile, Ph.D
Source: William Seraile, Bruce Grit: The Black Nationalist Writings of John Edward Bruce