Robert A. Dentler Desegregationist


Dr.Robert Dentler





Memories of desegregation in Boston during the 1970’s are still raw. People forget what Boston’s public schools were like before desegregation or that Boston’s insular neighborhoods could be very dangerous to outsiders. It is fair to surmise that despite the hardships and the violence wrought by desegregation, the process enabled Boston to enter the 21st century as a more cosmopolitan city that is more inclusive and less hostile to outsiders than it was before the 1970’s.

Boston University Sociologists Dr. Robert A.Dentler and Dr.Marvin A. Scott were the  experts hired by Judge Arthur Garrity  to implement  Boston’s desegregation plan.  Dr.Scott states that Robert Dentler was comparable to the radical abolitionist John Brown with regard to Dentler’s passion for the cause of ending segregation in The United States.

In 1972 Robert Dentler had relocated to Boston University after ten years at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College. Three years later Dentler was tapped by Judge Arthur Garrity to plan for the desegregation of Boston’s public school system, something the city’s leaders had avoided doing for many years. A group of parents had successfully sued the school system to force change, and the judge asked Dentler to devise a new approach to public education which would be imposed on the city by the federal court in the “remedy phase” of the lawsuit. It would prove to be a  painful process for the city but for Dentler it was the culminating experience of his professional life. He was never subjected to threats, hate mail or violence (unlike Judge Garrity and his family, who were the targets of relentless threats and bomb scares and Dr.Scott who was chased by a mob in South Boston). He was secure enough with his own life experiences and strong moral sense  that he was able to persevere with the desegregation of the Boston Public Schools despite The Boston School Committee’s intense hostility towards it and their relentless efforts to undermine it.

Robert Dentler was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1918. His father Arnold Dentler was a German immigrant and his mother Jennie was of Norweigan descent. Dentler’s parents instilled in him a  sense of moral rectitude and  a strong work ethic. Concerned that his children not experience discrimination as German-Americans, Dentler’s father banished all traces of German language and culture from their home.

After his father sent him to military school Dentler attended Northwestern University. He attended college with returning veterans from World War II, several of whom became his close friends and roommates and some of whom suffered from what would later become known as P.T.S.D.- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Although he had been to young to go to war, his beloved older brother had served in Europe. The experience of World War II and the revelations of the horrors of the death camps had changed him. He states on page 59 of his memoir:  “The end of World War II created a vacuum for some of us. A million deaths later, we were not going to be the people we were expected to be.” In Dentler’s case this meant becoming a Sociologist who devoted his life to desegregating and improving public education.

Dentler had become alienated from his father and the strict dogma of his Lutheran upbringing. He became dissatisfied with the athletic fraternity he had joined and unsure if he could continue with his studies. He wrote reams of poetry and dreamt of becoming a writer. He was fortunate to meet  a woman named Helen Hosmer during his freshman year. She encouraged his love of poetry and introduced him to more liberal religious and political views. He was able to forge a strong bond with her that enabled him to do what he did best, writing and research. After earning his undergraduate degree in Political Science, he went on to earn his Master’s Degree in Literature.

The Dentler’s were expecting their first child when Dentler learned he was about to be conscripted. The Korean War was highly unpopular and not going well. On the day of the Dentler’s wedding the U.N. forces in Korea suffered their greatest defeat of the war. Given the choice of serving on the ground in Korea or serving a new organization in Northern Virginia called The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Dentler chose the CIA. He heard lectures from both John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen Dulles about how scholars were going to help provide information to be stored in a large computer, information that would serve the noble goal of defeating Communism and ensuring world peace.  Instead, Dentler spent most of his time typing up reports from field offices in The Middle East. It turned out that he was working on the plot to overthrow Prime Minister Mossadegh, the democratically elected leader of Iran.When Robert and one other operative expressed their opinions that Mossadegh was not a threat, they were reassigned. After Mossadegh was overthrown, the Dentler’s decided Robert should not remain with the CIA because it was contrary to their values.

Robert resolved to become a teacher. He began his studies at American University, where he earned a second master’s degree, and eventually earned his Doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1960. He worked three jobs to put himself through graduate school and support his growing family. By 1962 the Dentler’s had a daughter and two sons. The family moved frequently as Robert sought a tenured faculty position in Sociology. He taught at the University of Kansas and then Dartmouth. Robert was hired by Columbia University Teacher’s College  and moved his family to New York.

Helen and Robert had to find a home in the New York area but finding an affordable rental that could house a family of 5 in a good school district proved difficult. They were surprised to find an affordable home near the Hartsdale Train Station in Scarsdale, New York. Robert was pleased to find that the town did not live up to its W.A.S.P stereotype. He found that Scarsdale had become a religiously diverse community that was ⅓ Protestant, ⅓ Jewish and ⅓ Catholic.

Twenty years later, in a 1986 critique of Common Ground, J.Anthony Lukas’s book about Boston’s Busing Crisis,  Dentler speculated that some of the hostility expressed towards desegregation by whites of Irish descent in the neighborhoods of Charlestown, South Boston and West Roxbury could be explained by the fact that they were losing the political hegonomy that they had enjoyed in the past. This was certainly the case with Scarsdale’s W.A.S.P’s, who had a reputation for great hostitlity towards Jews before this attitude was exposed by a local Episcopal Rector named George French Kempsell, Jr. a year before the Dentlers arrived in town.The Reverend Kempsell Jr. was featured on page 1 of The New York Times after he preached a sermon condemning parishioners who belonged to the Scarsdale Golf Club because a fellow parishioner had been barred from a dance there because he had a Jewish father.

Although Robert did not notice any problems between religious groups in Scarsdale, his middle son Eric recalled “that lovely town was very divided.” In fact Scarsdale was transitioning from being a W.A.S.P enclave to a more religiously diverse enclave. But Reverend Kempsell had received hate mail and death threats as well as accolades for his stand against anti-Semitism. In 1963 Kempsell was forced to leave his post as Rector of Scarsdale’s oldest Episcopal church.

During his time in Scarsdale, Robert Dentler became active in The First Unitarian Church of Yonkers. Robert had adopted Helen’s Unitarian childhood faith when they married, and they raised their children is a succession of Unitarian Universalist churches around the country. The Unitarians believed in social activism and were active in the civil rights movement.

At Columbia, Robert Dentler was recruited to run the Center for Urban Development (CUE). Dentler was proud of his mixed race staff of men and women.  CUE had been tasked to create a report on how to desegregate New York’s Public School System. Dentler also worked on desegregation efforts in nearby White Plains, New York. In 1964  he was alarmed to see one White Plains parent foam at the mouth at a school board meeting after he and his colleagues had caused a stir by distributing questionnaires to  White Plains Public Schools’ students on their racial and ethnic prejudices. Although CUE had promised to keep the questionnaires confidential, a group of White Plains parents complained that their children’s rights to privacy had been violated because they had been told to sign their names on the questionairres. Dentler and his staff had to destroy the responses of any student whose parents did not approve of the questions.

One family, The Magowans, were not satisfied with how CUE’s racial survey test had been handled. According to The Tarrytown Daily News,  They sued The New York State Board of Education, The White Plains Board of Education, The Superintendant of the White Plains Public Schools, The University of Columbia Board of Trustees and Robert Dentler for $49.2 million dollars( a separate suit for $70,000 was filed against The White Plains Public School System and Dr.Dentler) The case went to the New York Supreme Court three years later.

The Tarrytown Daily News reported that New York Supreme  Court Justice Justice Joseph F. Hawkins dismissed a motion brought by Mr. and Mrs. Malcolm G. Magowan, who wanted to see a copy of the test and have the right to examine the drafter of the test, Dr. Robert Dentler of Scarsdale. Although the lawsuit would go on for 4 years, Dentler never turned over the questionnaire.He maintained that it was the property of Columbia University Teacher’s college.  The Magowans and their financial backers The John Birch Society,  wanted the preliminary examination to help to frame a complaint.

Although Justice Hawkins held their motion as legally insufficient, he had some sharp words for the White Plains school authorities and Dr. Dentler and his organization, the Institute of Urban Studies of Columbia University. He said that Dr.Dentler and the university “have been less than candid” with either Magowans or the court and added that he is not entirely convinced that the tests and the resulting data derived from them “have not been used for the pecuniary advantage for either or both of said defendants.” Justice Hawkins went on to state that  it was the courts, not academics who had laid the groundwork for desegregation.

The Amsterdam Record quoted Mrs.Magowan in an 18 September article about the case: “All we wanted to find out was who gave the test, and we still can’t. They keep saying, ‘Trust us. We know what’s best for your child.’ We will find out who gave that test if we have to go all the way to the Supreme Court. They just won’t talk to us. that is all. It is sad when you have to hire an attorney to talk to the superintendent of schools. We’ve gone through all the channels. It costs us  a lot of money to protest. But we will see it through, regardless of what it costs.” The Magowans lost their lawsuit against Robert Dentler but it would not be the last time that angry parents questioned his academic approach to desegregation.

When Dentler became the expert in Boston Public Schools’ Desegregation during the 1970’s, he would be aligned with a federal judge who was determined to implement Dentler’s recommendations. Dr.Marvin Scott, Dentler’s Boston Associate in the desegregation case, recalls that Robert Dentler enjoyed staying up late and pouring over cases and court documents involving segregation and desegregation. In their book Schools on Trial, Dentler and Scott make a point of stating the difference between integration and court ordered desegregation, noting that the later is far from perfect.

Dr.Dentler often recommended curricula that allowed for discussion of racial and socio-economic differences among students. He was usually rebuffed by school administrators who believed that such discussions were contrary to a “color blind curriculum.”. Unfortunately, a color blind curriculum often ignored the fact that segregation existed in the north and not all people experienced equal rights.

During the 1960’s as the leader of Columbia University’s Center for Urban Development, Robert Dentler was involved with desegregation cases throughout the United States. In his spare time he spoke on the issue of desegregation closer to home in Westchester County, New York. Joan Intrator reported in  The Greenburgh Independent reported 10 October, 1966  on Dentler’s  lecture to The Ardsley Fair Housing and Human Relations Committee for the local PTA titled “Integrated Education in The White Ghetto.”  The goal of the lecture was to give suburban parents an idea of how to raise their children without teaching them anti-minority prejudices. Dentler stated that children who grew up in affluent white suburbs would not be prepared for the socially inclusive  world they would live in as adults.

“Public education,” said Dr. Dentler, “fosters a larger degree of social acceptance and friendliness; it can affect the general attitudes of our children In ways where they are not reached by trie homes and churches of the white suburban community.” For ‘this reason, he continued, many sociologist and educators are strongly advocating that the white suburban public schools consciously seek ways better to reflect the real, rather than the false, picture of our world and of our society. The public school is the best way to teach children about the socially inculsive world they will have to function in. Dr.Dentler said to sociologists it appeared that Integrated housing is the last way in which children of the suburban white ghetto  meet children of  minority groups; it is in the final analysis the public school which can do the most to foster intergroup acceptance.’

Dentler never did convince parents in his home of Scarsdale, New York to desegregate their renowned public school system. He would be given the authority to try out his beliefs in Boston but only the city and not its outlying suburbs during the 1970’s.  Dentler believed that this factor greatly inhibited the success of Boston’s desegregation policy.

The 1960’s proved to be a very happy time for Robert and Helen Dentler. They were pleased with the changes taking place in society. They were unhappy with the Vietnam War and protested against atomic weapons but the fact that the government was committed to civil rights and a war on poverty gave them hope. They worked on Robert Kennedy’s senate campaign, Helen ran  RFK’s local campaign headquarters and Robert served as Kennedy’s education advisor. Kennedy’s staff hinted that Robert might be tapped for a position in education if RFK took the White House. The couple was devastated by Kennedy’s assassination during the primary, and Robert attended the huge funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

When Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968 his administration systematically defunded Johnson’s War on Poverty programs, Dentler’s work at CUE was in jeopardy. He remained at Columbia for three more years before taking a job as Dean of the Teacher’s College at Boston University. Dentler was hired by BU President John Silber.

The Dentlers assumed that they were moving to a liberal city when they moved to Boston. He notes in his memoir that they were in for “a rude awakening.” They bought a home in Lexington, the site of the first battle of the American Revolution. In 1974 Dentler was asked to advise the Federal Court in Boston about the desegregation of Boston Public Schools. In 1975 he and his associate Professor Dr. Marvin B.Scott  were hired by Judge Arthur Garrity to be  primary advisors on implementing court ordered busing to end the segregation of Boston’s school system. Despite the widespread protests and violence that ensued, Dentler considered his work for Judge Garrity to be the pinnacle of his career as a sociologist.He also enjoyed working away from university politics.

In an interview with Boston Globe journalist Manli He, Dr. Dentler stated “Solutions come out of developing the collective will of the community… Dr.Scott and I have access to needed data and some experiences with what people have tried in other communities and that’s all ‘experts’means.”  He explained that the reason for Judge Garrity’s take over of the Boston School system was representative of the “determination of the courts to move on (21 years after the Brown v. Board of Ed).” For Dentler, desegregating Boston’s Public Schools was a matter of Social Justice. When the Boston School Committee filed a lawsuit to remove Dr.Dentler as a desegregation expert due to the fact that he had been a dues paying member of the NAACP, Dentler stated that he was not an active member but hoped he paid his dues. Judge Garrity kept Dentler as his expert.

Central to his vision for the city’s schools was the idea that desegregation planning should be a vehicle for improving and strengthening the quality of education delivered in all the schools of the city, and thus the plan he helped design not only integrated classrooms but shuttered or repaired decrepit school buildings and revitalized the entire system by tying integration to program improvement and the creation of magnet schools that focussed curriculum around specific subject areas and career paths. Critics of desegregation in Boston’s Public Schools often pointed out that Judge Garrity and his experts Dr.Dentler and Dr.Scott all lived in the western suburbs which were not impacted by Judge Garrity’s desegregation orders.  Robert Dentler was bitterly disappointed that outlying suburbs successfully resisted the region-wide integration plan he and Judge Garrity proposed, leaving the schools of the greater metropolitan area largely divided by race, class and ethnicity.

Dr. Dentler had some qualms about the way  the so-called Boston Busing Crisis was portrayed in the media and in what he referred to as “local legends”, the stories the people of Boston tell to explain what happened to cause the riots and attacks on blacks and politicians who supported busing. As someone who had worked on the desegregation of public school systems throughout the country during the 1960’s and 1970’s and would continue to work on them as late as 1994, in Dentler’s experience most if not all school boards had members as resistant to busing as Louise Day Hicks was in Boston. Dentler was more concerned that black citizens were being denied their most basic rights. He felt that the white communities of Charlestown and South Boston and the political leaders who supported their hostility to busing sought to exculpate themselves from the violence that was perpetrated by blaming specific Boston’s leaders: Louise Day Hicks, Arthur Garrity, Mayor Kevin White and Cardinal Medieros.

In his and Marvin B. Scott’s book Schools On Trial: An Inside Account of the Boston Desegregation Case, the authors make a strong case that Judge Garrity had to take over the Boston Schools because The Boston School Committee not only refused to honor a court order to desegregate, but because the Boston Schools were in terrible shape. School buildings were antiquated and often dilapitated, school employees were given positions based on political patronage instead of  their academic qualifications and there was one man who had all the power with regard to doing maintance on school buildings. In this environment none of the schools was very good. Schools in black and white neighborhoods were in appalling condition. Black citizens had no representation on the school committee.

Dr.Marvin A. Scott worked side by side with Robert Dentler for a decade.During a recent telephone interview Dr. Scott recalled that he and Dentler carpooled each day  from Lexington to the BU campus. One week “Bob” would drive his car, the next week Marvin would drive his car.The most difficult thing about this arrangement was that Dentler was a chain smoker.  Scott recalls that his friend Bob Dentler was a fierce defender of his colleagues. Once you had earned Bob Dentler’s trust it could not be broken. Dr.Scott and his wife were good friends with Robert and Helen Dentler. Dr.Scott recalls that Helen was “the perfect companion for Bob, his guiding linchpin. Bob was not distracted by outside things. He was task oriented and never slacked.”

Although B.U. President John Silber shared many of Dentler’s views on the importance of desegregation. He and Dentler developed a strong dislike for each other. Silber believed that education should be a field that demands the best and brightest without exception. Dentler believed that exceptions should be made for the socio-economic and discriminatory conditions a person had experienced.Dentler made a point of telling  journalist Nina McCain in a Boston Globe article dated  30 October 1976 that the elitism championed by Silber in a recent speech at Fanieul Hall was a destructive force in higher education because an elite based on grades and  test scores had little to do with one’s capacity to learn.

Silber believed in academic testing and became the grandfather of the Massachusetts Competency Assesment Standardized Tests (MCAS) which became mandatory for all high school students to pass in order to earn their high school diplomas. Dentler believed that teaching and learning were far more important than standardized tests. Marvin Scott worked for both men. He believed that ultimately the two men simply could not stand each other. When Dentler led a no confidence vote against Silber during the 1980’s, Dr.Scott witnessed two trustees offer Dentler the Presidency of Boston University if Silber was to leave. Dentler turned the trustees down, much to Dr.Scott’s surprise and dismay. In hindsight, Marvin Scott believes this was who Robert Dentler was, a man with strong principles who could not and would not waver from them.

Although Boston is known as the Cradle of Liberty the fact is that for almost 100 years it had been failing to live up to its reputation by denying 20% of its citizens their right to equal education. One reason Boston’s future is bright is that it is now able to portray itself as a diverse, cosmopolitan city, the Athens of America. It is a city of many neighborhoods but it is becoming one community. According to his daughter Deborah, Robert Dentler’s vision of American Society was one in which we were all in the same boat. He ended his memoir with this Unitarian Universalist Hymn:

We’ll build a land where we bind up the broken

We’ll build a land where captives go free

where the oil of gladness dissolves all mourning

and  we’ll build a promised land that can be.




Author’s note: Information for this article is primarily based on Robert Dentler’s memoir: The Looking Glass Self, which I was able to see at the University of Massachusetts Boston Archives located on the 5th floor of The Healy Library. Two boxes containing Robert Dentler’s academic papers, family photographs and articles and minutes from CUE meetings are also available for public view. Robert Dentler’s daughter  Deborah provided additional insight and information for which I am eternally grateful. Dr.Marvin A. Scott also provided many memories of Dr.Dentler during a telephone interview. Newspaper articles concerning Dr.Dentler’s time in New York were obtained from the excellent website, which contains a huge archive of New York newspapers.


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Filed under Civil Rights in Scarsdale-Westchester County- New York





Ida Wells-courtesy Library of Congress

idawell2.jpg  Ida Wells



Ida Wells was born a slave in 1862. Her earliest memory was of walking to Pine Bluff, Arkansas with her parents after the end of the civil war so that her father, a skilled carpenter, could find work. Throughout Reconstruction Ida’s family lived a middle-class existence. Her father had plenty of work. Ida’s mother had five more children.  Ida recalled in her autobiography Crusade for Justice that her family had contact with her grandfather, her father’s former owner, who treated his mixed-race son more like a son than a slave because he did not have any other children. That all changed when Ida’s father voted Republican against his father’s wishes. Ida’s life changed when her parents died of yellow fever. She became the head of the household for her five brothers and sisters. She trained to be a teacher and took a job in Memphis at a segregated school. While traveling aboard a train to attend a teacher’s conference, Ida was forcibly removed from the first-class car while white passengers cheered. She successfully sued the railroad and won in a lower court, but the case went to the Tenessee Supreme Court after Reconstruction was over, so she was found to have been using the case for“harassment” and forced to pay court costs of $200.

Wells found that she loved newspaper work once she started writing for her church newspaper. Eventually, She became editor of The Free Speech newspaper in Memphis. During the early 1890’s  Ida’s friends Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Lee Stewart opened a grocery store in Memphis at a place called The Curve, where the new electric light rail line curved. They called their business The People’s Grocery Store. The men were in direct competition with a white grocery store owner. The neighborhood around the curve was a Negro neighborhood so the white store owner lost business. One day a fight broke out after some white boys and some black boys got into an argument over a game of marbles. The black boys beat the white boys. That night a white mob attacked the Negro grocery store and took its three owners out of town where they were tortured, shot and lynched.

Ida had found her calling as a journalist. For the next twenty-five years, she would tirelessly advocate for an end to lynching. In her newspaper, Ida challenged the white authorities of Memphis to arrest the men who murdered her friends. Since the authorities did nothing, she encouraged black families to move west. Many of them did. The city’s railroad operators relied on Negro labor. As a result of Ida’s encouraging black families to move the railroad company developed a labor shortage. The railroad managers met with Ida to beg her to stop encouraging blacks to leave town. Ida refused. In her autobiography she explains her reasoning:


This is what opened my eyes to what lynching really was. An excuse

to get rid of Negroes who were acquiring wealth and property and thus

keep the race terrorized and “keep the nigger down.”


She refused to stop writing about the lynching of Moss, McDowell, and Stewart and soon began investigating every lynching she heard of. To her surprise, every single lynching that had occurred during the past three months had started as something else but was then told to the public as having to do with rape. Ida, whose own father was the product of a union between a white slave owner and his slave, printed an editorial about what she knew to be the truth: that white women sometimes had affairs with black men, just as white men sometimes had affairs with black women. This was too much for the white people of Memphis to bear. Her newspaper office was attacked and her printing press was destroyed by an angry white mob. A price was put on her head. She left Memphis for New York.

In New York, Ida wrote about the south for The New York Age newspaper. She was given the opportunity to speak at some newly created women’s’ clubs. These were important organizations created by and for women so that they could hear lectures and act upon the important issues of the day. Ida would later be influential in helping to found the first African-American women’s clubs.

Frederick Douglass came to see her. They formed a friendship that would last the remainder of the great man’s life. He was particularly touched that the young woman from Memphis did not mistreat his second wife Helen Pitts Douglass, a white woman who was often scorned by black women who visited him at his home in Rochester, New York.

In 1893 Wells journeyed to England upon a steamship. She was terribly seasick throughout the voyage. After 9 days the ship arrived in Liverpool, England. She was taken in by Mrs.Isabella Mayo, the publisher Anti-Caste, a pamphlet that sought to combat racial prejudice as it existed in the British Empire. Wells gave speeches about lynching and the south’s treatment of Negroes throughout the British Isles. She was amazed that she was able to dine publicly with whites for the first time in her life. For the first time, Ida realized that there were white people she could trust. Ida traveled throughout the British Isles to speak about the evils of lynching in the United States.  Despite the positive reception her speeches received,  the trip ended on a sour note. One of Mrs.Mayo’s colleagues, Mrs.Impey had written a love letter to a man named Dr.Ferdinands, a man of Indian descent who worked for Anti-Caste. Mrs.Moody, a stern Calvinist, demanded that Ms.Impey be ostracised. Ida refused to do so, pointing out that Mrs.Impey had merely expressed her feelings for the man. Mrs.Mayo called Mrs.Impey a nymphomaniac, a word Ida had never heard before. Then she cut Ida off too. It would be one of many times that Ida’s honesty and outspokenness got her into trouble and kept her from ever being part of a larger organization for long.

Upon returning to the United States Ida struggled with deciding where to live. She was effectively banished from her native south because several men had sworn to shoot her on sight, a sort of southern Infitada for her outspokenness on lynching, which was viewed as an attack on white womanhood due to Ida’s insistence that rape was a pretense for the lynching of black men and that blacks and whites often had consensual affairs.

She traveled to Chicago, Illinois to work with Frederick Douglass on the World’s Fair. Negroes had been excluded from the planning of the event. Mr.Douglass, the leading African-American of his time, had to settle for space to speak at the Haitian exhibit (he had been the U.S. ambassador to Haiti). For Wells, the great irony was that wherever she saw Douglass go at the fair, she observed him being mobbed by white people who wanted to shake his hand.

In 1894 a civil rights minded newspaper called The Inter Ocean arranged for Wells to return to England to drum up support for her anti-lynching campaign. In Liverpool, Ida met the Reverend C.F. Aked who had committed himself to furthering the cause of brotherhood between the races after learning of a lynching while attending the Chicago World’s Fair. She lived with Aked and his wife for six months. For her, the most amazing part of living in Liverpool was how fair-minded and welcoming it was to people of color.


To a colored person who has been reared in the peculiar atmosphere which obtains only in free (?) America, it is like being born into another world, to be welcomed among persons of the highest order of intellectual and social culture as if one were one of themselves.

Here a “colored” person can ride in any sort of conveyance in any part of the country without being insulted; stop in any hotel or be accommodated in any restaurant one wishes without being refused with contempt….The privilege of being once in a country where “A man’s a man for a’that,” is one which can best be appreciated by those Americans whose black skins are a bar to their receiving genuine kindness and courtesy at home.


The fact that she could experience such freedom in Liverpool, the former capital of the British slave trade, gave Wells hope for her own country. A hope that would not be reciprocated in her own lifetime.

Wells had a successful stay in England. She witnessed many British society people sign up for the anti-lynching campaign in the United States. They promised to pressure The Episcopal Church of the United States to get more involved in the issue of civil rights for Negroes. But again Wells faced controversy. The prohibition advocate Miss. Francis Willard was in England at the same time as Ida. Willard had stated that southern women she knew were afraid to go out at night and that lynching may have been a tragic necessity. Wells would have none of this. She battled Willard in the press, which had the effect of alienating some of her white benefactors who were Willard’s personal friends. Wells accused Willard of segregating her Temperance organization (it was segregated in the south- as was everything else). Willard played down her comments and the fact that her organization was segregated.

Wells returned to the United States in November 1894. She lived in Rochester, New York with Susan B.Anthony, the renowned women’s’ suffragist. Anthony was clear-eyed about the racist sentiment that existed throughout the United States. She recalled that she had allowed women’s suffrage groups to segregate as a matter of political expedience. Wells expressed her opinion that Anthony had been mistaken. Anthony accepted Wells’ opinion. Anthony maintained the world would be better when women got the vote. Wells questioned this, remarking that women had a tendency to have “a petty outlook on life.” Despite their differences, the two women remained friends. Both were saddened when Frederick Douglass passed away in 1895. Anthony because Douglass had been the only man to attend her first women’s suffrage convention in 1848. Wells because she believed Douglass to be “the greatest man the Negro Race has ever produced.”

Ida toured the United States throughout 1895 in an effort to gain support for her anti-lynching campaign. She had published a documentary of all the lynchings committed in the United States for 1892,1893 and 1894. At the end of the year, she was broke and exhausted.

She happily decided to accept the hand of Attorney Ferdinand.L.Barnett of Chicago, which had been offered to her before she had gone to England. Ida and Ferdinand had four children, one of whom they gave the middle name Aked after Ida’s favorite minister. Despite the fact that she was the mother of young children Ida remained involved in civil rights causes. Her work would be doubly difficult in the face of the United States Government’s acquiescence to the racism of its white population when  The 1896  Supreme Court Decision in Plessy V. Ferguson found segregation to be legal. For the next 58 years, the federal government of the United States would more often be in support of the rights of white bigots than of the rights of its citizens of color.



Filed under Radical Civil Rights Leaders of the late 19th and early 20th Century: Ida Wells and William Monroe Trotter

The anchor points: Wells-Barnett and Trotter

137 501 Fort Hill Road anchor A.jpg

This is the anchor of the Yarmouth- later renamed the Frederic Douglass

William Monroe Trotter stowed away as a steward on the Yarmouth to attend the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Ida Wells-Barnett had been asked by Marcus Garvey to announce his incorporation of the Black Star Shipping Line. Which eventually purchased the Yarmouth and named it after Frederic Douglass. The Black Star Line’s goal was Negro empowerment via an all-Negro shipping Line.




William Monroe Trotter  and Ida Wells-Barnett 1895-1934


William Monroe Trotter was proud to be the son of James Trotter, a veteran of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment that distinguished itself during the Civil War. James Trotter had always advocated for the rights of Negroes, even when it meant refusing his pay until the salaries of Negro soldiers in the 54th were commensurate with the salaries of white soldiers. After the war, James Trotter settled in Boston, which had become a haven for people of color during the early to mid-19th Century. He worked at the post office and published the first book on the history of Negro Music in The United States. William Trotter’s mother was Virginia Isaacs Trotter, a descendant of Thomas Jefferson and his slave mistress Sally Hemmings.

William Monroe Trotter grew up in the white neighborhood of Hyde Park in Boston. He attended Harvard University and became the first black man to be awarded Phi Beta Kappa at the University. Trotter’s fellow classmate W.E.B Dubois observed that Trotter tended to associate with his white friends and was something of a big man on campus. Trotter hoped to go into banking. His father had left him an inheritance of $20,000.

Although Trotter experienced little racism at Harvard Yard, he found it impossible to find a decent job after graduation. The year was 1897, one year after Plessy V. Ferguson had been passed by the Supreme Court. Trotter became a real estate broker and mortgage specialist, but it was not lost on him that his skin color was preventing him from having the type of life he had expected to have. He married a pretty blonde woman of mixed European and African ancestry (therefore she was a Negro) named Deenie. W.E.B. Dubois had also been interested in Deenie. Although the two men would collaborate on civil rights causes in the future, Dubois had an up and down relationship with Trotter.

Trotter came to believe that a great problem facing Negroes in the United States was that Booker T. Washington had become the spokesman for the race. This occurred due to Washington’s popular “Cast Down Your Bucket” speech in Atlanta in 1895. Washington had stated that blacks needed industrial education and could forgo equal rights and the right to vote. Washington appeared to have said that blacks should earn the right to equality after they had gotten better educated as a race. Trotter found this outrageous. Ida Wells-Barnett and her husband Ferdinand, the only black District Attorney in Chicago, agreed. Although Trotter and Wells-Barnett would not meet until several years after Washington’s speech, they had similar reactions to the man who was to become the leading Negro civil rights leader after the death of Frederic Douglass. Wells-Barnett and Trotter demanded full social and political equality between blacks and whites. They were considered radicals.

Trotter began his civil rights career as the leading opponent of Booker T.Washington. This was not an easy position to take. Powerful Americans like President Theodore Roosevelt and Industrialist and Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie believed strongly that Booker T.Washington’s stated acceptance of second class status for Negroes was politically and economically helpful for the United States because it justified the current racial situation in the country. Trotter, whose very existence seemed to contradict Washington’s message, became his leading opponent. When Washington came to speak in Boston in 1901 Trotter led a protest against him that turned into a riot. He was arrested for inciting the riot, eventually serving two weeks in the Boston city jail. James Michael Curley, future long-time mayor of Boston was also in the Boston Jail during this time. While Curley got saltwater baths every morning and a Thanksgiving Feast, Trotter served his time in an 8×10 cell with no special privileges. The incident established Trotter as Booker T.Washington’s leading opponent.  Trotterism came to mean not accepting second class status as an African-American.

In 1904 Trotter started the Boston Guardian Newspaper, which was committed to full social, political and economic equality for Negroes. In 1905 Trotter and W.E.B. Dubois held the Niagra Conference in Ontario, Canada (no hotels on the American side of the Niagra Falls would rent a room to a Negro). Here it was resolved that a new organization, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P),  be created to advocate for the civil rights of Negroes with the goal of full social equality.

Both Ida-Wells Barnett and William Monroe Trotter distrusted the N.A.A.C.P. because it was to be managed by white benefactors, specifically Mary White Ovington. Trotter believed a Negro rights organization should be run by Negroes. He did not join. Ida Wells-Barnett was snubbed at the N.A.A.C.P. meeting in Chicago later that year. She had been left off the ballot for the Chicago officers of the N.A.A.C.P. which had her feeling slighted and angry. Her previous take-charge attitude and outspokenness had rubbed the Brooklyn born Mary White Ovington the wrong way. Wells never forgave Ovington and stated in Crusade for Justice that the N.A.A.C.P. was often ineffective because it was too often influenced by views of the wealthy Mrs.Ovington. In fairness to Ovington, W.E.B. Dubois worked well with her and she encouraged him to become the great civil rights leader he became. Both Trotter and Wells proved to be great fighters for civil rights but organizationally they were both too uncompromising to stay with anyone group for too long.

Trotter had been outraged by the failures of Republican Presidents Roosevelt and Taft to address civil rights injustices against blacks. He helped turn out the vote for the Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson during the 1912 election. Wilson won but he would not reciprocate Trotter’s support. The Democrats had majorities in both houses of Congress and quickly went about segregating the Federal Government and attempting to pass a miscegenation law for The District of Columbia. A group of concerned African-Americans that included Ida Wells-Barnett joined Trotter’s National Equal Rights League to journey to Washington D.C. to confer with President Wilson in 1913. Trotter was insistent that Wilson had allowed for the segregation of the federal government. Wilson would later insist that Trotter had been impertinent. Wells insisted that Trotter had been more than fair, merely persistent, something white people disliked in a Negro.  Another meeting was held a year later. During this meeting Trotter complained that Wilson had allowed Postmaster General Burleson, a Texan, to segregate the federal government, effectively relieving several African-American men from their long-held positions in the postal and treasury departments. Wilson mentioned that he thought segregation was protecting Negroes, to which Trotter strongly objected. Although it was reported in many Negro and white newspapers that Trotter had been out of line with President Wilson, Wells-Barnett maintained in her autobiography that Trotter was insistent, not rude.

Trotter had a right to be rude, even if Wells notes that he wasn’t. The fact was that his civil rights had evaporated throughout his adult life because whites in America were willing to allow blacks to be deprived of them. During his youth, a person of color could shop in a store or go to a restaurant in downtown Boston, but by 1914 this had become impossible. Now Trotter was witnessing the southern conquest of the federal government via the Democratic Party, with disturbing results for Americans of African descent.

Things did not get any better in 1915 with the film release of D.W.Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, a historical drama depicting the Ku Klux Klan as the heroes of the Reconstruction Era and black people as dangerous, ignorant beasts. In his excellent book on Trotter and D.W Griffith The Birth of a Nation, author Dick Lehr reveals that  President Wilson maintained a regular correspondence with Thomas Dixon, the author of the Klansman, the book that Griffith used as the basis for his film. Lehr reveals that although it is untrue that Wilson publicly praised the film, D.W. Griffith advertised that he had after Wilson attended a screening of the film at the White House. Birth of a Nation was a tremendous commercial success. Both Wells-Barnett and Trotter were furious that such a misrepresentation of history could be so popular with white audiences.

Wells-Barnett invited Trotter to leave his “hub” of Boston and come to the Midwest so that he could speak to audiences about his experiences as a civil rights leader. Both Trotter and Wells-Barnett were big fans of each other. Both could never find an organization that they could remain with for long. Both were better suited to being journalists and editors, heralding the need for Negro social equality while reporting on the oppression that blacks in the United States endured on a daily basis.

World War I was raging and President Wilson was struggling to keep the United States neutral. When the United States finally did declare war on the Central Powers Wells-Barnett concerned herself with garnering support for Black Troops stationed near her home in Chicago. Trotter broke with W.E.B. Dubois over his call for full Negro participation in the war effort. Trotter believed it was foolish not to demand redress for injustices towards Negroes first, rather than to hope for them later. Trotter’s National Equal Rights Leauge met in Washington to discuss the meaning of the War for African-Americans. The N.E.R.L. stated:

Despite progress, we are still surrounded by an adverse sentiment that makes our lives a living hell…We believe in democracy. We hold that this nation should enter the lists with clean hands. (The Guardian of Boston: Wiliam Monroe Trotter by Stephen R.Fox, 1970 Kingsport Press, Kingsport, TN.)

When the armistice was signed in November, 1918 Wells-Barnett, Trotter and other members of The National Equal Rights League were desperate to send representatives to the Paris Peace Conference. Just as the territorial prerogatives of European nationalities were being considered, the N.ER.L. believed that black people in the United States, Europe, and Africa should have their rights considered as well. The N.E.R.L.noted that people of African descent were being mistreated throughout the world and that just as European nationalities had rights to be addressed, so to did people of other races. Many future Garveyites were feeling the same way, although Wells-Barnett and Trotter would not support Marcus Garvey’s Back to Africa movement.

The N.E.R.L. held a meeting in Washington D.C. that was sparsely but notably attended. Ida Wells-Barnett and Americas first Negro Millionaire, Madame C.J. Walker, were in attendance. The group alienated Walker and Wells-Barnett by voting them as delegates but stipulating that they should pay their own way to France for the conference. The United States government had begun investigating subversives during the war. In a perverse form of affirmative action, a  Negro agent named Walter Loving reported on N.E.R.L.’s activities and highlighted Trotter and Wells as the most subversive members of the organization, due to their insistence on full social equality for Negroes. Based on Loving’s recommendations, the U.S. State Department denied passports to the N.E.R.L. delegates.

Wells-Barnett went to Baltimore where she spoke with Marcus Garvey about his desire to send representatives to the Paris Peace Conference. She and her husband had hosted Garvey a year earlier when he had come to Chicago looking for money to start a school for Negroes in Jamaica. Garvey had decided to become a race leader after reading Booker T.Washington’s Up From Slavery. He was dismayed when he went to Tuskeegee Institute in Alabama only to find that the great leader had recently died. Wells-Barnett was impressed with Garvey’s newfound popularity and agreed to visit him in New York. The Federal Government was also investigating Garvey and took notes of the Baltimore meeting he and Wells-Barnett participated in.

William Monroe Trotter was distraught. The Influenza Epidemic of 1918 had taken his wife Deenie. She had been his greatest friend and supporter since their marriage twenty years earlier. He resolved that the only way to keep going was to throw himself even further into his goal of attending the Paris Peace Conference. He had his aunt give him a crash course in cooking and then traveled ot New York City, determined to hang around the piers of Manhattan until he could find a ship going to France that would take him on as an Assistant Steward. In January 1919 he found just such a post when a Maltese Cook aboard the S.S.Yarmouth agreed to take the portly 42-year-old with him to Le Havre, France. The ship sailed on January, 9th. The conference was already underway. Trotter scribed letters for the illiterate cook and peeled potatoes as the Yarmouth slowly made its way across the Atlantic, arriving during the first week of May.  Although he was forbidden to go ashore, Trotter convinced the ship’s officers to let him onto the dock to mail letters for the crew. He did not return to the ship. Instead, he headed for Paris. Presenting himself ragged and dirty at the home of an American Negro couple named Mr.and Mrs.Thomas Kane.

The Kane’s did not help Trotter after giving him a bed for the night. But he made friends and ended up staying at the Hotel du Bon Pasteur on Rue St-.Anne.There he started turning out petitions and news releases for the French Press. In this way, he was able to inform the French about the difficult conditions Negroes faced in The United States. Trotter made a strong impression on the French. He was also treated as a hero by black audiences back in the United States, who saw his effort in getting to France as an indication that this outspoken Bostonian would go to great lengths to obtain the rights that he and his people were being denied.

1919 would see the worst racial violence in the United States since the days of Reconstruction. Riots also took place in Liverpool and Cardiff, English ports where there were larger concentrations of black people. Whites were angry that blacks had migrated during the war years to take and compete for jobs. Blacks fought back when attacked by whites. Trotter found this heartening. For much of his adult life, it had seemed that black people were content to follow the advice of Booker T.Washington and accept second class citizenship. Wells-Barnett was disheartened by “The Tide of Hatred” that never seemed to abate.

Marcus Garvey welcomed Ida Wells-Barnett to New York City in 1919. He showed her his laundry, his hotel and his business supply factory all of which were operated by his United Negro Improvement Corporation (U.N.I.A). He complained that he could not find good help and skilled employees and that this was holding back his enterprises. He asked her to announce his next great idea, an all-Negro shipping line. Wells refused. She felt that since he was having trouble with his smaller operations there was no way he could succeed at having a shipping line. In her autobiography, She acknowledged that Marcus Garvey had energized blacks as no leader had previously but lamented that he had let all the attention go to his head. Ironically, Garvey’s downfall occurred as a result of his attempt to make his Black Star Shipping Line a reality. Garvey purchased the S.S.Yarmouth, the same ship Trotter had served as an Assistant Steward, and renamed it The Frederic Douglass. Unfortunately, the ship was in dilapidated condition by the time Garvey purchased it. The Black Star Line went bankrupt in 1922 and Garvey was eventually imprisoned after being convicted of mail fraud for selling stock in a company he new to be insolvent.

Trotter did not like Marcus Garvey’s Back to Africa idea. He vowed never to use the term Negro in his newspaper in 1919, the same year Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association U.N.I.A. rose to prominence. During the 1920’s he worked with Cyril Briggs African Blood Brotherhood and was not shy of working with Communists either according to Briggs. His goal remained full social and political equality for African-Americans, a name he preferred to the term, Negro.  Wells stayed closer to Chicago where she continued to work on grassroots campaigns to improve the lives of Negroes in her community. Through their work for social justice and their condemnation of white supremacy William Monroe Trotter and Ida Wells-Barnett kept the lights on, they kept pushing their country to live up to its creed of life, liberty, and justice for all.




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Cockburn’s Anchor

Cockburn’s Anchor  by Thomas Quirk

Captain Hugh Mulzac wrote of his experiences as first officer of The S.S.Yarmouth for Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Shipping Line in his as told to autobiography A Star to Steer By which was first published in 1963. A combination of race pride and a desire to return to the sea motivated him to travel from his home in Baltimore, Maryland to Liberty Hall in Harlem during the third week of January 1920. Mulzac was getting used to the idea that an “Afro-American” like himself would never be able to get an officer’s job on a merchant ship when a friend had shown him one of Marcus Garvey’s flyers for The Black Star Shipping Line. Mulzac traveled to Harlem wearing his officer‘s uniform, then waited on a line of 100 or more men, all of whom were there to apply for jobs, buy stock or just offer appreciation[1]. He had an appointment so he walked ahead of the line and up to the third floor. In the top floor office Marcus Garvey sat at a desk behind stacks of small bills, the savings of low wage working Negroes who had contributed what they could to Garvey’s Black Star Line endeavor. Mulzac recalled the conversation forty three years later:

“I am going to make you chief officer of the Yarmouth,” he said, ”but this is only the beginning. You are going to help man a vast fleet of speedy ships engaged in The African Trade. Afro-Americans shall come into their own.”

“Yes, Yes,” I assented, entranced by the enthusiasm of this man who was obsessed  with what he considered to be the great idea. Before I left I had purchased five shares of stock in the Black Star Line and cherished a clear vision of being commander of a great fleet.

Firsthand contact with Mr.Garvey’s enterprises a few days later began to undermine any more grandiose illusions. Although a great deal of publicity had attended the “launching” of the first ship in the proposed Black Star fleet, the Yarmouth was not a vessel to set a sailor’s heart aflame…Her boiler crowns were in need of repair, and her hull was practically worn out. She could not have been worth more than $25,000 when the Black Star Line acquired her for $165,000.[2]

Mulzac felt badly about the passengers who had the misfortune to sail on the Yarmouth during its disastrous Whiskey Cruise:

The condition of the passengers numbering 35 was pitiful. They had to sleep in cold, wet, filthy rooms and were partly frozen. I thought at the time that I was caught between the devil and the deep blue sea because I had just given up a decent position for the sake of race pride.[3] The Yarmouth was in deplorable condition after it had almost sunk 35 miles off the coast of Cape May during the evening of January 18. Its’ large cargo of whiskey and gin had been loaded in such haste that the ship listed heavily to starboard.

My immediate task was clear-to make the Yarmouth as shipshape as possible so we could resume our voyage. Not only was she carrying a heavy list, but the ashes from her furnaces had been dumped under the lifeboats, the cargo was topsy-turvy, dunnage was all over the vessel, much of the gear was not in operating condition and her plates were covered with rust.

I called for a gang of stevedores and made the crew snap to. Mr.Garvey came aboard and was so pleased with the appearance of the vessel that he hinted broadly that he intended to discharge Captain Cockburn and make me master of the vessel. I was anxious not to be put in such an ambiguous position, first because while Mr.Garvey was boss ashore, Cockburn was the master at sea, but more to the point, since the Yarmouth was under British registry, my American license would not qualify me to take command.[4]

Like the other Garveyites among the Yarmouth’s crew, First Officer Mulzac could not imagine that any of the responsibility for the Yarmouth’s troubles could be laid at the feet of the great Marcus Garvey. The leader of the U.N.I.A. promised the empowerment of the Negro Race, something any Negro mariner or veteran of the Great War might be attracted to. Although President Woodrow Wilson had pledged that Negro participation in The Great War would bring them greater social equality at home after the war the reverse had proven to be the case. Violence aimed at reminding returning Negro war veterans that they did not have equal rights was common  in the southern United States[5]. In Liverpool, England, the colored neighborhood of Sailor Town had experienced a racial pogrom led by white war veterans in 1919.[6] Sailor Town was where Joshua Cockburn and his wife Pauline lived when they were married in 1911. They had called Liverpool home for seven years, even while Joshua was working in Africa.[7]

Captain Cockburn told his side of the Whiskey Cruise story to his new first officer. Mulzac found his new Captain to be an imposing figure. Throughout his time serving as his first officer, Hugh Mulzac appears to have served Captain Cockburn honorably. In 1923 Mulzac related what Cockburn said in his account of his experiences for the Black Star Line in the Cleveland Gazette:

He told me that he did not intend to make the trip for Mr.Garvey and that Mr.Smith Green had drawn up the most ridiculous contract he had ever seen. Therefore he had refused to take the ship out of New York. The cargo was worth one million dollars and the ship was chartered the day before prohibition went into effect and she had to be loaded away from the port before midnight or the cargo would be confiscated. Therefore the freight was valued at $100,000  which the owners of the whiskey would have been glad to pay in order to get it out of New York. The Black Star Line’s president and general manager drew up a contract for $11,000 without consulting the captain. That amount would not even be enough to pay the expenses of the ship to its destination. Then again, the cargo was not even assigned to anyone and had to be put in bond in Cuba. For these reasons Captain Cockburn refused to sail. Thereupon the owners of the cargo approached him and offered  him $2000 to take the ship out. He accepted and sailed but unfortunately the whiskey was thrown into the ship’s hold in such a hurry that the cargo shifted off Cape May as a result of bad weather, causing the ship to have a heavy list. She got water-logged and part of the cargo had to be thrown overboard so the ship could return to New York.[8]

Mulzac’s account of Cockburn’s account of the Whiskey Cruise sheds light on Captain Cockburn’s relationship with Marcus Garvey by January 23, 1920. Although Garvey  and members of the Yarmouth’s crew would allege that Cockburn had arranged a secret deal for the commission he received to take the Yarmouth out the day prohibition began, it was not much of a secret since the captain was willing to tell his new first officer, a man he had just met. Mulzac’s explanation of the reason the Yarmouth had a heavy list does not convey the whole story of why it listed[9]. In fact the ship left New York with a heavy list to starboard that could be observed from shore. Cockburn did not relate to Mulzac that the Yarmouth sank because (according to crew member James Hercules) its sea cock had been pulled out by assistant engineer Dillon Govin[10]. This may demonstrate that the captain was not aware that one of his crew had sabotaged the ship. Dillon Govin remained a crew member on the Yarmouth until its demise as a Black Star Line vessel in 1921.

Hugh Mulzac would not have to deal with the problems of the Yarmouth’s engine room crew, those who actually made the old steamship run, because Marcus Garvey had hired an American Negro named John O.Garrett to be the Yarmouth’s new First Engineer. According to Mulzac:

Our chief engineer John O. Garrett was one of our most intelligent young engineers and no one could have handled that ship with better skill[11].

One thing that Marcus Garvey had done well was to equip Captain Cockburn with two first rate new officers, First Officer Hugh Mulzac and First Engineer John O. Garrett. The Yarmouth now had an entirely Negro crew and Captain Joshua Cockburn now had capable officers who could help him operate the ship effectively. Despite the fact that it was an old ship with problematic boilers, the Yarmouth made it to Havana, Cuba with its cargo of Liquor in four days[13], traveling along the east coast of the United States at a maximum speed of 15 miles per hour.[14] The S.S. Yarmouth would spend thirty-two days in Havana. During this time TheYarmouth, known as The Frederic Douglass to the U.N.I.A. and its followers, would demonstrate the Black Star Line’s  potential for social impact, specifically why it might make white governments tremble. It would also demonstrate the great drawbacks of the Black Star Line, specifically how the lack of shipping industry acumen its members had inevitably led to the line‘s going bankrupt.

Cuban agents of the U.N.I.A. had advertised the arrival of the Yarmouth. U.N.I.A. sympathizers came from all over Cuba to see Marcus Garvey’s  Black Star Line ship. A ship owned and operated entirely by black men. Years later  Hugh Mulzac recalled:

They came out in boats when we arrived, showering us with flowers and fruit, but we couldn’t let them aboard. We lay at anchor for five days waiting for a berth, and I worked the crew overtime cleaning and painting the ship so we could make a good impression. Finally, however we moved to dock and were overrun with visitors from dawn until sunset.[15]

In 1920 the idea of a shipping line owned and operated by black men was tremendous. It was a symbol of empowerment to people of color in the Americas and the Caribbean. Colonial governments in Great Britain and the United States Government  found this sort of symbolism threatening as evidenced by official colonial government communications contained in the eleven volume Marcus Garvey and The United Negro Improvement Association Papers and by the United States government’s surveillance of the U.N.I.A. under the auspices of J.Edgar Hoover’s Bureau of Intelligence (which was closely linked with The United States Bureau of Investigation- forerunner of the F.B.I.).

Unfortunately  ignorance of how the shipping industry worked among the  Black Star Line’s Board of Directors and U.N.I.A. agents who were supposed to help with the line’s operations in foreign ports doomed Marcus Garvey and Joshua Cockburn’s bold endeavor.  Hugh Mulzac explained why the Yarmouth lost money while it waited for a place to dock in Havana’s harbor:

Since the charter party’s overriding interest had been in getting the cargo of whiskey out of the United States waters no arrangements had been made for a Cuban consignee. Normally the owners of a vessel are protected against delays by a demurrage clause in the contract. But because there was no formal consignee and the operators had failed to insist upon the protection of a demurrage clause in their contract with the owners of the liquor, every delay meant that the vessel lost more money.

To the five-day wait at anchorage was added a two-week delay when we tied up because of a longshore strike. Thus, instead of collecting the value of its cargo space for each day‘s delay, including Sundays, which would have amounted to several thousand dollars daily, we not only lost our expenses and possible profits but had to pay the maintenance of the 35 passengers bound for Jamaica and other Caribbean ports.[16]

Insult would be added to injury when the Pan Union Corporation, the trucking company that contracted with Black Star for the shipment of Green River liquor and wine sued Marcus Garvey for the cost of the shipment in the fall of 1922. Garvey was found to be liable for the entire payment that the Pan Union Company had made to the Black Star Line, $8,508.38.[17]Garvey blamed Captain Joshua Cockburn for this calamity because Pan Union’s lawyer Anton Gronich had played up the idea that the Yarmouth’s captain and his crew had been drunk when the Yarmouth was rescued by the  Coast Guard cutter Seneca during the infamous Whiskey Cruise of January 16-20, 1920. The reason Marcus Garvey was sued by Pan Union was because he and the rest of the operators of his shipping line had no idea how to secure important insurance on shipments such as a demurrage clause.

Black Star Line Secretary Edward D.Smith-Green did not travel to Cuba aboard the Yarmouth. Marcus Garvey sent him by rail to Key West Florida and then by steamer to Havana where he was to oversee the unloading of the whiskey cargo. Green would later tell a story of his encounter with southern racism to a U.N.I.A. audience at Liberty Hall in Harlem. As he traveled from Miami to Key West Green was enjoying himself in a smoking car with some other passengers when he was accosted by a white man who,  upon realizing that Green was not a porter,  told him he did not like “riding with Niggers.”[18] According to Green the man was intent on doing him bodily harm until Green implied that he had a gun by putting his hand on his pocket and asking the man if he wanted to start something. The man left the smoker car while the people Green was with jeered him. After a seven hour wait for a steamer in Key West, Green departed for Cuba.

This story sounds plausible but one wonders how Green was able to get away with threatening a white man with bodily harm, receive support from the people he was sitting with and not face violent retribution from other whites on the train or the white authorities. Either the U.N.I.A.’s Secretary was lucky that he left the country several hours later or the story did not occur quite how Green said it did. He used the story to begin his speech about his experiences with the S.S.Yarmouth in Cuba and it conveyed a sense of empowerment that made the U.N.I.A. popular with Negroes during the racially charged second decade of the twentieth century.

Once he was in Cuba Green was impressed with how strongly the U.N.I.A.’s Havana chapter had advocated for the Yarmouth to receive a berth despite the fact that one had not been secured for it before it left port. Green insisted that “there was no hitch with the whiskey cargo and there were representatives of consignees in Havana.”[19] This account of the consignment is contested by the accounts of three men who were working on the Yarmouth, Captain Joshua Cockburn, First Officer Hugh Mulzac and crewman Aubrey DeSouza. All three men have stated that there was no consignee for the whiskey cargo in Cuba. Mulzac in his autobiography, Cockburn in his testimony during the Garvey trial of 1923 and DeSouza in his taped interview at the Schomburg Center in 1982. Mulzac and DeSouza have both related that the whiskey cargo was placed in bond. Mulzac noted that this was done 32 days after the Yarmouth had reached Havana.

Despite the issues with the cargo of liquor the arrival of the Yarmouth had caused a sensation in Havana. According to Green, the fact that the Yarmouth’s arrival had been covered by the white owned newspaper El Mundo resulted in an invitation to a government reception from Cuba’s President Mario Garcia Menocal . Green told the audience at Liberty Hall:

“That was the greatest shock of my life. I did not realize that the propaganda was taken even to the palace of the President of the republic. In spite of the shock I made up my mind since the opportunity presented itself that I would appear and present in the strongest language I could the aims and objects of 4,000,000 black men.”[20]

Green’s reflection was met with cheers from the audience. He went on to relate the story of his and the Yarmouth’s officers meeting with President Mario Garcia Menocal:

“On the morning mentioned the captain in his uniform and the officers and men of the Yarmouth got into some automobiles sent for us by the captain of the port. When we reached there we found the harbor police drawn up. As we approached they came to salute. We were there for about five minutes when the captain himself with some other gentlemen and important citizens-representatives of the Cuban Republic-escorted us to the palace of the President. When we arrived there we found a guard of honor drawn up at the gate and we alighted from the automobiles they came to salute and we saluted. We entered the elevator and were taken up a few flights. After waiting in the ante-chamber for a few minutes, a man appeared dressed in uniform and announced in Spanish that the President required our presence immediately. We marched in, I heading the procession. I found the President, the Colonel of the Camp and other Cabinet officers in the Cabinet chamber, seated around the table. As we approached they rose and the President came forward and asked me who I was. I told him and then I introduced him to the captain and other officers. The President then addressed us. I am not able to tell you what he said, but he welcomed us to Cuba. A photograph was taken at this meeting.” [21]

Hugh Mulzac recalled:

Though Captain Cockburn and I were almost constantly occupied…we found time to enjoy the welcome of the Cuban people., from President Menocal on down. There was a party nearly every night. President Menocal honored us with a banquet at the Presidential Palace and expressed his great pride in seeing colored men make their own opportunities in the field of commerce. Before the evening was over he promised the support of the Cuban government for the ventures of the Black Star Line.[22]

One week after the visit with President Menocal, Edward D. Smith Green and the officers of the Yarmouth were invited to visit Camp Colombo, the soldiers camp. The soldiers paraded and then the national anthem was played. Green told the U.N.I.A. audience:

“My friends, I can assure you that these men were in earnest-because the major part of the Cuban army consists of Negroes. And when they saw Negroes with the uniform of the steamship line, they thought they would go wild with enthusiasm.”[23]

The men of the Yarmouth returned to their ship with some of the Cuban officers. The freshly painted ship demonstrated “that an all Negro ship was one of efficiency.” Edward D. Smith Green showed the Cuban officers pictures Marcus Garvey and Frederic Douglass (the Yarmouth’s real name so far as the U.N.I.A. was concerned) as he tried to convey how important each man was to the achievement of “our race”.

Green and the Yarmouth’s officers meeting with President Menocal and meetings with Cuban businessmen and landowners demonstrate that their was a viable need for a shipping line that could compete with the established lines of powerful western nations like the United States and Great Britain. Although both nations liked to proclaim their commitment to free trade the fact was that neither nation wanted to extend that freedom to colonial subjects who lived in regions important to industrialized business interests back home. Green told his U.N.I.A audience that after meeting with the Cuban military officers aboard the Yarmouth:

“They were extremely proud because they realized that we were in dead earnest-that we did not intend any longer to be dominated by alien races…The Cuban Negro has at last got the vision. The Black Star Line will lead the way for them. They intend to follow until such time as it is necessary -to die for the cause”[24] The U.N.I.A. crowd responded with cheers.

Green had traveled to San Juan Hill after the Yarmouth had left for Jamaica after its 32 day stay in Havana. He wanted to see “that place made famous in American History because of the valor and bravery of Negroes.” Green was shown “the Peace Tree” under which had been signed the peace treaty between the Spanish and the Americans. On the tree beside the Peace Tree Green carved the letters UNIA. He told his audience at Liberty Hall:

“I wanted it known that the cause for which we stand had at once time sent a representative down there who had pluck enough to leave imprinted on that tree right beside the “Peace Tree” the letters of the greatest movement in the world today.”[25]

For Edward D.Smith Green, Secretary of the Black Star Line, the inscription he carved was not about peace, which had meant for Afro-Caribbeans and many Latin Americans conquest by the United States and an unfair economic relationship akin to the colonialism practiced by Europe and Japan in other parts of the world. Green told his U.N.I.A. audience that he was thinking more about war when he carved UNIA onto the tree on San Juan Hill:

With this sign I have conquered. With this sign of the red, black and green, I was admitted to the presidential palace; with this sign I was admitted to a camp and given military honors; with this sign I was recognized all over the world; and because of that fact I am prepared to follow this sign as long as life lasts…I believe that one day upon the shores of Africa we will drive the enemy from the soil of our forefathers. On that day perhaps we shall see the great African eagle soaring to the mountain top of Ethiopia and there planting for eternity the flag which the Negro has been able to produce and maintain even at the cost of his blood. [26] The U.N.I.A. audience responded with cheers.

Before the Yarmouth had left Havana the officers and Edward D.Smith Green were feted at a banquet by the Havana branch of the U.N.I.A. on February 25.[27] A day earlier 12,500 colored laborers had gone on strike in the Panama Canal Zone[28]. U.N.I.A. organizer Cyril Henry was in the canal zone encouraging the strike. The strikers hoped that the U.N.I.A. would send financial support. They represented 50-60% of the workforce in the canal zone.

The Yarmouth made a brief stop in Jamaica. Hugh Mulzac observed that the ship was greeted by hundreds of people upon its arrival in Kingston. But there was no cargo to load or discharge. Captain Cockburn kept the ship in Jamaica just long enough to repair the boilers and take in bunkers and stores. Mulzac recalled that repairing the boilers took place at every port. Crew member Aubrey DeSouza recalled that “the ship was seaworthy but the boilers were inadequate. They had to be welded at every port- very time consuming.” Once the boilers had been repaired the Yarmouth headed for the Panama Canal Zone.

By telegram, Marcus Garvey pledged to offer whatever support was needed for the Negro strikers in the Panama Canal Zone. Upon reaching Colon on March 1st Henrietta Vinton Davis, the highest ranking Black Star officer aboard the Yarmouth wired back to Garvey:

Cable made profound impression offer gratefully received burden on us immediate help needed advise[29].

By the time the Yarmouth arrived in  Colon, The Panama Canal Zone the strike was over. However, the situation for West Indian workers in the zone remained tense. Hugh Mulzac explained it this way:

When Americans succeeded the French as builders however, they brought with them not only great resources of capital and technological skill, but also that characteristic hallmark of the United States civilization,-flagrant social discrimination.

The “colored” and “white” signs which designate public facilities throughout the South had been replaced in Panama by “gold” and “silver” signs. The West Indians resented having to buy provisions from the “silver” commissary while their white colleagues purchased from the “gold” store, an indignity that applied even in the post office! An even more grievous affront was that “gold” pay envelopes invariably contained more money than “silver” ones, even when the workers performed the same duties side by side.[30]

In Colon, Captain Cockburn did something that Marcus Garvey never seemed able to accomplish, he provided direct assistance to Negroes who needed it. Garvey had been dumbfounded when victims of the Tulsa, Oklahoma riots showed up at Liberty Hall in need of direct relief.[31] Confronted with a similar situation in Panama Cockburn chose to act. According to Hugh Mulzac:

We agreed to take 500 (West Indians) to Cuba which was then importing workers for sugar and banana plantations. The accommodations  I hastily constructed in the holds were terribly inadequate, and before we were to discharge our passengers at Santiago de Cuba we encountered many difficulties, including shortages of fuel, food and equipment, but the migrants preferred risking these hazards to remaining a moment longer in a country where they were not free.[32]

With 500 unexpected passengers to go along with the passengers who had booked passage on the Yarmouth in the Caribbean, The Yarmouth was in the Panama Canal Zone to pick up two people who worked for the U.N.I.A.  According to Captain Cockburn, his orders were to take the two people he picked up to ports in Costa Rica to let people see the ship.[33] The two people he picked up were Cyril Henry who had been informing U.N.I.A. headquarters about the labor strike in Panama and Henrietta Vinton Davis the only woman to serve on the Black Star Line’s Board of Directors. According to crew member Aubrey DeSouza, Miss. Vinton-Davis was given the best cabin on the Yarmouth because she was the chief U.N.I.A. fund raiser on the voyage.

Henrietta Vinton-Davis was a trained Shakespearean performer and elocutionist. Her speeches were very popular with audiences because she was able to employ her ample rhetorical talents in front of large crowds. By the time she started working for the U.N.I.A she was over sixty years old.[34] 

Davis later testified that she and Black Star Stock Agent Cyril Henry raised $20,000 during their tour of Panama. The court was astounded to hear that she and Henry spent $12,000 on expenses during the voyage. She explained that they sometimes had to pay expenses incurred by The Yarmouth. This seems plausible given the fines the ship incurred, the expenses run up by taking on extra passengers and The Black Star Line management’s lack of knowledge of the shipping industry.

The Yarmouth made stops at Bocas del Toro, Almirante and Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. At each stop they were greeted by enthusiastic crowds. Hugh Mulzac recalled:

In Bocas del Toro thousands of peasants came down from the hills on horses, donkeys and makeshift carts, and by a special train provided by the United Fruit Company, which since it was going to lose money anyway, declared a legal holiday. The crowd on the dock was so thick  that when we threw our heaving lines ashore the peasants seized the hawsers as they came out of the water and literally breasted us alongside the dock. In the tumult that followed dancing broke out on deck, great piles of fruit and flowers mounted on the hatch covers , and UNIA agents signed up hundreds of new members.[35]

Marcus Garvey’s Negro World Newspaper ran an enthusiastic story about The Yarmouth’s appearance in Bocas del Toro. Henrietta Vinton Davis and Captain Cockburn made speeches. Miss. Davis’s speech was described as delivered with “her usual eloquence.”[36] Captain Cockburn tended to give short speeches that focused on the Black Star Line’s need for more money in order to purchase more ships for the line.

H.S. Blair, Division Manager for United Fruit Company in Almirante, Costa Rica wrote to his General Manager George P.Chittenden about the Yarmouth’s visit. He reported:

Trains were furnished for little more than cost for the people of Almirante to come see the Yarmouth. The people were disappointed because they had to wait in the rain for the Yarmouth’s arrival. But then they went aboard and visited and then heard speeches at the rail station until 11 o’clock.

In coming up the dock in Almirante the Yarmouth ran into a lighter at the end of the dock. The company insisted on payment from the Yarmouth but he ship’s carpenter was assigned to fix it instead…Various persons aboard the Yarmouth reported that she was in very dirty condition. Several Latin Americans who have taken passage on her to Limon and other ports got off at Bocas saying that it was impossible for them to go farther with the steamer in such condition….The American Consul at Bocas stated that the Yarmouth was short two bills of health from ports at which she had called and is liable for a fine of $5000 for each of these on arrival in New York.[37]

Marcus Garvey’s Negro World article about the Yarmouth’s visit to Almirante reported a different piece of financial news, stating that the local U.N.I.A. branch there was offering $5,000 in gold to the honorable Marcus Garvey as “a small remnant of  shares sold for the Black Star Line Corporation.”

H.S. Blair was pleased to inform his general manager George P.Chittenden that:         The Yarmouth had no particular effect on the labor situation. All speeches made by the visitors had in view the collection of money. They repeatedly urged people to give money to buy shares in the Black Star Line. They held up before them the idea of a Black Republic in Africa. By far the cleverest speaker of the lot was Henrietta Vinton Davis.

Blair also provided an interesting observation about the Yarmouth’s crew and its renowned cargo of Green River Whiskey, which was said to have been thrown overboard during a gale off Cape May, New Jersey:

It seems that the members of the crew of this steamer are doing a considerable business in selling Green River Whiskey. We presume that this is liquor reserved from the cargo taken by the Yarmouth from New York to Havana. We understand that they were supposed to throw 500 cases overboard. At any rate Green River Whiskey was offered here in Almirante by members of the crew for from a dollar to two dollars a bottle and a good deal of it was bought at these rates. I was also told that there was a good deal of drinking and disorder on the ship. This I cannot prove.

Apparently the Captain and the crew of the Yarmouth had participated in keeping a share of the whiskey they were supposed to transport to Cuba. During his testimony at Marcus Garvey’s mail fraud trial in 1923  Captain Cockburn blamed his crew for hiding bottles of liquor throughout the ship, pointing out that he and the ship were cited at every port on the voyage. This was a common problem for skippers and their ships during the first months of prohibition in the United States. Crew member Aubrey DeSouza blamed Cockburn, stating during his 1982 interview that the Captain had “broached the cargo” when the whiskey was loaded on January 16,1920. Although there was tension between crewmen who were loyal Garveyites and Captain Cockburn, it is possible that everyone aboard the Yarmouth felt entitled to some of the Green River Whiskey due to the unfair contract that was arranged for the whiskey cargo.

H.S. Blair was not inclined to view the Yarmouth in a positive light but his assessment of the ship and what the U.N.I.A. was up to in Costa Rica is more realistic than J.Edgar Hoover’s appraisal which led to The Bureau of Investigation’s justification for investigating Garvey’s organization (Hoover was certain that Communists had inspired the U.N.I.A.).

If one were a Latin American passenger on board the Yarmouth one would have traveled expecting a certain cruise like atmosphere during the voyage. This became impossible once Captain Cockburn decided to take on 500 passengers who would travel more like refugees than passengers on a cruise ship. So far as selling whiskey is concerned, the crew may have felt empowered by the ability to earn extra money while in Central American ports. A big problem on the Yarmouth’s maiden voyage had been the firemen’s belief that they had to be paid more. The Yarmouth had been away from home for two months by the time it left Costa Rica to sail back to Cuba. Bootlegging Whiskey may have provided some of the crew with necessary income.

According to Hugh Mulzac, the Yarmouth sailed to Santiago de Cuba to discharge the 500 West Indian passengers Cockburn had taken on in Colon, Panama Canal Zone. The Yarmouth’s boilers had to be repaired again. Then the Yarmouth sailed to Jamaica where Captain Cockburn arranged to take on a cargo of 700 tons of cocoanuts bound for New York.[38] The Yarmouth received a message from Marcus Garvey ordering the ship to a U.N.I.A. meeting in Boston, Massachusetts. According to Hugh Mulzac, Captain Cockburn would have to go to Nassau the Bahamas for food supplies and then Norfolk, Virginia for coal due to British wartime restrictions that prevented him from obtaining food and fuel he could afford anywhere else.

According to crew member Aubrey DeSouza, Captain Cockburn’s decision to travel to Nassau was an act of hubris; he simply wanted to show off the ship he commanded in Nassau, the place of his birth.. When the Yarmouth arrived in the Bahamas Cockburn demonstrated why certain members of his crew could not stand him. First Officer Hugh Mulzac warned the captain not to drop anchor in the channel the Yarmouth was in but Cockburn insisted he knew it was shallow enough to lay anchor there. Aubrey DeSouza stated that First Officer Mulzac knew Cockburn was wrong because he was a better navigator, capable of using the stars to chart his ship’s position. According to DeSouza, Captain Cockburn could only navigate by the sun.

What happened next forever established Captain Cockburn as a fool in the eyes of Aubrey DeSouza and some other crew members aboard the Yarmouth. Cockburn ordered the Yarmouth to drop anchor. Mulzac had been right, it was too deep in the channel to lay anchor. During the night, the Yarmouth drifted out to sea. Even worse, the ship’s $1,000 anchor had been lost. Cockburn hastily ordered the ship to port but the Yarmouth could only dock in Nassau for a few hours before leaving for Norfolk. Cockburn and his officers did go ashore but they could not stay very long.

What happened in Norfolk, Virginia is also a matter of contention. The Yarmouth supposedly went there for coal but Marcus Garvey accused Captain Cockburn of picking up three women while in port. The women were affiliated with the U.N.I.A. One of them was the wife of Black Star Line Treasurer Ellie Garcia. Marcus Garvey later insisted that Captain Cockburn tried to have intercourse with Mrs.Garcia during the voyage from Norfolk to Boston.[39] Cockburn insisted that the women were taken to Boston for the purpose of starting a Black Cross Nurses affiliate.

Captain Cockburn offered this explanation for his controversial decisions after leaving Santiago de Cuba:

“After leaving Jamaica, the last port of latitude, I had to call at the Bahamas or Cuba to take in stores sufficient to bring me up to these waters. On the first trip I called at Havana and it was a very expensive call for my stores. Therefore on this occasion  I decided to call at Nassau to take in stores to enable me to reach New York. From Nassau I had not sufficient coal on board to bring me up to New York, and therefore  I called at Norfolk, Virginia and coaled. I was ordered (by Garvey) to go to Philadelphia and to speak at a hall. The Cocoanuts rotted by the time the ship was in Boston.”[40]

Cockburn was frustrated by Marcus Garvey’s conflicting orders regarding where to take his ship:

“I got a cable every day changing my port: come to Boston, Come to Philadelphia, Come to New York, Come to Boston, Come to Philadelphia.” [41]

Upon reaching Philadelphia Captain Cockburn was told to display the ship and let people tour it. He sat down with Marcus Garvey and explained that he had a shipment of cocoanuts that had to be delivered to New York because they were perishable cargo. Garvey overruled his captain and ordered the Yarmouth to Boston.[42]

Captain Cockburn brought the Yarmouth to Boston so that U.N.I.A. members and prospective members could inspect the ship. During Garvey’s mail fraud trial in 1923 he testified:

“Both Garvey and I spoke at the meeting in Philadelphia. We said that both voyages of the Yarmouth had been successful. To my mind it was because we sold a lot of stocks. No money was made from transporting passengers and cargo. A considerable amount of stock was sold. People were told that the Black Star Line needed more money because it was going to buy a new ship that would be called the Phillis Wheatley.”[43]

This aspect of Joshua Cockburn’s testimony in 1923  during Marcus Garvey’s mail fraud trial helped to get Garvey convicted of mail fraud. Cockburn’s testimony helped to prove the U.S. Government’s case that Marcus Garvey had defrauded the public by selling stock in a company, The Black Star Line, that was not viable. Proof of this was the fact that it was advertising the Phillis Wheatley, a ship it never actually owned. Aubrey DeSouza advised Marcus Garvey during the time that he was acting as his own lawyer and cross examining Captain Cockburn. DeSouza agreed with the decision against Garvey. “Mr.Garvey was very sincere… but he was guilty of selling stock in an insolvent company.”

On the way back to New York Captain Cockburn requisitioned 100 tons of coal that his chief engineer John Garret had already requisitioned[44]. He brought the Black Cross Nurses with him without telling the port authority that they were on board. He knew that he was going to be fired. He had told Garvey that he would wreck the Yarmouth. While at the helm of the Yarmouth as it headed to New York Aubrey DeSouza listened as Captain Joshua Cockburn bragged to his officers that he had made a large commission on the original charter of the Yarmouth from The North Atlantic Steamship Company to the Black Star Line.

These acts of hubris damned Captain Joshua Cockburn. Although he would go on to be a successful Harlem Real Estate Operator with the help of his wife Pauline,  Cockburn has been doomed to be remembered as a corrupt, incompetent sea captain who misused his position and took advantage of  Marcus Garvey and the Black Star Line.

When the Yarmouth returned to New York City Marcus Garvey staged a parade in uptown Manhattan that Hugh Mulzac called “the greatest demonstration of colored solidarity in American History before or since.”[45] The Yarmouth would go on two more voyages with a white captain. Marcus Garvey had decided to fire Joshua Cockburn. Initially The Black Star Line sent Cockburn a letter stating that they were looking into his accounts as Captain of the Yarmouth and would pay him later. Eventually Cockburn was sacked. By the end of June 1920 he no longer worked for the Black Star Line.

Before he left the Yarmouth for good Captain Cockburn managed to remove the Yarmouth’s other anchor, the one that he had not lost in the channel in Nassau. Marcus Garvey replaced Cockburn with a white Canadian Captain named Dixon. The Yarmouth’s next two voyages were less successful than the ones Cockburn had undertaken and the Black Star Line no longer featured a Negro Captain. BSL stock sales plummeted.

By July 1921  Leo Healy, attorney for the North American Steamship Company, was in control of the Yarmouth, presumably because the Black Star Line could not make the required payments on the ship. An article in the Brooklyn Standard Union featured Healy’s plan to turn the ship into a party boat that would be permanently anchored just outside of the three mile limit of the United States off the coast of New Jersey[46]. Healy told the Standard Union that the investors in the line wished to remain anonymous. The Yarmouth party boat would be able to serve alcoholic beverages legally to patrons who rode out to it in small boats. The ship was to feature a cabaret where music and dancing would be featured. The one hitch in the plan was the fact that the small boats would have to cross shipping lanes to get to the Yarmouth. This fact alone was enough to sink Healy’s Yarmouth party boat idea, which never came to fruition. This is the same Leo Healy who  would claim that Captain Joshua Cockburn purposely pulled the Yarmouth’s sea cock out and caused it to start sinking in order to throw cases of whiskey to small ships waiting alongside the vessel during The Whiskey Cruise of January 1920.[47]

During the years 1921-1923 Joshua Cockburn would be involved with The Bureau of Investigation whose undercover agent James Amos cultivated him as a witness against Marcus Garvey. Cockburn also joined Cyril Briggs African Blood Brotherhood (ABB). According to Garvey biographer Colin Grant, the ABB had developed one overriding goal, to destroy Marcus Garvey.[48] The only evidence of Cockburn’s participation in the ABB was his appearance at a meeting on December 18, 1921 at Rush Church in Harlem. Former U.N.I.A. and Black Star officials came to speak against Marcus Garvey. This meeting was broken up by angry Garveyites.[49] Another meeting was to be held two days later at the Palace Casino with “Protection Guaranteed.”[50] Garvey maintained that top officials who had left the Black Star Line had done so because they were corrupt. However, most of these men had joined with Garvey because they were talented, educated Negroes who wanted to improve conditions for their race.

Joshua Cockburn was interviewed by the Bureau of Investigation several times during the years 1921 and 1922, not for the purpose of uncovering any of his own wrongdoing, but to provide information on the wrongdoing of Marcus Garvey. Garvey himself provided damaging information to an undercover agent in November 1921, when he lamented that Captain Cockburn had inflated the Yarmouth’s many repair bills  as much as 200% when he was captain of the S.S.Yarmouth.[51] Garvey’s contention is contradicted by agent James Amos interview with former U.N.I.A. and Yarmouth crew member Louis LaMothe. According to LaMothe, all work on the Yarmouth was required to be approved by Marcus Garvey except in foreign ports, where it was approved by local U.N.I.A. agents.[52]

Lamothe was with Captain Cockburn and Edward D.Smith Green when they were called to Chief Revenue Officer James S.Shevlin’s office in February, 1920 to explain problems with the Yarmouth’s whiskey cargo[53]. LaMothe told agent Amos that everything went smoothly with the shipment of liquor, a comment that strains credulity because the Yarmouth encountered a myriad of problems with its whiskey cargo between January 16 when it was loaded in Manhattan the day before prohibition and the end of February when it was unloaded to be left in a warehouse in  bond in Havana, Cuba. LaMothe may have had his reasons for not bringing up issues that occurred during The Whiskey Cruise of 1920, but there is little evidence that Agent Amos or other bureau agents investigated the Whiskey Cruise. This is interesting since the possibility that federal prohibition laws were broken was strong, given all the speculation and story telling that key figures involved with the Black Star Line engaged in regarding the incident.

Bureau agent James E. Amos interviewed Joshua Cockburn several times during the year 1922. Cockburn invariably directed Bureau Agents to other Negroes who could inform them about negative things about Marcus Garvey. Sometimes the people Cockburn identified were no longer living at the addresses he provided. At other times the agents met with men who had negative things to say about Marcus Garvey. On April 14, 1922 James Amos interviewed Reverend Norman Wilson who told of being beaten by Garveyite thugs after telling members of his congregation not to associate with Garvey. Wilson expressed fear about testifying in court against Garvey because his congregation was still sympathetic to the U.N.I.A. leader.[54] There was a hint of fascism in Marcus Garvey’s popularity with the Negro masses. Reverend James Eason, the American leader of the U.N.I.A. was killed by Garvey loyalists on January 1, 1923 after an unsuccessful attempt to unseat Marcus Garvey as leader of the U.N.I.A. During his later years in England, Garvey was an admirer of  Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini.

One thing Joshua Cockburn did not do to Marcus Garvey was to go along with the Bureau of Investigation’s initial attempts to gather information on Garvey’s affair with Amy Jacques in order to charge him under the Mann Act. The Mann Act had been used to arrest Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion. The act made it a crime to travel with an under age woman across state lines and it was usually applied to black men who traveled with white women. Amy Jacques had some white ancestry. Joshua Cockburn’s wife Pauline was a white woman with African ancestry. Joshua had married her in Liverpool, England when he was thirty-two and she was fourteen and a half. However much he despised Marcus Garvey, Joshua Cockburn did not participate in the Bureau of Investigation’s attempt to make a federal case out of Garvey’s marital problems.

Joshua Cockburn provided key testimony in Garvey’s 1923 trial on federal charges of mail fraud. In 1925 Marcus Garvey lost his appeal, which hinged on convincing the appeals court that government witness Joshua Cockburn had been as guilty of fraud as Garvey had. Garvey was sent to a Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia, where he would spend part of his time serving as head bathroom cleaner.[55] For the rest of his life and in perpetuity through his writings, Marcus Garvey would hold Joshua Cockburn personally responsible for the failure of the Black Star Shipping Line.

That man Cockburn! May God damn him to eternal oblivion. That man had in his hands the commercial destiny on the seas of the black man. He sold it, every bit of it, for a mess of pottage.[56]

Joshua Cockburn was doing well financially by the time Marcus Garvey was sent to prison. He had left the sea to work as a Real Estate Operator in Manhattan and he found that he was very good at it. The fact that Joshua had a wife who was white in appearance must have helped. The author Claude Mckay states in his book Harlem: Negro Metropolis, that during the early 20th century Negroes relied on friendly whites and Latinos to help them purchase properties in upper Manhattan. McKay noted:

The blacks willingly paid from a hundred to two hundred percent more than did the whites…Faced with opposition, the Aframerican realtors resorted to stratagem to develop Negro Harlem. They got “fronts” to make certain contracts and deals. The fair-skinned members of the group were used as decoys. Posing as whites they achieved better bargains.[57]

Joshua and Pauline Cockburn also benefited as realtors from the fact that Marcus Garvey had drawn so many enthusiastic followers to Harlem.

As the headquarters of the Garvey movement, Harlem became nationally and internationally famous. When the Garvey movement first attracted world attention, 1918-1919, the solid Black Belt extended from 127th to 145th Street between  Fifth and Eighth Avenues. From 125th Street to 110th Street Jews dominated. The breaking of the boundaries  coincided with the rise of the Pan-African movement. [58]

The Sun and New York Herald Newspaper reported the growth of the Negro population in Harlem with this headline on May, 23 1920:

City’s Negro Colony

Rapidly Expanding

Harlem Settlement Becomes World’s Largest

In Period of fifteen years-Property

Holdings Exceed $100,000,000

There is at least one piece of evidence that suggests Joshua Cockburn the Real Estate Operator was as irresponsible as he had been when he was commanding the Yarmouth. The Afro American Newspaper reported on October 31, 1924 that a tenement owned by the former Captain Joshua Cockburn had burned down and that “incendiarism” was charged. One of Cockburn’s tenants had seen two Negroes and a white man hanging around the building’s basement just before the fire started. One woman perished. One female tenant who experienced the fire was the mother of eleven children. She lived in the basement. The buildings “alarm box” was faulty and it took ten minutes to let the fire department know that there was a fire.[59]

There was money to be made in Harlem Real Estate and Joshua and Pauline Cockburn made their share. On  February 25, 1925 The New York Times reported that Joshua Cockburn had donated $5,000 to the construction of the Episcopal Cathedral of St.John the Divine. He said that it was in memory of his only son who died and was buried at sea. There is no official record of Joshua Cockburn having a son. It is plausible that Cockburn was referring to the Black Star Line when he made his donation.

Throughout the sixteen years he lived and worked in Harlem, Joshua Cockburn maintained a realty office and shipping agency at 2164 7th  Avenue.[60] He and Pauline were occasionally mentioned in the society pages of Negro newspapers. They attended a dinner at The Alcidean Club and vacationed at Edgewater. Captain Cockburn’s most enduring contribution to Harlem society was his donation of a silver cup that served as a trophy for an invitational tennis tournament between teams from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania[61]. The Cockburn Cup Tennis Tournament was still being played as late as 1954.

Joshua Cockburn became an American citizen in 1927. Leo Healy, the attorney who provided a great deal of important testimony about Marcus Garvey’s business dealings in relation to the Black Star Line and accused Captain Cockburn of being a bootlegger at Marcus Garvey’s trial in 1923 was appointed as a judge on November 15, 1927.[62] This was the same year that Marcus Garvey was deported to Jamaica.

The Cockburns appear to have weathered the Great Stock Market Crash of  1929 and the ensuing Great Depression. In 1934 they traveled to Haiti with prominent American Negro businessmen who had formed the Haitian Afro-American Chamber of Commerce. The organization had been formed at the request of Haitian President Stenio Vincient, who had been in the United States to meet with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The fact that the United States had recently withdrawn U.S. Marines from Haiti after a long occupation had become an important social cause for politically minded Negroes in the western hemisphere.

The United States had occupied Haiti since 1915. The Wilson Administration had installed a pro-American President Philippe S.Dartiguenave, who ran the island nation as a dictator using a combined U.S Marine Haitian gendarmerie to maintain order. The U.S. led occupation of Haiti included racial segregation, press censorship and forced labor[63]. The plight of Haiti had become a popular cause among liberal Americans such as Clarence Darrow’s colleague Arthur Garfield Hayes, who viewed the occupation as part of The U.S.A.’s alarming tendency to oppress dark skinned people. While he had been a crew member of the Yarmouth in 1920, Aubrey DeSouza had met Haitian girls who had been raped by U.S. Marines during the occupation.[64] DeSouza’s experience was corroborated by N.A.A.C.P. Secretary James Weldon Johnson, who traveled to Haiti to observe conditions for himself in 1920.

The members of the Haitian Afro-American Chamber of Commerce had sailed from New York  on August 17, 1934. They held a ceremony at the tomb of Toussaint L’Overture during which they laid a wreath on his tomb. Each member of the chamber of commerce then studied his particular area of expertise in the agricultural, commercial or industrial field. Captain Cockburn wrote a report in which he analyzed Haiti’s problems with shipping and suggested that the Haitians start their own shipping line. His closing recommendations do not sound like those of a huckster out to take advantage of gullible Negroes:

That the Haitians receive every worthwhile effort of the Afro-Americans to help them, always realizing that we are slow to act and are ourselves working against financial, economic, social and political handicaps. [65]

A year earlier Pauline Cockburn had purchased property in Edgemont Hills, a suburban development located on the Scarsdale/Greenburgh town lines in Westchester County, New York. In 1936 Joshua hired contractors to build a home on the property. He and Pauline moved in on New Year’s Eve of that year. Early in 1937 their nearest neighbor Marion Ridgeway complained about the presence of Negroes in Edgemont Hills because she was aware that the properties there had a common deed covenant that restricted them to people without “Negro Blood” unless the Negroes were employed as servants.

In his deposition for the trial Joshua Cockburn stated that the deed covenant had been acted upon because a white contractor named Norman Zaubler was angry with him[66]. Zaubler had spoken to Cockburn at another property site in the nearby city of Yonkers. Cockburn had offered Zaubler some property in exchange for building him a house on Pauline’s property in Edgemont Hills. According to Cockburn Zaubler declined the offer but later became angry that Cockburn hired someone else to build his house. Zaubler threatened Cockburn with a lawsuit and then followed through by filing suit against him for violating a common deed covenant attached to all Edgemont Hills properties that forbid Negroes from owning or renting there. Zaubler denied Cockburn’s accusation. He stated in his testimony that Joshua Cockburn had threatened to protect his property with guns if necessary. Cockburn denied Zaubler’s accusation.

The Cockburn’s deed covenant trial was eventually heard in the Supreme Court of New York in White Plains. Thurgood Marshall assisted American Civil Liberties Union Attorney Arthur Garfield Hays in the Cockburn’s defense. N.A.A.C.P. Secretary Walter White helped plan the defense, which revolved around the idea that there was no legal definition for the term Negro in the United States. Pauline Cockburn was very light skinned but had always taken it for granted that she was a Negress and associated with colored people.[67] The property in Edgemont Hills had been purchased in Pauline’s name. Technically she was the only one on trial although Joshua Cockburn’s testimony provided the basis of the judgment. Judge Parsons Davis ruled that Pauline Cockburn had violated the deed covenant because she was an “octoroon” who had at least 1/8 Negro blood and her husband Joshua Cockburn was obviously a Negro based on his appearance.[68]

Marcus Garvey had been freed from prison in Atlanta Georgia in 1927 and deported to Jamaica. By 1937 he was penniless and living in London, England. He published a periodical called The Black Man. Garvey heard of the Cockburn’s trial and saw fit to comment on it in his publication under the bold headline HOW FOOLISH:

In one of the exclusive residential suburbs of New York and injunction was filed against a Negro the other day to prevent him from living in the district among white people, after he had purchased property there to the extent of   L 4,000 ($20,000). The Negro, in contesting, pleaded instead of his civil rights as an American Citizen to live where he likes, that black as he was, and colored as his wife was, they were not Negroes. That being the point on which the Judge had to give his decision, he came to a quick judgment just by looking at the man and the woman, and declared undoubtedly one was of full Negro blood and the other had Negro blood in her veins.

The man has appealed against the judgment and an Association known as the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People  of New York has promised to put all its financial resources behind the man to enable him to succeed in his appeal-the appeal naturally based upon the judgment of the Judge that the Negro is a Negro…and who is the Negro? He is no other than Joshua Cockburn. Captain of the first ship of the Black Star Line- a man who professed then to be a true and proud Negro. He was then poor when he came to the Black Star Line. After he left the Black Star Line he became rich and a Real Estate Operator  in the City of New York. While he became rich the President of the Black Star Line had to spend two years and ten months in a Federal Prison for what others did to the Black Star Line. But for Cockburn and others the Black Star Line would be one of the most successful Steamship Companies to-day  and the black race would be proud of themselves and their ownership of a mighty Merchant Marine.

Captain Cockburn is now rich and having his troubles trying to lose himself among the white people of New York. It is surprising that he is no longer a Negro. We never knew a person could change his race and skin so easily,  but the peculiar anomaly is that the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People  is to collect money from Negroes to prove that a Negro is not a Negro.[69]

Pauline and Joshua Cockburn were allowed to stay at their home in Edgemont Hills because their lawyer Arthur Garfield Hays convinced the plaintiffs that he would win the case on appeal which would result in more Negroes moving to Edgemont Hills.[70]

Joshua Cockburn put the anchor he had taken from The Yarmouth on a rock in front of his house. Perhaps it is a symbol of a life lived at sea and a desire to claim what he had earned. Reflecting on his memories of Captain Cockburn in 1982 former Yarmouth crewmen Aubrey DeSouza, could only shake his head in disgust at the thought of the Yarmouth’s anchor sitting out in front of Captain Cockburn’s house in Scarsdale, saying “he was so… bold,” Joshua Cockburn died at his home in September, 1942. The anchor remains there to this day.

[1]  Hugh Mulzac,Norval Welch and Louis Burnham, A Star To Steer By (New York, NY: International Publishers, 1963),(76), Digital File.

[2]  Hugh Mulzac, A Star to Steer By (77)

[3]  Account of the Black Star Line by Capt.Hugh Mulzac in the Cleveland Gazette Baltimore 6 October- 3 November 1923 in Hill, Robert (ed.) The Marcus Garvey and United Negro Improvement Association Papers vol. V: September 1922- August 1924(University of California Press, Berkeley, CA,1986), (472-473)

[4]  Hugh Mulzac, A Star to Steer By, (79).

[5]  Rosa Parks, Jim Haskins, My Story (Puffin Books, New York, N.Y.1992),(30)

[6]  Ray Costello, Black Salt:Seafarers of African Descent on British Ships (Liverpool University Press, Liverpool,UK, 2012),(155-159)

[7]  Ridgway v Cockburn 163 Misc.511,296 N.Y.S. 936 N.Y. Sup.1937 (June 3, 1937)

[8]  Account of the Black Star Line by Capt.Hugh Mulzac in Garvey Papers V, (472-473)

[9]  Liquor Worth Ten Millions Seized Here,” The New York Tribune (New York, N.Y), January 20, 1920,(1) accessed June 30,2014.

[10]  United States v Marcus Garvey,8317 ct.App.(2nd Cir.1925), 1343

[11]  Account of the Black Star Line by Capt.Hugh Mulzac in Garvey Papers V, (472-473)

[12]  An Interview with Aubrey H. DeSouza, video cassette, Aubrey H.DeSouza, Jean Blackwell Huston. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 1982.

[13]  United States v Marcus Garvey,8317 ct.App.(2nd Cir.1925), (307)

[14]  An Interview with Aubrey H. DeSouza

[15]  Hugh Mulzac, A Star to Steer By, (79)

[16]  Hugh Mulzac, A Star to Steer By, (79)

[17]  Article in The New York Sun March 1922 in The Marcus Garvey and United Negro Improvement Association Papers : ed. Robert Hill vol. IV: September 1921-Septmeber 1922 (Berkeley,CA: University of California Press, 1985), (589-590)

[18]  Edward D.Smith Green speech at U.N.I.A. Liberty Hall, May 1, 1920 in Hill, Robert (ed) The Marcus Garvey and United Negro Improviement Association Papers vol. II 27 August 1919- August 1920 (University of California Press, Berkeley, CA 1983), (311)

[19]  Edward D.Smith Green Speech at Liberty Hall. (311)

[20]  Edward D.Smith Green Speech at Liberty Hall. (312)

[21]  Edward D.Smith Green Speech at Liberty Hall (313-315)

[22]  Hugh Mulzac, A Star to Steer By, (80)

[23]  Edward D.Smith Green Speech at Liberty Hall. (314)

[24]  Edward D.Smith Green Speech at Liberty Hall. (314)

[25]  Edward D.Smith Green Speech at Liberty Hall. (315)

[26]  Edward D.Smith Green Speech at Liberty Hall. (315)

[27]  Article from the Evening News, February 25, 1920 in The Marcus Garvey Papers vol. xi.  (566)

[28]   Report byMajor Norman Randolph, Department Intelligence Officer, Panama Canal Zone in Hill, Robert (ed) The Marcus Garvey and United Negro Improvement Association Papers, Vol. XI: The Caribbean Diaspora, 1910-1920, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011), (567)

[29]  cable from Henrietta Vinton Davis to Marcus Garvey in Garvey Papers vol. XI, (570)

[30]  Hugh Mulzac, A Star to Steer By, (81)

[31]  Colin Grant, Negro With a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey(Oxford University Press, New York, NY., 2008), (282)

[32]  Hugh Mulzac, A Star to Steer By, (82)

[33]  United States v Garvey, 309

[34]  Colin Grant, Negro With a Hat, (319)

[35]  Hugh Mulzac, A Star to Steer By, (82)

[36]  U.N.I.A. Envoys Get Enthusiastic Reception in B(o)cas Del Toro, Article in Negro World in Hill, Robert (ed) The Marcus Garvey and United Negro Improvement Association Papers, vol. XI The Caribbean Diaspora (Duke University Press, Durham, NC, 2011) (601)

[37]  H.S.Blair Division Manager, United Fruit Company, to George P.Chittenden, General Manager, United Fruit Company, Amirante, R.P. April 9, 1920 in Hill, Robert (ed)The Marcus Garvey and United Negro Improvement Association Papers, vol. XI The Caribbean Diaspora 1910-1920 (Duke University Press, Durham, NC, 2011), (599-600)

[38]  Hugh Mulzac, A Star To Steer By, (82)

[39]  United States v. Garvey, 355-356

[40]  United States v. Garvey, 310

[41]  United States v Garvey, 314

[42]  United States v. Garvey 311

[43]  United States v Garvey, 312

[44]  United States v Garvey, 357

[45]  Hugh Mulzac, A Star to Steer By (82)

[46]  Floating Cabaret to Beat Dry Law is Latest Scheme, The Standard Union, 17 July 1921, (1)(

[47]  United States v Garvey, 269

[48]  Colin Grant, Negro With a Hat,(326)

[49]   Enclosure New York City, December, 19, African Blood Brotherhood Meeting Breaks Up in Disorder” in Hill, Robert (ed), The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Papers: vol. IV: 1 September 1921-2 September 1922,(University of California Press, Berkeley, CA. 1985), (299-300)

[50]   “Meeting Announcement for African Blood Brotherhood” in Hill, Robert (ed), The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Papers: vol. IV: 1 September 1921-2 September 1922,(University of California Press, Berkeley, CA. 1985), (303)

[51]  Theodore Kornwiebel, Seeing Red:Federal Campaigns Against Black Militancy 1919-1925 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998),(113)

[52]  James E.Amos, Bureau of Investigation  Interview with Louis Lemoth, March 6, 1922. FBI Vault, Marcus Garvey file 2 of 12.

[53]  British Military Intelligence Report, February 10, 1920, New York,N.Y. in The Marcus Garvey and United Negro Improvement Association Papers vol. II. (208)

[54]  James E. Amos, Bureau of Investigation Interview with Rev.Norman Wilson, April 22, 1922.

[55]  Colin Grant, Negro With a Hat, (409)

[56]   Speech by Marcus Garvey, Ward Theater Kingston, 18 December, 1927 in Robert Hill (ed) The MARCUS GARVEY AND UNIVERSAL NEGRO IMPROVEMENT ASSOCIATION PAPERS, vol.vii, November 1927-August 1940 ( Berkeley:University of California Press, 1990), (54)

[57]  Claude McKay, Harlem: Negro Metropolis, ( New York: E.P. Dutton and Co., 1940), (18)

[58]  Claude McKay, Harlem: Negro Metropolis, (20)

[59]  Apartment of Former Garvey Captain Burns, The Afro- American, October 31, 1924. Google News.7/14/2014

[60]  Report by the Haitian Afro-American Chamber of Commerce, (27)

[61]  Pa. Netmen Compete for Cockburn Trophy,  The Pittsburgh Courier, July 9, 1927 (4), July 14, 2014

[62] Leo Healy on Bench, The New York Times, November, 16, 1927. NYTIMES.COM, July 19,2014.

[63]  U.S. Invasion and Occupation of Haiti 1915-1934, U.S.Department of State: Office of the Historian. 7/14/2014.

[64]  Interview with Aubrey DeSouza

[65]  Joshua Cockburn, A HAITIAN AND AFRO-AMERICAN STEAMSHIP LINE IS REPUBLIC’S NEED,  in Report by the Afro-American Haitian Chamber of Commerce, April 30, 1935.(34)  Schomburg Center, New York, N.Y.

[66]  Joshua Cockburn, Deposition for Marion Ridgeway v Pauline Cockburn

[67]  Arthur Garfield Hays, City Lawyer: Autobiography of a Law Practice, (Simon and Schuster, New York, N.Y.1942), (206)

[68]  Arthur Garfield Hays, City Lawyer, 207

[69]  Marcus Garvey, “How Foolish“, The Black Man (August, 1937), (1)

[70]  Arthur Garfield Hays, City Lawyer(208)

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