Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line

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Marcus Garvey
Marcus Garvey, 1887-1940, photographed August 5, 1924. (from Library of Congress, George Grantham Bain Collection)

Some time ago, I wrote a post about a Black entrepreneur in the Baltimore area whose name was Capt. George Brown. As a young man he experienced the degradations of the Jim Crow system while riding the rails, vowing that one he would create a first-class transportation experience for Black people. And he did it! He also built a memorable pair of amusement parks where Black citizens of Baltimore could go and be safe and enjoy themselves. Today, I want to write about Marcus Garvey, a Black man whose dreams for  his people were much larger, who was much more complex, and who was far more controversial than Captain Brown.

Marcus Garvey, like George Brown, believed in the power of ships and transportation to change the lives of Black people all over the world. He founded the company, the Black Star Line, as an embodiment of that dream to link the 400,000,000 people of color around the globe with the continent of Africa. But his story did not end up quite so well as George Brown’s.   Read more

The steamers of Brown’s Grove

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Steamer Avalon, built in 1888 (from MS0573, Harlan & Hollingsworth Company Plans)

It appears I’m writing a series on excursion steamboats! Who knew? I suppose it’s the working from home, the inability to go anywhere, that makes me long to board a steamer and head for a waterside amusement park!

But I know why I am writing about this one. I want to help keep our president Howard Hoege’s pledge that we would work hard to “awaken in every corner of our communities a sense of a shared maritime heritage that transcends race, ethnicity, gender, age, socioeconomics, and all of the ways in which we sometimes feel different from one another.” So I’ll focus on a rather special excursion steamer, owned and operated by Captain George Brown, that took African Americans of the Baltimore region to Brown’s Grove Amusement Park. Special, because in the 1910s until Brown’s Grove burned in a tragic 1938 fire, it was the only excursion steamboat and amusement park combination entirely owned and operated by African Americans. Brown said it was the only such combination in America.   Read more