Black Internationalism in Trial: The Specter of Marcus Garvey, Legal Modernity, and the Foreclosed Futures of Modern Justice

  • Author / Creator
    Cole, Richard J
  • In America, the rise and fall of the Black Star Line Steamship Corporation has been regularly associated with an intransigent boom and bust narrative. Why is it, then, that the Bureau of Investigation was so intent on bringing the company’s founder to trial if the black financial venture was inevitably bound to fail on its own? To make sense of this apparent rift, I return back to the 1923 trial in order to advance an understanding of two competing forms of political organization in the post-WWI opening. The Garvey trial marks a division in historical time. On the one side is the world-historical project of the New Negro movement for black liberation, marking that which was “new,” not fully formed, but in the process of forming itself, making global relations appear again as undecided. I also examine the redoubling of efforts by the U.S. imperial state to protect its own power as the arbiter of political life. Utilizing archival documents as diverse as the Bureau of Investigation’s records, the company’s leaflets, and black literary texts, the findings here reveal how the Justice Department staged a public show trial intended to transform the utopian image of the New Negro, first displayed in Black Star Line advertisements, into an image of ruin.
    My claim is not that the legal intervention was solely responsible for the financial insolvency of the black shipping venture. Rather, it marked a revisionist historical strategy to split apart the dream of black advancement from its material realization. Rescuing historical data, this archive of “futures past” is brought into relation with present-day discussions in decolonial studies around catastrophe, revolution, finance, and colonial memory. Each section presents a corresponding dialectical image to demonstrate how the historical present is haunted by the prospects for black self-determination that were deemed to be untenable by the protocols of US national law. Changes to black cultural production are examined alongside the limited evidence presented in court. This repository of foreclosed futures does not represent the world that already is but realizes a view of the world that has been, and continues to be, actively rendered not to be. For when justice for all members of the human population fails to arrive, the future of the world fails to arrive, because the radical openness of the future ceases to be possible.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2019
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
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