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Prof Anthony Martin, A ‘people’s scholar’ laid to rest
The late Prof Anthony Martin was called an esteemed scholar, a distinguished son of the Caribbean, a brilliant mind, a great soldier, among other accolades at his funeral service on Friday. It was his work on the life of Jamaica’s Marcus Garvey that brought about new meaning to the lives of African people.
Martin would have celebrated his 71st birthday on February 21. He died on January 24 at the Westshore Medical Private Hospital, Cocorite. He was Professor Emeritus of Africana Studies at Wellesley College where he taught for 34 years. He also taught at the University of Michigan-Flint, Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies and St Mary’s College.
He was a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota, Brandeis University, Brown University, and The Colorado College. Martin also spent a year as an honorary research fellow at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine. He was qualified as an attorney at the Honourable Society of Gray's Inn (London) in 1965, did a BSc honours degree in economics at the University of Hull (England), and the MA and PhD in history at Michigan State University.
At his funeral service held at the St Theresa’s RC Church, Woodbrook, his close friends and colleagues turned up to pay their final respects and tributes. Fr Clyde Harvey who delivered the homily enjoyed a rendition by extempo specialist David Bereaux that he requested a second song. Much to the amusement of the mourners, Bereaux sang Bed Bug by the late Mighty Spoiler.
‘He changed people’s perceptions of Garvey’
Chairman of the Emancipation Support (ESC) Committee Khafra Kambon said Martin’s book—Race Relations and his many lectures changed people’s perceptions around the world about Garvey. Kambon said, “Since his death, we have received many verbal testimonies from brothers and sisters about the impact of Tony Martin and his work on their lives.
“Many of you, many of us are here today because of how he added to our lives by the volume of work he produced on Marcus Garvey, in particular, but generally on the Pan-African movement and most recently, Caribbean history.” He said what Martin wrote and said in lectures was important, but why he wrote what he did and the way he lived what he preached, distinguished him from the ivory tower academic.
Martin was as brilliant and meticulous as any of those regarded as the best in the world of academia, yet he was the people’s scholar, Kambon said. He said Martin’s son Shabaka had large shoes to walk in. Former president of the Joint Consultative Council Winston Riley delivered the eulogy. He said at the launch of the Marcus Garvey Library in Port-of-Spain in 1995 he met Dr Paloma Mohammed, Martin’s ex-wife.
Shabaka to carry on dad’s legacy
They married in January 2000 but divorced last year. Their marriage produced six-year-old Shabaka. Shabaka bravely read a Psalm and also received a gold medal from chairman of the Dr Eric Williams Memorial Committee Reginald Vidale. The medal was supposed to be given to Martin later this year.
Riley said Martin and Mohammed were a happy couple up until 2007 when their marriage fell apart irretrievably. However, communication became cordial last year. He said, “No one, including Paloma knew of Tony’s illness. “When the state of Tony’s health became known to her communication became frequent.”
Riley, like Kambon, said Shabaka had to carry on his father’s legacy. He said, “Shabaka, you are destined to carry out your father’s legacy and I say to you, in the words of Tagore: ‘If you cry because the sun has gone out of your life your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars’.”
Yesterday, the ESC held a service at the National Library, Port-of-Spain in appreciation and celebration of Martin. It was dubbed a Garvey scholar. Among those paying tribute were Martin’s nieces Femi Martin from London and Flora Belle from Guadeloupe, Prof Rupert Lewis of the University of the West Indies, Jamaica, Dr Donna Mc Farlane of the Garvey Institute, David Muhammad and Kambon.
Tributes also came in the form of a calypso medley by Lord Relator and also through poetry, dance and drums.
Some controversies in Martin’s career:
• In 1993, Martin published The Jewish Onslaught: Despatches from the Wellesley Battlefront.
Molefi Asante of Temple University called the book the best polemic by an African since the 1829 classic, David Walker’s Appeal. Raymond Winbush of Vanderbilt University compared it to W.E.B. Du Bois’ Souls of Black Folk, while Jewish photographer Steve Bloom wrote that “Martin shows that he has been the victim of a vicious slander campaign by those who use a Jewish identity demagogically.”
However, Prof Selwyn Cudjoe, who was chair of Martin’s department at Wellesley, labelled Martin’s book “Gangsta history, meant to demean and to defame others and to bring them into disrepute, rather than to enlighten and to lead us to a more complex and sophisticated understanding of social phenomena.”
• Student harassment issue:
In October 1991, a Wellesley student, Michelle Plantec, while on hall duty, claimed that she saw Martin wandering in a female dorm in a restricted area, in violation of a rule requiring male guests to be escorted. When she asked him about his escort, Martin, she claims, responded using profanity, accused her of racism and bigotry, and positioned himself so as to physically intimidate her.
Martin denied all these claims, and declared that a group of women “accosted him rudely, despite circumstances that in his view made the legitimacy of his presence obvious.”
• Lefkowitz controversy:
Mary Lefkowitz was a classics professor at Wellesley, who taught courses on ancient Greek culture.
In a 1992 article for The New Republic, she challenged Afrocentric claims, such as the claim that Greek philosophy was plagiarised from African sources. She and Martin became engaged in a heated disagreement, with Martin criticising her in his department’s Africana Studies Newsletter. She criticised him in the Wall Street Journal, the Chronicle of Higher Education and The New Republic.
Lefkowitz discovered that students in Martin’s class were assigned a book called The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, authored by the Historical Research Department of the Nation of Islam. The book argues that Jews had a disproportionately large role in the black slave trade, a thesis that has since been condemned by mainstream historians including the American Historical Association.
She ignited a controversy over the book’s inclusion on the curriculum and the controversy made national headlines in the spring of 1993.