Killing Garvey

Maxwell Greene

A group of troupes coloniales, an indistinguishable retinue of dark boots and khaki topees, escorted Picard and I to the exterior of the base. This was early in the morning. I had met Picard, a tall, slender man in his forties, at supper last night, and asked him to remind me of his post. “I am the commandant de cercle of here, Kandi.” He boasted, hands defiantly on his hip, like a big cheese.

The French soldiers led us into what looked like a green, military issue Ford Model A. One of them became our chauffeur, and a second one would serve as a bodyguard. As the engine started I pulled out a recently arrived piece of correspondence from the Bureau of Investigation back home. I skimmed it, and turned over to Picard, who was sitting in the passenger seat. “So,” I began. “Director Hoover, is telling me that he just received confirmation from the Liberian government that Garvey is indeed hiding either in the northern parts of Dahomey or Upper Volta region.”

Picard hesitated. “I’m no expert in the English language, but ‘hiding’ does not seem like the right word. According to French and British intelligence, that negro agitator is running about free in land that he has claimed. I have heard rumors that he has built up a black African army in his little colony. He must think he’s a black Kurtz! You can’t imagine how frightening this news is to us French. We cannot have another uprising.” Picard said with his nasal, guttural accent.

“Move, move!” The driver barked in French, honking frantically. A young negress wrapped in colorful garb and leading a group of goats, blocking the dirt road, scampered away.

Something about the endless uncultivated greenness of the country hypnotized me. I felt peaceful, but I still wouldn’t trade these moist deciduous trees with the grand skyscrapers of my hometown. My beloved New York. How I missed it.

Out of boredom and curiosity, I decided to vex Picard with a few rather silly inquiries. “Do you ever think, monsieur Picard, why not just let Garvey and the negroes have this land and be done with them? Do you occasionally contemplate that? Do you ever get tired of living among these primitive savages? Do you ever want to return to France?” Picard tossed an arsenal of heated answers my way, not leaving me enough time to catch each one. He ranted about how Africa is an integral part of France’s economy and how negroes have not the intellect to make use of such vast resources. Picard went on about how it is the white man’s duty to instruct the Africans in “Christianity, commerce, and civilization,” but admitted that he did not make the effort to learn about the customs and traditions of the peoples he ruled. He just knew that they lacked those three aforementioned jewels. By the time he finished shout-lecturing at me, even the hairs of his chestnut moustache had become bushy and disheveled.

“And I suppose”, I added, “It would be unfair for we Americans to just export our negro problem to France, as Garveyites and Klansmen want to do.”

“Exactly!” Picard glowed with the knowledge that I understood and agreed with what he said.

In the distance, I could see a black man in a bright white European suit walking towards us through the forest. The sun was setting behind him, its rays shooting through the shrubs and flowering trees.

As soon as the walker became more clearly defined, Picard ordered the car to be parked. Picard nonchalantly grabbed a Berthier carbine rifle from behind my seat, cocked it, and waited. The two colonial troops soon joined Picard with weapons. The man approaching us put his hands up. “I come in peace” he declared in French and than English..

“Who is that?” I whispered to an exceedingly focused Picard.

“Kojo Tovalou Houenou, nephew of King Behanzin of Dahomey. The most seditious French negro in recent times.” Picard lowered his gun as Kojo showed himself not to be a threat. “What do you want from us?” I asked in plain English.

“In a number of kilometers in your direction, there is what looks like a mosque.” Kojo warned.

“A mosque is a Mohammedan church” Picard clarified for me.

“But it is not.” Kojo enunciated with a slow, distinctly Franco-African inflection. “It has been converted into an African Orthodox Christian Church by Mr. Marcus Garvey and his West Indian henchmen.” Kojo paused. “Please, messieurs, lay down your weapons, I am unarmed.” Picard and his men listened to Kojo’s request. Kojo stared intensely at all of us. “Beyond that church lies Marcus Garvey and his tribe, who have taken control of much of this region.” Kojo pointed.

“And what have you had to do with that, eh?” Picard interrogated Kojo.

    “I am a prince who has been exiled by Garvey, and so I detest him and his movement. I have been waiting for French soldiers to arrive, and I am glad you have come. I wish to help you take back this territory.” Kojo seemed honest. “Its getting late. Come have dinner with me, and we can drive into Garvey’s kingdom tomorrow.”

Picard put his rifle away and turned the automobile off. He looked at me, communicating with his eyes that he was suspicious of Kojo.

“I swear by my father’s honor that I will not betray you, you- what are your names?”

I pulled out my Bureau of Investigation badge, and Picard handed Kojo his card.

Kojo continued: “ I swear that I will not poison your food nor kill you in your sleep nor do any such thing. I am on your side now.” Kojo stretched out his arm. Picard took his hand. Than I shook it.

The rest of the evening consisted of a meager dinner in a small, mud hut with a thatched roof. The conversation was light and little. It is late now, and I am tired. I shall continue in the morning.


March 8, 1930


Inside the hut it is cool and pleasant, but outside it is warm and humid. A hot, thin mist permeates the air, accompanied by the mild scent of tree bark. I hardly slept a wink while on the floor last night. Too add to my irritation, Kojo had no breakfast for us. I staggered tiredly out to the car to grab a chocolate bar I had brought. I could see in the window that my squared face was almost sickly pale and that my golden hair was limp and disheveled. Staying in Africa for several weeks had taken a toll on my well being.

Before I could return to the dwelling, Kojo, Picard, and our two soldiers had started getting into the vehicle. “No white men have dared to enter Garvey’s dominion,” Kojo’s serious eyes fixed themselves on each of us in turn as we got settled in.

“Until now, that is.” Picard proclaimed with confidence.

Picard insisted that Kojo take the front seat, and that he (Picard) sit in the back with the other soldier and me. I soon discovered his motive. Picard took out a pad and pen, and began scribbling something. He showed his note to us, which read “I do not trust Kojo. Keep your eyes on him. Be ready.” The soldier and I nodded and acquiesced with a grunt. Picard than crumpled up the paper, and Kojo turned his head to see what the commotion was about.

    Within an hour we had penetrated the thick jungle, driving miles over uncut, wet grass and sporadic dirt paths. We passed the converted mosque Kojo had mentioned, but I still could not detect a trace of civilization. I expected Garvey to be hiding somewhere among the shrubs and trees, but after a few more hours I realized that this was not the case. The damp brush transitioned into savanna grasslands, eventually melting into semidesert steppes .

    “Kojo, aren’t we already in Garvey’s territory? Where are we going?” My nerves begged me to ask that question.

    In an enigmatic tone, Kojo simply replied with “you’re right.” He ordered the driver to park the auto right as we started to descend the dirt hill into what looked like a small village.

    Negresses in colorful striped dresses carrying old muskets poured out of the mud and stone structures, makeshift tents, and ramshackle colonial bases. They marched up the hill towards our sedan.

    “Merde” Picard cursed.

    “Well, messieurs, it is time to get out. Lets go.” Kojo’s voice had now lost its soothing, quaint quality. We put up no resistance- we were outnumbered. But we were too stunned to get out of the jalopy.

    A stout, authoritative negro man in high quality black suit made his way through the ranks of the African women soldiers- the famed Dahomey Amazons I had only encountered heretofore in books. That man was Marcus Mosiah Garvey. The very nigger I had been sent here to assassinate! The cancer of the negroes of Harlem, a thorn in the US Government!

    “Excellent work, you’re majesty.” Garvey shook Kojo’s hand as he exited the car. Picard had been right to worry about Kojo. Garvey opened up the car’s doors “Come on, you rag-a-muffins!” Garvey waved us out. We obliged.

    The amazons, who knew only as much English as Garvey had taught them, lined us up in front of a daunting, sand colored wall by force.

    By this point, Garvey had thrown out our weapons onto the ground in front of him. Facing us, he paced back and forth. “Three centuries ago white men came, uninvited, to the shores of our beloved motherland. They took the children of Ethiopia captive and transported them to the Americas, where our forefathers lived miserable lives of servitude.” Garvey stroked his black mustache, then continued to speak with his ugly Jamaican accent. “These white barbarians returned decades later to conquer Africa and strip her of her precious resources; her capital.” Garvey stopped for a few seconds. “We negroes are not like you people. We have a sense of justice. In the past, you, white men, came to us, the Africans, to take from us slaves. Now again, you have come to us. We have not come to you. But this time, the tables have turned. Kojo?” Kojo than said something in what I later found out was the Fon language, to the Dahomey Amazons. In the swift butt of a gun, one of those woman-beasts had us lifeless on the floor.

    I woke up a few hours ago. I am in a windowless mud dungeon, and I can not discern what time it is. My hands and feet are fettered with rusty chains, and writing is therefore extremely difficult. I am hungry. I am now going to sleep.


March 21, 1930


I haven’t journaled in almost two weeks, because nothing significant has happened. Picard, the French soldier, and I have been forced to do a variety of menial tasks around Garvey’s village. Garvey keeps telling us that in a few years, if we behave, he may give us decent positions in his army, with which he plans to conquer the whole of Africa.

Anyways, I said I have not written anything since the day of my capture because nothing interesting has occurred. Today something did happen. One of the colonial troops tried to escape while we were all planting baobab trees. One of Garvey’s negro soldiers- a male this time, who had been camouflaged in the forest- shot the poor Frenchman instantly. The bullet pierced through his back. I regret having watched the event.

It is late now, and I plan on falling asleep before midnight. My body aches. I still cannot comprehend the fact that I am a slave. A white slave in Garvey’s Africa.