The secretary came in and placed a newspaper upon the lap of the plum-colored man sitting at a small desk covered in wrinkled telegrams. He was hunched slightly forward and draping his shoulders was a mantle of red, black, and green. She turned to leave but was stopped by the man as he reached out and placed his hand on her arm.
The woman looked into his set of bloodshot eyes, barely visible below their drooping lids.
With some effort, he turned his whole body halfway across the chair and mumbled something softly to her. His voice trailed off several times before the secretary felt assured that he had finished his sentence. She didn’t understand a word he had said.
“I’ll check,” she said and walked towards the door. On her way out, she glanced at the two paintings that decorated the room. They faced each other on opposite walls. Both were of Napoleon Bonaparte, one recognizable as the Emperor of France. In the other though, the emperor was heavier, and he was a black man. He looked a lot like the pitiful man at the chair.
With one hand, the man took the newspaper from his lap and opened it. It was a May edition of the Chicago Defender. He slowly followed the right-hand column until he stopped at an obituary: “... died today; broke, alone, and unpopular.”
He crumpled in his chair.
On June 9th, 1940, in a small and dirty rental in West Kensington, London, Marcus Garvey – founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, owner of the Black Star shipping line, and deported “President of Africa” - suffered his second stroke, brought on by the shock of insults accompanying his premature obituaries. By the next morning, the papers would be able to accurately report his passing.