by Howard Campbell
[KINGSTON, Jamaica] – After performing Black Star Liner during a cameo appearance at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem 37 years ago, singer Fred Locks was shocked at the attention he got when he came off stage.
The Rastafarian artist’s signature song touched a nerve in a town where Marcus Garvey led the Harlem Renaissance in the early 20th Century.
“A reporter came to me and said, ‘Brother, you’ve got a powerful song. It’s like an anthem’,” Fred Locks recalled.
Released in 1976, Black Star Liner was inspired by the shipping line Garvey launched as part of his back-to-Africa movement.
It was a massive hit in Jamaica and remains his biggest song. With February celebrated as Reggae Month in Jamaica and as Black History Month in the United States, Fred Locks is calling for Garvey to be cleared of mail fraud charges by the US government.
The Jamaican, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and the Pan African movement, was sent to Federal Prison in 1925. He was released in late 1927 and deported to Jamaica.
Many black historians say the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), led by J. Edgar Hoover, brought the charges against Garvey, fearing his growing influence among American blacks.
Fred Locks supports plans by the Jamaican government to lobby the US government for Garvey’s exoneration.
“It’s very, very much overdue because Marcus Garvey was framed. Everybody knows that,” he said.
Garvey died in London in 1940 at age 52. His message of black empowerment enjoyed a revival throughout the 1970s through roots-reggae singers like Burning Spear and Culture.
Marcus Garvey was named Jamaica’s first National Hero in 1969.