Writer de­tails his­tory be­hind Bob Mar­ley clas­sic in new book


Iconic Bob Mar­ley song has Whit­ney Pier roots.

One of Bob Mar­ley’s most fa­mous songs had its roots in a speech given in Whit­ney Pier in 1937 by African-Amer­i­can leader Mar­cus Gar­vey.

Hal­i­fax-based writer Jon Tat­trie has un­cov­ered the his­tory be­hind “Re­demp­tion Song” and much of it is the re­sult of that speech given by Gar­vey, founder of the United Ne­gro Im­prove­ment As­so­ci­a­tion. Tat­trie has taken this re­search and turned it into his lat­est book, “Re­demp­tion Songs: How Bob Mar­ley’s Nova Sco­tia Song Lights The Way Past Racism.”

“When the UNIA halls first opened in the early 1900s, Gar­vey was a global star, com­mand­ing huge au­di­ences around the world,” said Tat­trie in an email in­ter­view. “In 1920, he led a gi­gan­tic pa­rade through Har­lem, New York, as the pro­vi­sional pres­i­dent of Africa. But the U.S gov­ern­ment jailed him for five years on bo­gus charges and after he was re­leased, he strug­gled to get per­mis­sion to en­ter coun­tries and drive his UNIA for­ward. His ca­reer withered, his health failed, and by the mid-1930s he had fallen pretty low. But the peo­ple of Cape Bre­ton did not for­get him, nor aban­don him.”

Ac­cord­ing to Tat­trie, Cape Bre­ton­ers kept the UNIA dreams alive and Gar­vey was in­spired by their loy­alty.

“The mayor came out, as did sev­eral other dig­ni­taries,” says Tat­trie. “Gar­vey was clearly buoyed by their wel­come and de­liv­ered one of the great speeches of his life­time. ‘I shall never for­get this my first ap­pear­ance in Sydney and in Nova Sco­tia,’ he said. He spoke pos­i­tively about Canada, and ex­pressed his ad­mi­ra­tion for the African Nova Sco­tian com­mu­nity. To­ward the end of a rous­ing talk, he said: ‘We are go­ing to eman­ci­pate our­selves from men­tal slav­ery be­cause whilst oth­ers might free the body, none but our­selves can free the mind.’ It was the first — and only — time he used that phrase.”

Gar­vey’s words would later be re­born in Mar­ley’s “Re­demp­tion Song”. The singer/song­writer was born in the same area of Ja­maica as Gar­vey and prob­a­bly stud­ied his work. When Mar­ley learned he was dy­ing of can­cer in the late 1970s, he turned to Gar­vey for in­spi­ra­tion for what would be his last song. Tat­trie says Mar­ley likely read Gar­vey’s Sydney speech in Black Man mag­a­zine, and was clearly struck by the eman­ci­pa­tion line.

“For Mar­ley, the so­lu­tion was men­tal eman­ci­pa­tion. So he wrote ‘Re­demp­tion Song’, and the fo­cal point is a near-di­rect quote of Gar­vey’s Nova Sco­tia speech: “Eman­ci­pate your­selves from men­tal slav­ery/none but our­selves can free our minds.”

Tat­trie, an award-win­ning, multi-me­dia free­lance jour­nal­ist and au­thor, will be in Sydney on Tues­day, Feb. 21, to pro­mote the book. He will give a talk at 3 p.m. at the Cape Bre­ton Univer­sity Li­brary and he will be fea­tured in the evening at 7 p.m. dur­ing Gov­er­nor’s monthly book pub.

“I par­tic­u­larly hope that white Nova Sco­tians like me will em­brace the book and use it as a launch­ing point to learn about our rich and in­spir­ing African Nova Sco­tian his­tory,” says Tat­trie. “I hope we will all learn a bit more about how racism works psy­cho­log­i­cally — es­pe­cially how it works in white minds — and be bet­ter able to eman­ci­pate our­selves from the false and de­bil­i­tat­ing idea that hu­man­ity is di­vided into dif­fer­ent races, and that it’s right to treat peo­ple dif­fer­ently ac­cord­ing to that ide­ol­ogy.”

Tat­trie says re­ac­tion to his book has been good and a real high­light oc­curred when he was able to present Mar­cus Gar­vey’s son, Dr. Julius Gar­vey, who was vis­it­ing the prov­ince, with a copy.

“In fact he de­liv­ered his Hal­i­fax talk three days after I got the books, and I was able to at­tend and give him a copy. It was truly amaz­ing to have spent so much time writ­ing about his fa­ther — and even him — and to find my­self lis­ten­ing to a speech that was a hint of what Mar­cus Gar­vey’s talks were like.”


Au­thor Jon Tat­trie has re­leased his lat­est book, “Re­demp­tion Songs: How Bob Mar­ley’s Nova Sco­tia Song Lights The Way Past Racism.”


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