I just procured, with a number of friends, a 2nd story apartment on Marcus Garvey Boulevard and Greene Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant, New York. I'm currently undereducated about the history of the neighborhood, but the street names stood out to me. As the child of a nameless grid, walking down streets descended from specific characters or sites in our national history is a pleasant change of pace. Greene is a bit of an incidental, named I believe after Nathanael Greene, a boringly noteworthy Revolutionary war General who probably partied hard but whose exploits have been dulled by the heavy hand of history.
Next up is Marcus Garvey, whom I'm also woefully undereducated about, but who is a total badass. Not only was Garvey from Jamaica, the coolest of islands to originate from, but by the time he was my age he was editing two newspapers. Not to be content with island living, he hoofed it to New York, and got a job as a lowly printer, earning his public speaking chops by lecturing anyone who would stop and listen on street corners. Oh but can I ever relate! That didn't last long, because Garvey was a hustler, he soon was representing and running black community and political interest groups and touring the US as a speaker, garnering support and striking fear into the hearts of white folk everywhere. He struck so much fear into the status quo that the assistant DA, Edward Kilroe, investigated Garvey's group for terroristic activities. When that resulted in an editorial harranguing by Garvey, Kilroe sued for libel, and then some assassin dude showed up and shot at Garvey 4 times, failing to kill him. The assassin killed him self a bit later, and Garvey kept on trucking. Garvey is known for being the father of Black Nationalism and Zionism, seeking a homeland for African Americans. He also ruffled the feathers of W.E.B. Debois and pretty much everybody by consorting with the KKK, with the attitude that, while they were hateful racists, at least they were honest about it.
Our final candiate for wiki-study is Charles Sumner. Marcus Garvey Blvd has an identity crisis: Though it runs through Bed-Stuy and only through Bed-Stuy, it pretends to have another name, like it's the continuation of some other street. Maybe it was renamed, recently, maybe the street just enjoys being deceptive. Whatever the case, Sumner is an appropriate predecessor to Garvey, as an abolitionist and as the receptor of angry anti-black violence. Sumner was a Congressman preceding the Civil War, but a rad one, lyrical and idealistic, his writing style both fluid and biblical. It comes as no surprise, then, when arguing against the Southern opposition to slave freedom he exercised a little literary licence, likening his opponents to Pimps and Lechers, he derided them for supporting an immoral practice, orating: "Of course he has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight. I mean the harlot Slavery."
This sat none too well with southern Congressman Preston Brooks, who decided to take matters into his own hands and beat Sumner within an inch of death with his cane. On the Senate Floor. In front of dozens of clerks and witnesses. That didn't do a lot for the reputation of southern intellectual prowess. So Sumner got whacked, Garvey got shot, and both had streets named after them. History wasn't as kind to Kilroe and Brooks, though I hear Preston and his brother Elisha did rather well with a line of mens suits...(n't).
Which brings me back to Bed-Stuy. Bed-Stuy, the place of legend. Bed-Stuy, the gap in the subway maps. The vanguard of gentrification (oh, hey folks, sorry about that...). The place, according to rap songs, where people get beat up and shot. How fitting, then, that ol' Garvey and Sumner hang out around here.