I'VE BEEN THINKING this week of two special men who on the surface might not have had any connection, but at a deeper level were tied with a common thread. They died this week, only a few days apart.
Bob Marley, the world famous king of reggae music, and Hoyt W. Fuller, the little-known editor of black literary and political journals were both visionaries, eachl in his own way. They may never have met. But their fiery consciousness set them apart from most of us, and their untimely deaths -- Marley of cancer at 36 and Fuller of a heart attack at 57 -- leave legacies very worthy of note at a time when many blacks appear to have forgotten what "the struggle" was all about.
Marley's message was for oppressed people all over the world to stand up. At a time when many other popular lyricists were content to write about making love, disco and freaking out, Bob Marley's songs called for independence, revolution and positive self-identity.
Fuller, a very different kind of man, made the black revolution as popular in words as the activists made it on the streets. He was a mentor for many black writers and artists recognized as the new wave among their peers. He was a fulcrum for the development of a rich new body of literature on black consciousness firmly rooted in a positive identification with the African past -- and present.
Both epitomized the revolutionary spirit of the 1960s. They didn't fade in the 70s. They pressed on into the uncertain 80s. Losing both of them in one week was enough to suggest the end of an era.
The closest American counterpart to Marley is Stevie Wonder, who once in 1979 made an impromptu appearance with Marley during a concert in Philadelphia. It was an emotional evening. The crowd seemed to undulate to the ska beat:
"Get Up, Stand Up! Stand up for your rights!"
Moved by the moment, Wonder joined Marley on stage. Many in the crowd wept. Reggae had a lasting effect on Wonder. One of the song's on his "Hotter Than July" album, "Master Blaster," is a tribute to Marley.
Bob Marley is alive in the minds of some at Dianna's West Indian Restaurant on Georgia Avenue.Washington record producer Charles Long pushed back his plate of saffron-colored curried chicken, stew peas and rice, and recalled a meeting with Bob Marley in February 1980 at Marley's home, "Island House" on Hope Road in Kingston. Long had gone to talk with Marley about an American tour. [It later was canceled due to cancer that would eventually kill him].
"I felt a certain presence. I have been in the presence of Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley," he began. "With both I felt a presence like I felt with Jesse Jackson. It's an up. It's very intense. It says, 'i'm going to do and say and change the way things are to the way things are intended to be.'"
Marley made his musical debut in the early sixties, years of tremendous optimism in black America. By 1975, he had become a premiere reggae songwriter and singer around the world. It was a fame that found special hearings with some Washingtonians.
Dera Tompkins' apartment near Columbia Road NW is plastered with posters of Bob Marley, reggae singer Judy Mowatt, Jamaican heroes and heroines. She fingered her shoulder-length dreadlocks, the symbol of the Rastafarian faith, as she talked of Marley, whom she knew, as a living example for his Rasta brothers.
Marley is a member of the sect that reveres the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie as God ("Jah") and also smokes mariguana (ganja) as a sacrament. That makes him a flawed hero to some black Americans.
But you really didn't need to understand the religion or be high on ganja to appreciate his music:
"Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery.
"None but yourselves can free our minds."
Fuller helped create audiences for writers, poets and scholars when in 1961 he started editing "Negro Digest," which later was renamed "Black World." When its original publisher, Johnson Publishing Company, discontinued it in the spring of 1976, Fuller began "First World," and fought to get the money to keep it alive. He published the first stories and poems of many younger black writers of fact and fiction. In a way similar to that by which Marley touched other musicians, Fuller touched writers.
Marley, the musician, and Fuller, the intellectual, were essentially loners, as is often the path of the visionary. But it's their single-minded goal that we celebrate, for therein lies the legacy -- and the legend.