Una Marson: A pioneering journalist, activist and poet

Tribute by Connie Bell to Una Marson's contribution to cultural memory

By Black Cultural Archives

Una MarsonBlack Cultural Archives

As we celebrate Una Marson (1905 - 1965), we acknowledge her many accomplishments and contributions to Jamaica's cultural nationalism and Black British culture. 

By Wallace KirklandLIFE Photo Collection

Una Maud Victoria Marson was born on the 6th of February 1905, in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. Her father, Reverend Solomon Marson, was a Baptist Minister and her mother, Ada Marson was a talented organist.

Una MarsonBlack Cultural Archives

Raised in a middle-class home and the last of nine children, Una would soon win a scholarship to attend Hampton Girls School. Thereafter, she left to work at the Salvation Army and YMCA.  Her industrious work ethic is echoed in one of her first staged works, which presented a working female protagonist. This work was the start of many public-facing pieces, addressing cultural forms, class systems, and the feminine's positionally in colonial patriarchal society.

Una MarsonBlack Cultural Archives

Celebrating Una Marson with DTA Live Radio

From being the first Jamaican female editor-publisher for The Cosmopolitan, a political magazine in Jamaica, to becoming the first Black female producer at the BBC alongside her plays and poetry, Una Marson's work produced safe spaces for important conversations.

Listen to the audio from Connie Bell (Broadcaster and Memory Worker) on DTA LIVE Radio, explaining her pioneering impact on Black women globally. You can also hear the full version here.

Una MarsonBlack Cultural Archives

Una Marson's conscious journalism and creative activism, made her a pioneering visionary marked by the fact that she was the first to document and celebrate the possibilities for Black women in Jamaica and later Britain, on a major stage in the early 20th century.

Una MarsonBlack Cultural Archives

Una Marson never sought fame, her contribution to Pan Africanism and cultural nationalism has often been neglected by history. Through her life and work she demonstrated the early stirrings of a Black feminist-nationalist agenda. She recognised the use of literary culture in activism and addressed the dichotomy of the lived experiences of her people, as opposed to how those experiences were documented academically. 

Una MarsonBlack Cultural Archives

Marson brought Caribbean culture to the mainstream and popularised its vernacular in London, through her work in radio, literary writings and her political activism. She utilised literary culture to comment on the social issues of race, gender, class and economic discrimination experienced across the colonial Empire. 

Marson further highlighted and innovatively documented the vital and instrumental role of Caribbean service men and women to the economical industrial landscape in Britain via her well produced show Caribbean Voices and Calling The West Indies at the BBC.

Una Marson , West Indies Calling (an archive worth revisiting)Black Cultural Archives

Watch the archive footage of Una Marson

In 1938, Una Marson returned to England on the invitation to work for the BBC and in 1941 became the corporation’s first Black female Broadcaster to work as full time staff and as a Producer for her show, Calling The West Indies. 

PocomaniaBlack Cultural Archives

The staging of her socio-political play and landmark production, At What a Price in 1933 at the YMCA hostel in Great Russell Street, and then again in 1934 on the West End at The Scala, brings into sharp focus her technique and talent to include the stories of her people, by her people, as the play showcased a diversity of African, Caribbean and Black British voices. 

Thus further registering Marson’s understanding of the Black internationalist perspective regarding people of African descent.

Una MarsonBlack Cultural Archives

Una Marson’s sojourn in Britain and the wider African diaspora must be noted as not mere coincidence, but as a consequence of having integrity to social justice and doing the work that needs to be done.

Una MarsonBlack Cultural Archives

As an advocate and ally for Pan Africanism and social justice, she offered her services to the Ethiopian minister Dr. Charles Martin and further to that offered secretarial support to His Majesty Haile Selassi, Emperor of Ethiopia.

Una MarsonBlack Cultural Archives

After her last activist platform, where she was a guest speaker at a three-day conference in Jerusalem, Marson was taken ill in Jerusalem and flew back to Jamaica on 10th April, 1965. 

Una Marson, Tropic Reveries (1930)Black Cultural Archives

After 10 days in hospital, she sadly suffered a heart attack and died on 6th May, 1965, in Jamaica.  

In each space, Una Marson served and committed herself to the causes of her time and remains an influential figure in history. Learn more about her life here.

Credits: Story

Decolonising The Archive -  Connie Bell as part of the University of Repair project has created an artistic journal response to the Journalism, Creative Literary Archiving  and Cultural Ambassadorship of Una Maud Marson. 

Connie Bell is a Cultural Producer/ Memory Worker / Radio Broadcaster. 
See more from Connie Bell here website & social media
Audio copyright held by the artist, no reproduction without consent of the artist

Rastafari In Motion (online Magazine) 
Decolonising The Archive 
Blue Banyan Publishers
Imperial War Museum 
Fred Ramage/Felix Man/Stringer via Getty Images
British Library
JPI Media
Kayodeine Gomez 
Shamoyle Ali
Dr.Robbie Shilliam
Merit Herut Ur Senbisa  
Ras Coswadada 

Jarrett-Macauley, D. The Life of Una Marson 1905-65, Manchester University Press, 1998

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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