1905-1965, BBC Journalist
Una Marson was born on 6 February 1905 in Santa Cruz, Jamaica, into a Baptist, bourgeois family. Trained as a stenographer, Marson joined the staff of the newspaper Jamaica Critic in 1926 as an assistant-editor, before becoming the first Jamaican woman to edit and publish her own paper, The Cosmopolitan, in 1928.
In addition to her work as a journalist, Marson was also a poet and playwright. In 1930 she published her first collection of poems, Tropic Reveries, which was awarded the Musgrave Medal by the Institute of Jamaica. Her second collection, Heights and Depths, was published in 1931, followed shortly thereafter by her first play, the critically-acclaimed At What a Price. In these early writings, Marson addressed the issue of ‘colourism’—a vestige of colonialism that favours those with lighter skin tones—and encouraged women to speak out publicly on political and social issues.
Though speaking from an upper-middle-class vantage point, Marson nonetheless stressed the necessity to “uplift the poor in order to uplift the black community as a whole”. Her intellectual positions evolved towards a more anti-racist and internationalist tendency as soon as she settled in London in 1932. She joined the League of Coloured Peoples, founded by Harold Moody, and was appointed editor of the organization’s newspaper, The Keys, where she published her poem “Nigger” in 1933. During this period, she also became active in the Pan-African movement and worked alongside leaders such as Jomo Kenyatta, George Padmore and C.L.R. James. Marson continued to be involved in feminist organizations, like the International Alliance of Women and the British Commonwealth League, where she positioned herself explicitly as a black woman fighting against racism and colonialism.
In 1935, Marson was the first black woman to be invited by the Secretary General of the League of Nations in Geneva to learn about the organization's activities. She spent three weeks there as a collaborator in the information section. The following year Marson returned as the personal secretory of Haile Selassie, the emperor of Ethiopia, who had come to defend Ethiopia's cause before the League of Nations. At the end of this mandate, and due to the overwhelming workload, Marson experienced a short depression and returned to Jamaica. She spent two years there, during which Marson threw herself into activist work. She created the Jamaica Women’s Liberal Club and cofounded the Save the Jamaican Children’s Fund along with Amy Bailey and Marie Morris-Knibb. This period back home in Jamaica also proved fruitful for her as a playwright. Marson published London Calling in 1937 and Pocomania in 1938, both of which addressed feminist issues and valorised African cultures.
Marson returned to London in 1941, where she became the first black woman to work for the BBC as a journalist. She joined the Calling the West Indies program team, which relayed messages from soldiers at the front to their families and became the producer a year later. She renamed it the “Caribbean Voices program” and worked with George Orwell and T.S. Elliot to make it a platform for the literary diffusion of Caribbean authors.
In 1945, Marson published her final poem Towards the Stars and suffered another depressive episode, which led her to once again return to Jamaica. After recovering, Marson continued to devote herself to the causes of literature and social justice. Marson died of a heart attack in 1965 in Kingston, Jamaica.
- Jarrett-Macauley, Delia, The Life of Una Marson, 1905-1965, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1998.
- Reddock, Rhoda, « Diversity, Difference and Caribbean Feminism: The Challenge of Anti-Racism », in Caribbean Review of Gender Studies: A Journal of Caribbean perspectives on Gender and Feminism, n° 1, 2007, (https://sta.uwi.edu/crgs/april2007/index.asp).
- Umoren, Imaobong D., « "This is the Age of Woman": Black Feminism and Black Internationalism in the Works of Una Marson, 1928-1938 », in History of Women in the Americas, Vol. 1, N° 1, 2013, pp. 50-73.
- Umoren, Imaobong D., Race Women Internationalists. Activists-intellectuals and Global Freedom Struggles, Oakland, University of California Press, 2018.
- « Una Marson », in Wikipédia, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Una_Marson).