On July 18, 2020, I was privileged to be the master of ceremonies at the Celebration of Life honoring the passage to the heavens for Marshall Taylor. So many people came forth to speak of this man, his life’s works and his contributions to the African-American people of North Omaha, one of the smallest populations of Black people in all 50 states.
The program went for nearly 2.5 hours, COVID-19 safe, with nearly 150 people in masks and chairs six-feet apart outside on the plaza of the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation Park grounds in North Omaha. There were at least 15 speakers and four musical presentations, as well as a formal U.S. Air Force American flag presentation ceremony for his wife, Annlattea “Annette” Green-Taylor and family, including a 21-gun salute for the retired senior master sergeant.
I opened the celebration with a quotation from Marcus Garvey. In the pantheon of great leaders that have risen among the Black race over the last 500 years, surely one of the most significant is Marcus Garvey. During the 1920’s, he created a global Black organization called the University Negro Improvement Association. With chapters in almost 50 nations and hundreds of chapters in Black communities throughout the United States, UNIA remains the largest, global Black people’s organization ever created in modern world history. I let the words of Marcus Garvey pay tribute to Marshall Taylor, and the substance of Taylor’s life.
“So few of us can understand what it takes to make a man – the man who will never say die; the man who will never give up; the man who will never depend upon others to do for him what he ought to do for himself; the man who will not blame God, who will not blame Nature, who will not blame Fate for his condition; but the man who will go out and make conditions to suit himself.”
Marshall Taylor was the preeminent master teacher of African history for 40 years in Nebraska, not just about the African-American experience, but the global diaspora experience of the millions of Black people kidnapped and taken away from Mother Africa to be enslaved all over the world. The first book Taylor ever encouraged me to read was Chancellor Williams’s magnum opus, The Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of the Race from 4500 B.C. to 2000 A.D. That is an arc of 6,500 years! Marshall Taylor could teach the history of the Black race with complete knowledge and authority for every one of those 6,500 years. It was his passion and his mission in life. Had he just chosen to remain the deep-thinking intellectual, his place in the Hall of Fame of great Black minds would still be assured. But Marshall Taylor lived the words of Marcus Garvey.
Never in my life, and I am 73 years old, have I known a man so infused with such knowledge of history, philosophy, art, culture, mathematics, science. African-Americans were never “slaves” to Marshall Taylor. We were captured prisoners of war, we were kidnapped victims of Western Civilization. He dedicated his life to reminding all of us, from the illiterate to college educated, that we are not and never have been the Black people that white supremacy forced us to become. I accompanied Marshall Taylor on many, many occasions as we visited Nebraska’s prisons and fellowshipped with two generations of incarcerated African-Americans over the years.
He is the most revered non-prisoner in the history of the Harambee Afrikan Cultural Organization, the self-improvement educational social group created by the Nebraska Two – wrongly convicted Black Panther political prisoners Edward Poindexter and the late Mondo Ewen we Langa (born David Rice). From the beginning of the organization in the mid-1970s, until his health finally forced him to stand down in 2019, Marshall Taylor was a mainstay at Harambee meetings and special programs.
In developing the Aframerican Bookstore with his wife, Annette, Marshall created a thriving small business in the continually struggling community economy of North Omaha. He was also a founding member of the OEC, the Omaha Economic Council and inspired numerous African-Americans to start and sustain their own small businesses.
The term “Renaissance Man” is tossed around so much these days, it has lost its real potency. But Marshall Taylor was such a man. As Marcus Garvey wrote, Marshall Taylor exemplified the belief that Black people have too much brain power, too much muscle power, too much self-respect and dignity to keep begging others to do for us what we know we can do for ourselves if we will unite and work together.
When it was time to fix a car or electric motor, a pipe or an electrical wiring problem, Marshall Taylor believed the first responsibility was to learn how to do it ourselves. He served on the Board of Directors of the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation for over 20 years. But “served” doesn’t do him justice. He was the Malcolm X Center’s carpenter, electrician, plumber, landscaper, and he personally led the annual grass cutting of the Malcolm X Park’s 14 acres until he was 82 years old. If the tractor mower broke down, Marshall would be out in the hot summer sun, in the middle of the field. He would fix it, get back on and keep mowing.
Whether at the Center or the Bookstore, Marshall Taylor ALWAYS made time for those yearning to know more about our people and how to better our community. He adored children and it was his greatest joy to entertain them and educate them with stories of THEIR heritage. Warren Buffet may have given away more money – quantitatively – than Marshall Taylor, but Buffet never has, and never will, beat Marshall Taylor for giving. Taylor donated books to organizations, schools, prison inmates; opened the cash register for so many community causes, and gave books away to people who didn’t quite have the price of a book, or even two books, especially if the books were for children.
Near the end of his physical life, Marshall Taylor regretted not getting to the book he always wanted to write.
At his Home-Going Life Celebration on July 18, a dozen speakers testified to the reality that Marshall Taylor’s “book” is already written. Walter Vincent Brooks is a page, Leo Louis is a page, so are Shakur Abdullah, Sharif Liwaru, Felicia Webster, Elija Ali, Jannette Taylor and Yshall Davis. Or ask his wife, or Marshall’s seven children. Everybody who knew him is a page in “The Marshall Taylor Book of Life.”
And Marshall Taylor did it all, while the most Zen Master of Spiritual Quiet I have known in my lifetime. The man NEVER TALKED about himself. I have known Marshall Taylor for over 35 years. He opened my mind and heart to so many great truths of human existence and Black potential, as well as practical capabilities in everyday living. But as far as Marshall Taylor HIMSELF, personally, I hardly knew the man. Seriously. If it had to come out of his own mouth, Marshall Taylor never did a damn thing in his life.
So, we’ll all keep his memory alive and the ball rolling, but make no mistake. The passage of Marshall Taylor is the end of an era. Now he dwells with Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Chancellor Williams, James Baldwin, Carter G. Woodson, all those giant, one-of-a-kinds of our race. My, oh, my, aren’t THEY in for a surprise!