Marcus Garvey: The Pan-African King
A person with no self-pride can never live a complete life. There is nothing more traumatic, depressing and unfortunate than an individual who doesn’t know who they are. Black People in America have been fighting the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, Reconstruction, Black Codes, Jim Crow, Systematic Racism, Segregation, Housing Discrimination, corrupt Judicial System, Police Brutality, The KKK, and 80’s Drug Laws during our existence on these lands. There has been a War against our very essence since we arrived. When various cultures are displaced, you are literally stripped of an essential connection to your people. Societies connected to the African Diaspora that were traded globally ended up primarily in the Americas and various Caribbean Islands. We simply lost our sense of self. Well, our sense of self was taken. When you lose your sense of self and identity, it’s easier to be defeated spiritually, emotionally, sexually and physically by opposition. When you don’t know who you are, it’s impossible to have pride in who you are as a Man, Woman or Child. In the history of this nation, there have been Black Leaders, Intellectuals, Educators, Abolitionist, and overall determined souls who put their lives on the line for the betterment of the entire race. One of the leading soldiers in our “Global War” was none other than Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr.
In War there are casualties and soldiers provide the ultimate sacrifice. To truly understand the journey and battles Garvey faced, we have to start from the beginning. Let me first say that Marcus Garvey was a brilliant man. Garvey was well versed, well educated and knew exactly who he was before he ever set foot in America. Born in 1887 in Jamaica, Garvey was raised in a large family with eleven siblings but only two live into adulthood, him and a sister. Garvey was an avid reader and his father owned a huge library at their home. For the time period in which Garvey was raised, his family was considered somewhat successful. Garvey had a strong ambition to travel and learn as much as he could. By the time Garvey was 25 years old, he had resided in his hometown of Saint Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, Kingston, Panama, Costa Rica and London. Remember, this is all between 1887 and 1914. Needless to say, racial challenges, danger, inequality and opposition followed Garvey during his travels. Garvey was a printer’s apprentice at one point and an editor of a News Paper in Costa Rica and Panama. Garvey participated in printer strikes and union activities as he experienced injustice in various nations. During this time, Garvey was influenced by several Civil Rights Leaders and started to form his own opinions in regard to Africa, African Americans and racial disparities that Africans faced worldwide. The formation of his ideologies started to manifest from within.
Garvey studied several great minds before his rise to prominence. Booker T. Washington was one of the Educators that Garvey observed. Garvey didn’t agree with all of Booker T. Washington’s philosophies but he did agree with his economic stance. Garvey had an early interest in what it took to be totally independent financially from those in power. There were a number of amazing African American minds that laid the foundation for Garvey to expand his thinking by the time he reached New York City in 1916. A few notable intellectuals include Henry Highland, Edward Wilmot Blyden, Martin Delany and Prince Hall. Garvey started to push the idea of Pan Africanism more than his peers. Garvey was all about solidarity. When we think about our current position in America, our power is generally showcased at times when solidarity is the primary focus. Garvey understood this at an early age and often lectured on economic empowerment. Garvey wanted to unify and uplift people of African descent not only in America, but globally. Garvey traveled back and forth from New York to Jamaica as he established the United Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) in Akron, Ohio. Garvey eventually started a chapter in New York with 13 members and in less than 3 months, there were over 3,500 members that also paid dues. As you can see, Garvey was starting to make a name in America. Garvey was also attempting to build schools in Jamaica after corresponding with Booker T. Washington and visiting the Tuskegee Institute. As Garvey somewhat made a home in New York, he would work as a printer by day and at night he would do speeches everywhere. You could find a young Marcus Garvey on street corners in New York and other cities talking about social conditions.
After the East St. Louis riots in 1917, Garvey delivered a speech called “The Conspiracy of the East St. Lois Riots” in Harlem that discussed the Missouri murders. The East St. Louis Riots was a labor related race riot in which 40 Black People were killed. It has been described as the worst labor related riot of the 20the Century. It is said over 3000 White Men Marched and attacked African Americans that desired justice in regard to labor conditions. You should read up on the history behind this riot at your leisure. You see, America is not utopia. This type of violence was normal against Black People. Garvey was at a point where his entire views changed in regard to America and the World. Garvey would eventually develop the idea that all Blacks should go back to Africa. You see, people were mad at conditions but scholars such as Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois were all about enhancing the status of Blacks in America, but not actually trying to go back to Africa. People thought Marcus Garvey was crazy for thinking this was a reality but he was serious. Du Bois and Washington wanted Blacks to have the same rights as White Americans. Don't get me wrong, Washington and W.E.B. were not friends, but I digress. Garvey wanted Black People to be totally independent of White People and he believed in segregation. Garvey had no interest in integration.
By 1920, Garvey’s UNIA had over 4 million members. In less than 5 years after his speech in Harlem about the East St. Louis Riots Garvey had expanded the UNIA, started the Black Star Line (ships/boats), his own News Paper (The Negro World) where he wrote weekly headlines and other business ventures. Of course this momentum came with controversy. Garvey argued that people of African descent are "One People", because they all shared a common racial condition and history. Based on this, Garvey developed a universal flag, news paper, religion, and national anthem, attempted to establish a government and economy under the banner of Pan-Africanism. Maybe he was trying to do too much but either way, somebody had to do it. Garvey also organized world conferences, this is still unmatched today. During this time, Garvey married his first wife, Amy Ashwood Garvey who was also a founder of the UNIA. During his lifetime, Garvey was married twice and had two children. His second wife, Amy Jacques Garvey played a major role in his movement. It is said that she was one of the first female (Black) journalist in America. As you can imagine, if you're becoming a large figure in America as a Black Man during the 1920’s (30's, 40's etc..), the United States Government is going to attack you. Garvey started being followed, investigated and harassed. At one point Garvey wrote about his mistreatment by local law enforcement in an article in The Negro World which led to him being shot and arrested. I’m sure this all sounds very familiar at this point. You know, a typical day in America. Garvey continued to teach economic solidarity over the next few years and this was during The Harlem Renaissance which enhanced his public profile even more. Garvey often used the slogan “One God, One Aim, One Destiny” which also showed love to black veterans of the First World War.
As I previously stated, Garvey had ambitions of taking Black People back to Africa. The Black Star Line eventually closed but the idea was brilliant in my opinion. W.E.B. Du Bois at one point said that The Black Star Line was promising but he also stated “Marcus Garvey is, without a doubt the most dangerous enemy of the Negro race in America and in the World. He is either a lunatic or a traitor.” I never understood this comment by Du Bois because it’s safe to say Jim Crow was far worse for Black People in comparison to Marcus Garvey. Du Bois felt that Garvey’s movement was dangerous to what he had established for Black People (NAACP, Niagara Movement etc...) over the years. Du Bois also stated at one point that Garvey was a “Little, fat Black Man; ugly but with intelligent eyes and a big head”. Garvey's response to Du Bois was he was “purely and simply a White Man’s Nigger” among other insults. Obviously, I have never been a fan of Black Intellectuals who can’t simply agree to disagree while keeping a universal front. In 2018, we still have these issues. Now, I must admit Garvey did have a few ideologies that I never understood. At one point when several of his businesses closed, he started to spend time in the South fighting racism. A lot of Black People took offense to Garvey meeting with KKK Imperial Edward Young Clarke in Atlanta (1922). He stated that he respected the Klan and their honestly over other white people who were potential Klansman. Several prominent Black Leaders and supporters were so upset with Garvey during this time that they wanted him deported back to Jamaica.
Getting rid of Marcus Garvey was becoming the ambition of J. Edgar Hoover as well. During early and mid 1920’s Hoover was serving as special assistant to the Attorney General. Hoover and his team started to investigate Garvey. Garvey’s financials were investigated and a charge of mail fraud was brought against Garvey in connection with his stock sales of The Black Star Line. Ironically enough, Hoover and the BOI (Bureau of Investigation) hired its first five African American Agents. I find it interesting that the first Black People hired by the BOI’s initial job was to assist in the investigation of Marcus Garvey. Garvey was eventually arrested, did jail time and deported back to Jamaica where he was a national hero and legendary figure from his years of commitment to his native country, black people and following. Several years later Garvey traveled to Geneva to present the Petition of the Negro Race. The petition outlined the World Wide Abuse of Africans to the League of Nations. The League of Nations foundation was “World Peace” and was established after World War 1. Garvey wanted the entire world to understand the mistreatment of his people. I honestly believe Garvey was all about the African Diaspora.
“Marcus Garvey was the first man of color to develop and lead a mass movement. He was the first man on a mass scale and level to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Marcus Garvey touched so many aspects of Black Life in America. Hip Hop has always shown respect, admiration and reverence for Garvey as well. Any Rapper (MC) who speak on social issues have referenced Garvey in their lyrics. I guess this influence makes perfect sense given the fact that Garvey lead the largest black movement in history. Our American School System will not teach the youth about this but Rap Music and Hip Hop has done Garvey justice. Two of my favorite Rappers Mos Def and Talib Kweli decided to name their group Black Star. Garvey's influence is noticed deeply in their debut album. Other artist such as KRS, Dead Presidents and a never ending list of artist have mentioned Garvey often.
"Exported Marcus Garvey cause he tried to spark us/ With knowledge of ourselves and our forefathers". - The RZA #TheW
Kendrick Lamar rapped "Last time I check, we was racing with Marcus Garvey/ On the freeway to Africa 'til I wreck my Audi".
"They tried to burn me, lynch me and starve me So I had to come back as Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley They tried to harm me, I used to be Malcolm X Now I'm on the planet as the one called KRS" - KRS off the track Ah-Yeah
At the end of the day, Marcus Garvey is one of the greatest figures in World History. Garvey’s ideologies and influence still live today, almost 80 years after his death. Garveyism is an aspect of Black Nationalism that focuses on the economics and politics of UNIA. At one point there were millions of followers with thousands of local divisions spread out in America, the Caribbean, Central America, Canada and Africa. No other African or African American had this type of influence and power. Entire movements were inspired by the life of Marcus Garvey. I don’t believe Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela has the overall impact of Marcus Garvey. American History in terms of Academia has not been kind to Marcus Garvey because he doesn’t fit a comfortable narrative. It has been said that Garvey’s teachings were vital in the formation of the Nation of Islam and the Rastafari Movement (Garvey is a Prophet to the followers). After Garvey’s death in 1940, he was named Jamaica’s first National Hero. Schools, Colleges, Highways, Ghana’s Football Team the Black Stars, and Buildings in Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and the United States have been named after him. It’s funny when I hear racist say “If you don’t like it, go back to Africa”. Well, Marcus Garvey was trying to do just that. Garvey was ahead of his time which is why he was attacked by the United States Government and a few Black Leaders. Don’t get me wrong, Garvey is not a flawless individual. With that being said, Garvey loved Africans. Garvey had a strong desire to see Black People becoming economically independent. Each time one of us reaches a certain status, our mentality should be elevating the next Black Person. Today, much of the traditions birthed in the Garvey movement can be found among African people globally. As the sun starts to set on these thoughts, we pay homage to Marcus Mosiah Garvey.
Black Star (Mos Def & Talib Kweli "Bright As The Stars"...
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