Today is the 130 anniversary of the birth of that great leader of African people Marcus Garvey. The article below denotes some of his many achievements.
IN paying tribute to our first national hero, the Right Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey, it should have been easy to only highlight his glowing achievements, but one has to learn to take the bitter with the sweet.
Seventy-five years after his death, we are still not very near in realising the dream Garvey had for his race, the black race.
He was embroiled in a bitter conflict in Jamaica between 1914 and 1916, when he fought bitterly to unite the Negro masses and educate the mostly brown ruling class and a small elite band of a black-skinned intelligentsia, to appreciate their responsibility towards helping to uplift the downtrodden poor black proletariat.
He left Jamaica in 1916 and arrived in America and it seemed that destiny was to plunge him into a situation similar to what he had left in Jamaica. His main purpose was to meet with Booker T Washington, his role model, to learn more about his technical education programme at Washington’s Tuskegee Institute and his philosophy to free the minds of the black people. Garvey and Washington shared a common belief that educated blacks must exercise forbearance with the illiterate and help them see the right.
Garvey’s arrival in America in 1916 was also timely in another sense, as explained in the introduction to the second edition of the book Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, compiled by his 2nd wife Amy Jacques Garvey. The existence of large concentrations of an urbanised and disillusioned negro proletariat in the ghettos of the northern United States provided material for his militant nationalism.
It would not be fair to say, as some of his detractors would like to imply, that it was his pride and his ego that tripped him up and caused his downfall. It would also not be fair to say that it was Edgar Hoover and the Federal Bureau of Investigation that brought about Garvey’s demise and death at the young age of 40.
In his short life span, Garvey achieved and accomplished much but his main enemies were black people in the organisation that he founded.
The black men, who should have been watching his back, hijacked the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) while he was in prison; they robbed him and the so-called black intelligentsia laughed at his UNIA and brought it into disrepute — so thick was their jealousy and envy. I am ashamed to admit this as we pay respect to him on his anniversary, but this same mindset still exists today.
We pay tribute and honour him for being one of the first pan-African Nationals, one who believed in the unity and solidarity with Africans and people of African descent worldwide. Garvey believed until his dying day that unity is vital for economic, social and political progress, and that it is the only vehicle that can improve and uplift all peoples in Africa and the Diaspora.
Garvey’s greatest achievements and accomplishments came at a time when racial prejudice and discrimination were at their zenith in America. He achieved without knowing what a smartphone was going to be, he had no laptop computer, he had no social media at his disposal, and he was able to generate a network that had millions of members all over Africa, her Diaspora and the wider world.
At the height of his power, black people began to prosper, and there was a town known as Tulsa in Oklahoma, USA which had the District of Greenwood that was called the Black Wall Street. Tulsa was mysteriously burnt to the ground …Hmmm! Today we have black leaders with PhDs from Her Majesty’s Commonwealth universities all over Africa and her Diaspora, who can’t even grow their countries’ economies by one per cent annually.
As an entrepreneur par excellence, Garvey generated income through his UNIA and provided jobs through the numerous enterprises that were owned. These included a chain of grocery shops and restaurants, a laundry, tailor shop, dressmaking shop, millinery shop selling clothes, fashionable hats, accessories etc. There was a doll factory that made dolls in the images of pretty little black babies. Garvey published his own newspaper and owned the publishing house. In New York City, Garvey owned several buildings and a fleet of trucks. He organised the Black Cross Nurses Unit and a Corps of Black Security Guards. His UNIA operated the Phyllis Wheatley Hotel at 3-13 West 136th Street in New York.
His Black Star Line Shipping Company was to be his weak spot, and those who prosecuted and persecuted him at home and abroad went straight for it.
In defence of his Black Star Line Company, this is what he said “…The Black Star line, as we all know, was but a small attempt or experiment of the race to fit and prepare ourselves for the bigger effort in the direction of racial self reliance and self- determination. To say that we have failed because a few black and white unscrupulous people deceived and robbed us is to admit that the colonialisation scheme of America failed, because a few Pilgrim Fathers died at Plymouth. The Black Star line was only part of an honest effort on the part of real negroes to re-establish themselves as a worthy people, among the other races and nations on Earth and but a small contribution in the plan of a free and redeemed Africa for the negro peoples in the world. I was convicted, not because anyone was defrauded in the temporary failure of the Black Star line, but because I represented a movement for the real emancipation of my race.”
I must share one of the best ironies of all. It is the mother of all ironies.
Dr William E DuBois, the light-skinned mulatto, along with other brown skinned and black-skinned intellectuals, who had laughed at and ridiculed Garvey, eventually came to his senses. He admitted that Garvey’s philosophies and opinions were indeed correct, and the only solution to Africa and her Diaspora’s problems. He abandoned his birthplace, the United States of America and adopted Ghana as his new country and spent the rest of his life in Africa. He was given full honours in Ghana and his earthly remains now rest in Africa.
I will let Garvey, this great man who is so undervalued by his own race, have the last say. In 1922 he said “…If the Negro were to live in this Western Hemisphere for another five hundred years, he would still be outnumbered by other races who are prejudiced against him. He cannot resort to the Government for protection, for the Government will be in the hands of the majority of the people who are prejudiced against him. For the negro to depend on the ballot and his industrial progress alone will be hopeless, as they do not help him when he is shot, hanged (lynched), imprisoned, burned, Jim-crowed and segregated. The future of the Negro outside of Africa spells ruin and disaster.”
The prophet speaks more truth when he said “…No negro, let him be American, European, West Indian or African, shall be truly respected until the race as a whole has emancipated itself, through self-achievement and progress from universal prejudice. To do this, the negro will have to build his own government, industry, art, science, literature and culture before the world will stop to consider him. Until then, we are but wards of a superior race and civilisation and the outcasts of a standard social system.”
Seventy-five years after his death, the Right Excellent Marcus Garvey is still prophetic, because our so-called ‘elite’ black leaders and ‘elite’ black intelligentsia in Africa and the Diaspora, have made us wards of the International Monetary Fund and wards of the Chinese and all other races, scholarship foundations, such as Commonwealth, Rhodes, Fulbright, and other organisations and individuals that we present with our begging bowls, for bailouts and other monetary and social assistance.
Happy birthday anniversary Your Excellency – One God, One Aim, One Destiny!
Source: Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey: Compiled by Amy Jacques Garvey; 2nd Edition and
Volume 2: Africa for the Africans.
Valerie Dixon is an educator and lady president of Universal Negro Improvement Association
Thanks for your attention.