“With confidence, you have won before you have started.” “Chance has never yet satisfied the hope of a suffering people.” “Liberate the minds of men and ultimately you will liberate the bodies of men.” “Africa for the Africans… at home and abroad!” -Marcus Garvey
Marcus Mosiah Garvey“I do not speak carelessly or recklessly but with a definite object of helping the people, especially those of my race, to know, to understand, and to realize themselves.”
- -Marcus Garvey, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1937
In several ways, and certainly from political and cultural standpoints, we are still weighing the monumental impact of Marcus Garvey around the world. His clarion call of: “One Aim, One God, One Destiny,” and “Africans for Africans at home and abroad,” still resonate, having an especially significant value in the spiritual and psychological outlook of Black people wherever they reside.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, in 1887, descended from the fiercely proud Maroons. He founded the newspaper The Negro World, which took as its motto his nationalist cry, “One God, One Aim, One Destiny.” In 1917, he founded UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association) in Harlem. Its aims were described in a speech delivered by Garvey in 1924 at Madison Square Garden, New York: “The Universal Improvement Association represents the hopes and aspirations of the awakened Negro. Our desire is for a place in the world, not to disturb the tranquility of other men, but to lay down our burden and rest our weary backs and feet by the banks of the Niger and sing our songs and chant our hymns to the God of Ethiopia.”
Garvey was virtually self-taught, reading voraciously from his father’s extensive library. By 1910, and then residing in Kingston, he quickly established himself as an orator, a skill that was the hallmark of his illustrious political career. For the next four years or so Garvey traveled throughout the West Indies, Central America and Europe, primarily working as a printer and an editor. In England he worked briefly at the prestigious Africa Times and Orient Review, where he came under the estimable influence of Duse Muhammad. Upon his return to Jamaica, he was convinced of a need for an organization to uplift the downtrodden people of his island. Thus was born the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).
Two years later, after being completely captivated by Booker T. Washington’s autobiography “Up From Slavery,” Garvey wrote to the great man and was soon thinking of building his own institution modeled after Washington’s Tuskegee Institute. Through the correspondence with Washington, Garvey made plans to visit the United States. Unfortunately, when he finally arrived in America, Washington had died the previous year in 1915, but a visionary like Garvey was not deterred by this setback. As part of his introduction to the states, Garvey toured the country, lecturing and establishing contacts. It took the energetic Garvey only a couple of years to place the UNIA on the political map, and this notoriety was ushered along by his extremely potent weekly the Negro World.
At its peak, some historians have written, the UNIA boasted a membership of more than four million, with almost as many sympathizers. How it rose to this prominence and its ultimate eclipse which has been insightfully discussed in the works of Robert Hill and Tony Martin. What is apparent in their exhaustive studies is the powerful impression Garvey left on our spiritual and mental health. His fervent nationalism, his belief in self-reliance is an indelible stamp that marks our progress as a people.
Marcus Garvey’s “Back to Africa” movement developed the spirit of Ethiopianism to its fullest extent. He stressed, “…since white people have seen their God through white spectacles, we have only now started out (late though it be) to see our God through our own spectacles. The God of Isaac and the God of Jacob let him exist for the race that believes in the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. We Negroes believe in the God of Ethiopia, the everlasting God — God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, the one God of all ages. That is the God in whom we believe, but we shall worship him through the spectacles of Ethiopia.”
Garvey’s words planted the seeds for most “Black movements” in the US and Caribbean. Stressing the superiority of the ancient Africans and the dignity of the black race, he inspired many successful nationalist movements and numerous African leaders from Kenyatta to Nyerere. Garvey’s goal of repatriation was expressed in his famous slogan “Africa for the Africans.” His well-known Black Star Line steamship company was established to trade and eventually carry New World blacks to Africa. This prophet of African redemption was not always successful in his countless business ventures, but by the 1920s Garvey was the most powerful leader among the black masses in the United States.
In 1916, before he left for his US campaign, Garvey’s farewell address to Jamaicans included the words “Look to Africa for the crowning of a Black king; he shall be the Redeemer.” Due to hostile propaganda but also because of its latter day connection with Rastafarianism Garvey’s message is thought to be a simplistic one of repatriating all Black people to Africa. Actually, Garvey preached that the Negro race needed a strong nation which would necessarily be based in Africa for the protection of Black peoples the World over. Much as Europeans and Americans are protected by their country. Nor was Garvey’s idea of racial pride a matter of envy towards other races, rather he advocated self-discipline as a basis of pride and was severely critical of complainers: “We are to envious, malicious and superficial and because of this we keep back ourselves”. By the time Garvey finally got permission to visit Trinidad in 1937, the UNIA had been broken by internal corruption and US government harassment (both given great assistance by Trinidadians). Three years later he died of heart failure in London.
We salute the magnificent Garvey on this 125th year of his birth, knowing that his prodigious soul-force will carry us through the 21st century and beyond.Compiled By Cheikh Ahmadou Banba Mbacké, NBLC CEO and DOBOBO Managing Editor.