Part one of two (1887 – 1927)
”I know no national boundary where the Negro is concerned. The whole world is my province until Africa is free” – Marcus Garvey
Garvey and Global Thinking:
Today we see successes of regional economic partnerships and trade agreements – NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), and the European Union for example; integrating people and cultures – whether through trade or economics, one cannot help, but see what Marcus Mosiah Garvey wanted for the African people. And this is only the iceberg’s tip; with technology’s help, borders will disappear from nations, to allow herculean trading and economic alliances – far beyond our present imagination. But in the Caribbean, Garvey’s cradle – we see failure in regional integration (Caribbean Court of Justice and trade negotiations), because of cultural modularization, Anancy stories and xenophobia. These impediments distract from using sound strategic compass as a negotiating guideline. Maybe each nation needs a Minister of Regional Relations – responsible for developing the region’s common good, or Garvey’s motto: “One God, One Aim, One Destiny”, should be dusted off and redeploy as a guide for future negotiations.
Saluting the Rt. Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey – A Citizen of the World
Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, August 17, 1887, with self-determination principle woven into his mind that grew head and shoulder above his peers. He red many books and allowed his mind to roamed freely – away from his parochial, but picturesque seaside town. When Negroes – black people, had meagre rights, Garvey saw himself no less than a man, worthy of all rights and privileges. He left his parents – Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Sr., a mason and Sarah Jane Richards, a domestic worker, for his printing apprenticeship in Port Maria, St. Mary, 1904, and was the leader of the country’s first Printers Union strike in 1908. The strike failed, the union disbanded and Garvey blacklisted, but still managed to published a small journal – Garvey’s Watchman.
He toured Central America and arrived in London in the spring of 1912, where he worked as a printer, and took evening courses in law at Birkbeck College – an extension of the University of London. Garvey was a quick study, who engaged himself to the social issues of his people, but his ability to captivate audiences with the spoken words without fear distinguished him, and to further sharpened his oratory skills, he spent his spare time at the British Parliament, watching Members of Parliament debate one another.
He returned to Jamaica July 15th, 1914, with his mind expanded – Booker T. Washington’s book “Up from Slavery” inspired him, but was disappointed – he saw no progress for his people, mired in a colonial swamp of servitude and injustice. Color prejudice was rampant and those, like Garvey and indeed most of the country with dark skin, were at the bottom of the social ladder, with slim prospects for better life. World War I had started, nations were preparing to defend, enforced and divide the world to their will, and way of life. But to Garvey, the Negro people were peripheral to these events: “Where is the black man’s Government?” “Where is his King and his kingdom?” “Where is his President, his country, and his ambassador, his army, his navy, his men of big affairs?” He could not find them, and so he declared, “I will help to make them.”
Garvey established UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association), with help from well-wishers including, Sir John Pringle, the Rev. William Graham, a Scottish clergyman. In a society drunk on class and colour prejudice, where nobody wanted to be a Negro, Garvey thundered pride and self-reliance into his disadvantaged people – (self-reliance and determination; ideas that should have been enshrined into the Jamaican constitution in 1962, when the country achieved independence). The British – who ruled the Island, worried that UNIA would stir up trouble, but Garvey, whose mind was many sizes bigger than Jamaica, looked to bigger challenge – surrendering to the stars to become one.
“Up you mighty race you can accomplish what you will” – Marcus Garvey
Marcus Garvey arrived in Harlem March 23, 1916, and after some initial struggle, UNIA sprung to life – becoming a great movement uplifting the African people, but especially African-Americans. He became Black Moses and The Negro World – a weekly newspaper he published, his staff – shepherding millions around the world to UNIA’s red, black and green flag. But the wounds inflicted on African-Americans before and after the United States Civil War were deep – psychological gashes that crippled and chained their minds: The trial and beheading of Nat Turner – an educated slave and leader of the August 21st 1831, rebellion that killed 55 white men in Southampton County, Virginia – an event that costs almost 200 innocent Negroes their lives.
The Supreme Court ruling against Dredd Scott confirmed that a slave as he was – free or not, was only property not citizen: “Free Negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a ‘citizen’ within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States” – Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Roger B. Taney, March 1857
The siege of Harpers Ferry’s Armory by abolitionist John Brown and 19 others – Oct. 16th, 1859, insurrection crushed under the command of Colonel Robert. E. Lee and Lt. J.E.B. Stuart – both men later made famous by the civil war. Lee as Commanding General of the Confederate State Army, and J.E.B. Stuart, promoted to Major General – his Calvary, the eye of the Confederate Army, went astray for two of the three days critical battle of Gettysburg – July 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, 1863.
But Abraham Lincoln’s assassination April 14th, 1865 was the worst blow to African-Americans. It detoured rights expected at the end of the war – rights that meandered through wilderness and dark valleys of racism for 100 years, and only after much struggles, the present Civil Rights Bill was signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965.
To make matters worse – D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, a landmark, but racist film screened at the White House in 1915, depicted the Ku Klux Klan – men of terror, on horses, white sheets covering their head and faces, burning Negroes out of their homes – portrayed as heroes, protecting southerners from barbaric Negroes.
It was in this poisoned concoction of social misery – KKK rampage, lynching, cross burnings and sacking of communities that Garvey arrived in the United States, armed with UNIA’s motto: “One God, One Aim, One Destiny”, and a fiery oratory. Having a passion for debating that was second to none – Garvey demolished the best of them on the streets of Harlem. His fearless mantra of Black Nationalism awoken African-American spirit from their slumber, to a charismatic figure wearing black Victorian army uniform, a sword in its scabbard hanging from his side, a big hat with plumes on his head, his words thickly coated with a Jamaican accent – preaching; telling them to be proud of themselves and their ancestors. To look to Africa, to their roots, just as the white man look to Europe for his: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots” – Marcus Garvey
Garvey understood the architect of change is the mind; it builds, first internally – nothing is constructed unless first it completes, but the builder must be free, which he intended to do:“Liberate the minds of men and ultimately you will liberate the bodies of men” – Marcus Garvey. There were spectacular parades – tens of thousands marching against racial tyranny and oppression. But he also established businesses and provided employment for many.
“I am advised -“Go ye, have faith in self, and seek once more the guide that lives in you” much better than the world of sordid pelf, Alas! I found the counsel to be true.” – Selection from The Poetic Meditations of Marcus Garvey, Oct.27th, 1927
The Negro World band in many countries – especially where labour was exploited, mostly in the Caribbean and Africa – proving that education is the dagger to be concealed from those subjugated. But Garvey continued to preached unity and economic self-reliance, at the same time demonstrating that a black man can run a business conglomerate – establishing providing employment for many. Even as he hung by his finger nails from the outer rim of his adopted country, as the authorities tried to shake him loose, crafting always to silence him. By 1920 there were 100 UNIA chapters around the world and many hundreds in 38 states within the United States.
Garveyism became a universal principle for good:“Garveyism is a new doctrine, a doctrine with such far-reaching effects that it has revealed to the black race that there are good hopes for them as a race, and that there is a life for them that is really worth living.” PETER O. PETER Cape Town Division, U.N.I.A. November 17th, 1921 – Cape Town, South Africa
Indeed the Honourable Mr. Marcus Mosiah Garvey – Journalist, Publisher, Entrepreneur, Black Nationalist, Pan-Africanist, Thinker and Orator was not only ambitious, but one of meditation – who reasoned the need and benefits of the African people taking charge of their affairs. This, he did without apology, but with the stoic, coolness of Emperor Marcus Aurelius – whom Garvey admired. But Garvey, like the Greek Philosopher, Socrates, a son of the universe – who, while on trial for corrupting the youths of Athens for teaching truth declared: “I am not an Athenian, nor a Greek, but a citizen of the world”- same was Garvey, who was not only a Jamaican, but a citizen of the world:”I know no national boundary where the Negro is concerned. The whole world is my province until Africa is free” – Marcus Garvey.
Garvey’s task; to liberate the minds and rebuild the spirit of African-Americans and the African people were daunting, but challenged them all, to mend their efforts beyond post-slavery morass of discrimination and create their own, great economy in the United States of Africa.
Indeed his August 13th, 1920, Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World, demonstrated his audacious conviction – wherever they were, their rights should be guaranteed and protected, same as the English; protected by the 1215, Magna Carta – Great Charter of Freedoms, French; protected by the 1789, Declaration of the Rights of Man, and the United States citizen; protected by the 1776, Declaration of Independence.
Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”… A forceful document of scholarship, asserting the rights of his people within the 13 colonies of July 4th, 1776, but no rights for African Americans – the very rights Garvey’s self-restoration philosophy was trying to right, 140 years later. Well, Mr. Jefferson – who had a parallel extra-marital family with Sally Hemings, his slave, who bore him seven children – is revered as an intellectual and founding father – which he is, but like Garvey was not perfect.
Let us remember Mr. Garvey for his good deeds – who under extreme pressure became a shining, immovable North Star, who uplifted the African peoples spirit all over the world equaling them to human beings – no better, no worse – just equal. To stand up for their rights, same as Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence instructed his people to do. Garvey built the original peace bridge between deplorable treatment of African-Americans and their self -determination; between bondage and freedom. His efforts to educate rather than taking up arms against their oppressors became the standard for peaceful civil right’s marches and sit-ins in the United States during the 1960’s.
“Fortune is like glass – the brighter the glitter, the more easily broken.” – Syrus, Publilius
The United States Immigration department, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and in particular the Bureau of Investigation – later the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), under J. Edgar Hoover, monitored Garvey’s activities. They tried to block his re-entry to the United States when traveled, refused him visa to travel to Europe, and planted spies in his organization. But Garvey had other problems – his organization was mismanaged, some were envious of his successes. His ill-advised 1922 meeting with Edward Clark, Imperial Wizard of the KKK fueled his adversaries. Some of his intellectual contemporaries deemed him an insular West Indian who did not understand African-American history.
Garvey was convicted in 1922, and jailed in Atlanta for mail fraud charges relating to over selling shares in his Black Star Line; a fleet of ships that were to take his people back to Africa – February 8th, 1925. A sentence commuted by President Calvin Coolidge on the condition of his immediate deportation to Jamaica – 18 November 1927. But even as he delivered his memorable farewell speech to supporters from the deck of S.S. Saramacca in New Orleans, his heart should have been glad, he had laid the foundation for the levee that would contain a 300 year old flood of injustice that had washed away so many African-American dreams.
He was the first Pan-Africanist and African-American civil rights leader. All the others; whether they admit it or not, carried the undimmed torch he handed them: Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X (whose father was a Garvey minister), Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King, and countless others, who help paved the road that led the first black president, Barrack Obama to the White House carried it. Let us celebrate the Rt. Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey – a citizen of the world.
To be continued…
Written By: Jeffery Wright
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