Saturday, August 17, 2002
by Ras Forever
Saturday August 17th is the birthday, of one of the Caribbean and African peoples greatest contributors, a man whose legacy some attempted to destroy, and a man who some people would like to be forgotten. An effort, which has totally failed as Garvey, remains even more popular in death, than he was in his life. This is his story.
Who is this man called Marcus Garvey and what did he do?
It has been 62 years since Marcus Garvey died on June 10th 1940 and people still keep asking the question, who is Marcus Garvey? Some called him a madman, a loser, a lunatic, a thief, a con artist and many other derogatory names. No different from what they said about Jesus the Christ or Nelson Mandela. But as we shall see truth crushed to earth as the saying goes, always rises again.
It must be said however to the disappointment of those who tried, that they have all failed to obliterate his memory, and he remains even more famous in death, than he was in life, today Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born on August 17th 1887 in late 19th century Jamaica. The year of his birth was almost half a century after the Emancipation Proclamation in the British West Indies, today's Caribbean. The region remained in a purely colonial mode, with high unemployment, low wage, hunger, malnutrition, poor and virtually no education, not to mention colonial oppression of the native population especially the African.
The social structure at the time of Garvey's birth was a pyramid in structure with 3 layers. The first layer was the European authorities, settlers and their families. The second layer was the Mulatto or mixed people, and at the bottom, the huge mass of African descended people and others.
By the time Marcus Garvey was 16 years old, he had moved from the place of his birth in St Anns to the Jamaican capital Kingston. It is there he developed his sense of social consciousness, having had the added benefit of working as a printer, with access to written material. Youthful Marcus was so enthused with the world and his growing awareness of black consciousness that he began to travel through Central America on a similar path that many Jamaican migrants had taken before him, eventually ending up in England where he his sister lived.
All along the way on his travels Garvey noticed the plight of the Blackman in relation to the conditions he lived under and his general disposition of despair and hopelessness, which had him at the bottom of those post slavery, plantation economies that he had visited. He also gained much information from the left wing of the politics in England and about the struggles of other people.
It was aboard a ship on his return to Jamaica one cold and lonely night that Marcus Garvey began to think and think deep, about his fate, the Blackman's fate and his relation to the whole situation and what he could have done about it. Then it came to him there and then, like a bolt of lightning to formulate a plan. He asked of himself, Where is the Blackman's government? Where are his men of importance and great affairs? Where is his navy? Where are his warships? Where are all these things that all other nations of the earth possessed?
He was a fan of Booker T Washington and knew of his attempts to help the Blackman in America and he had spoken to Africans who lived in Africa on his journeys, so he knew that their conditions was the same as those of the West Indies, North, South and Central America, and Europe.
It was aboard that ship that night, that Garvey decided, that he was not going to complain and blame others for the situation, but he was going to take charge and hold personal responsibility for the situation. He would seek to do what everybody else had done and simply do for self, so he set his life mission in thought and in deed, until his death to seek redemption for Africa and African people wherever they might be. He worked hard to provide answers to the questions he had asked himself and found no satisfactory answers. It is that resolve, that determination, that night, on that ship, that is responsible for our speaking about Marcus Mosiah Garvey on this auspicious occasion of the 115th anniversary of his birth and life's work today.
Garvey knew fully well that in order to deal with his dream of changing the situation of the Blackman, he had to create an organization, and this he did calling it the Universal Negro Improvement Association, [the word negro being acceptable at that point] which later grew to a membership of approximately 6 million. The U.N.I.A Garvey said was to be the vehicle or instrument of rebuilding the house of the Blackman that had collapsed, because of his unpreparedness for disaster and Garvey set about his mission relentlessly to reconstruct that house from the foundation, which he knew could have only been in Africa, but there was much work to be done, so he started his job.
During the period just after World War 1 up to the beginning of World War 11, was a very difficult period of international politics, and it is during that time that Garvey worked and became an international figure, feared and maligned by his detractors, which included governments, organizations and individuals, some even within his very organization, and by the time of his passing in 1940, he had been shot at, stabbed, persecuted, maligned, imprisoned, arrested, deported from the United States all in an attempt to stop the power of his ideas, taking root among the Black peoples of the world. And blazed a path across the universe of space and time he did.
Before his physical death, Garvey was to achieve many successes, with the most significant being the rehabilitation of the African sense of pride and self, for all time. He said in London England in 1928 that he was the forerunner of an awakened Africa that shall never go back to sleep, and even in his death, he would return to help finish the work, he had started.
Garvey established his organization which still exists today in every black community of the world, he gave the Black people of the world a voice at a time when the trauma of chattel slavery and rape of Africa, made Africans voiceless, he planted firmly the ideas of repatriation and the importance of Africa to the Black peoples of the world, he set in train the labor movement in the Caribbean, he began the regions political independence movements, many political organizations developed from the breaking up of his organization after his deportation, especially in the U.S.A and which are still strong today, including the Nation of Islam and several key others, he established prototypes of Black businesses in shipping, factories, newspapers, civic organizations etc, setting up of Liberty Halls as meeting places for Blacks around the world, he held massive important international conventions of African peoples of the world in Madison Square Garden in New York with over 25 thousand people at such occasions, he had direct influences on the 20th century anti-colonial movement leaders who went on to take power in their countries including Ho Chi Min of Vietnam, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Nzamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria etc, and many much more profound and important contributions that space does not permit.
In closing Garvey did not preach hatred to anyone, but rather love, pride, self-respect and independence for Africans whose independence civilization and homeland was seriously retarded by the events of the 400 years prior to his birth. Halting and reversing that tide was his life's mission statement and that of his organization. Thus he did so much, with so little, at the worst of times, and today he has the eternal gratitude of all those on whose behalf, he fought so valiantly for, and his name and pictures are household in many communities of the world.
Garvey is specially revered by the Rastafari movement, as the man who gave the signal to look forward to the Coronation of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Sellassie on November 2nd 1930, when he said in 1927, Kingston Jamaica "Look to Africa where a king would be crowned, for the day of deliverance is near." It was interpreted by the early Rastafari, like Howell, Dunkley and Hibbert, as the coming of the Lord to save and bring about change in the world, to make the weak strong, to make the right wrong and bring universal, peace, justice and equality to the African and all mankind. Garvey had this to say in 1922
"Lift up yourselves, men, take yourselves out of the mire and hitch your hopes to the very stars themselves. Let no man pull you down, let no man destroy your ambition, because man is but your companion, your equal; man is your brother; he is not your Lord, he is not your sovereign master."
Marcus Garvey August 17th 1887 - June 10th 1940.
Thanks Marcus. We Love You.
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