Garvey reminded us we are a great people


A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.

Marcus Mosiah Garvey (August 17, 1887 – June 10, 1940)

Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the first of Jamaica’s seven National Heroes, was born on August 17, 1887 (49 years after the abolition of chattel slavery in the British colonies) in St Ann’s Bay, Jamaica.

Garvey is considered the father of the modern Pan-African movement whose philosophy influenced several leaders including Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya), Martin Luther King Jr., (USA), Patrice Lumumba (Congo), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Julius Nyrere (Tanzania), El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) and Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael). Garvey’s grassroots movement that mobilized Africans internationally has not been seen since. His success caused him to be hounded by J. Edgar Hoover, who eventually became the director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Garvey is a descendant of the Maroons, those fearless Africans who resisted the British attempts to enslave them as they engaged in numerous battles against the “Redcoats” in the hills of Jamaica. Garvey’s philosophy also influenced the beliefs of Rastafari and can be heard in the lyrics of songs sung by members of Rastafari.

Garvey’s philosophy of “Africa for Africans at home and abroad” is expressed in Robert “Bob” Nesta Marley’s ‘Africa Unite’ and Marley also uses Garvey’s words in ‘Redemption Song’ when he urges: “emancipate yourselves from mental slavery”. Winston “Burning Spear” Rodney named an entire album Marcus Garvey with ‘Old Marcus Garvey’ as the title of one of the songs.

Garvey’s philosophy is also reflected in Max Romeo’s ‘Maccabee Version’ from his album, Holy Zion. In ‘Maccabee Version’, Romeo encourages us to ‘Give Black God the glory’.

Garvey said: “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. We (Africans) believe in the God of Ethiopia, we shall worship him through the spectacles of Ethiopia.”

With the establishment of the Africentric Alternative School in the Sheppard Public School building at 1430 Sheppard Avenue West (Keele and Sheppard) at least some of our children will gain “knowledge of their past history, origin and culture” in a regular school setting instead of having this very important information relegated to an after thought during February.

During the recognition of August 1 as Emancipation Day in Ontario it was obvious how imperative Garvey’s words are even in the 21st century. It was noticeable that the strongest speakers were rooted in and very knowledgeable about their history. There was much sharing of knowledge about the history of Africans in Canada and the reality of the enslavement of Africans in this country.

On the other hand there were speakers who continued skating past the reality of slavery in Canada and heaped praise on one British “abolitionist” without recognizing the role that Africans played in their eventual emancipation or that the British were engaged in the enslavement of Africans for hundreds of years after breaking the Portuguese and Spanish monopoly.

The Portuguese initiated the Atlantic trade in Africans, sanctioned by the Catholic Church and the monarchy. British pirates sanctioned by the British monarchy and religious leaders eventually wrested the monopoly of trading in African bodies from the Portuguese. Many of those early pirates were knighted by the British monarch and those criminals, together with the clergy and the monarchy, made a “killing” from the profits that were accumulated from African blood, sweat and tears.

The whitewashing of that history even has a notorious slave ship captain’s name immortalized in Christian history because of a hymn that he supposedly wrote which was actually stolen from the African captives he transported in his death ship.

Trinidadian-born Wintley Phipps gives an excellent explanation of the origins of the hymn on youtube at I have always wondered how much money John Newton made from the sale of Africans before he realized what a “wretch” he was.

There is no excuse for not knowing your history (even if you did not learn from your elders) with the number of books that are available in bookstores and the 99 Toronto Public Library branches. Not surprisingly, the speakers who were knowledgeable about their history have read more than the books that are the required reading of a White supremacist education system, they have researched, and in some cases have written and have had books published on the subject.

Africans have been recorded in Canada from the 1600s with Matthew DaCosta (explorer/interpreter) and Olivier LeJeune (enslaved African child) and have contributed to every area of Canadian life and were instrumental in the development of Canada. Free and enslaved Africans have contributed; from the refugees of the American War of Independence (1775-1783) who arrived in Canada as members of the United Empire Loyalists or as the property of White United Empire Loyalists, through to the refugees who arrived on the Underground Railroad after the government of the USA passed the Second Fugitive Slave Act in 1850.

However, our history did not begin with slavery and Garvey reminded us of this when he said: “Up you mighty race you can accomplish what you will.”

The history of the people of the African continent before the invasion of non-Africans is documented in several books including Golden Age of the Moor; Black Women in Antiquity; Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern; Great Black Leaders: Ancient and Modern; African Presence in early Europe and They Came Before Columbus, by Guyanese historian, Ivan Van Sertima.

For those of us who support the Africentric Alternative School and are vested in its success and the success of the students who will attend, it is essential that we take the words of Garvey to heart.

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots. Picture the rootless tumbleweed blown every which way (directionless) by even a puff of wind.

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