Old pirates, yes, they rob I. Sold I to the merchant ships
Minutes after they took I from the bottomless pit.
But my hand was made strong by the hand of the Almighty.
We forward in this generation. Triumphantly!
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery.
None but ourselves can free our minds.
Have no fear for atomic energy,
‘Cause none of them can stop the time.
How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?
Some say it’s just a part of it we’ve got to fulfill the book.
Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom?
‘Cause all I ever have: Redemption songs!
From “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley released in 1980 on the Bob Marley and the Wailers “Uprising” album.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey, born on August 17, 1887, is considered the father of the modern Pan-African movement. Garvey was a man before his time who urged Africans worldwide to be proud of their skin colour, the texture of their hair, the fullness of their lips, the shape of their noses, bodies and everything about their perfectly made selves as Africans. He urged Africans to see themselves through their own “spectacles” made in the image of the God they worshipped.
In one of the numerous speeches Garvey made urging Africans to have pride in their Africanness he said: “If Negroes are created in God’s image, and Negroes are Black, then God must, in some sense, be Black. If the White man has the idea of a White God, let him worship his God as he desires. We have found a new ideal. Because once our God has no colour, and yet it is human to see everything through ones own spectacles, and since the White people have seen their God through their white spectacles, we have only now started to see our God through our own spectacles.
But we believe in the God of Ethiopia, the everlasting God, God the father, God the son, God the Holy Ghost, the one God of all the ages. That is the God in whom we believe, but we shall worship him through the spectacles of Ethiopia. For two hundred and fifty years we have struggled under the burden and rigors of slavery. We were maimed, we were brutalized, we were ravaged in every way. We are men, we have hopes, we have passions, we have feelings, we have desires just like any other race.”
Garvey recognized the importance of images not only in the worship of a divine being in whose image we are made but also the effect on the psyche of an oppressed people. He urged African Americans to give their children dolls made in their image so they could recognize their worthiness as human beings. In the 1987 book, “Marcus Garvey Life and Lessons: A Centennial Companion to the Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers” written by Marcus Garvey and edited by Robert A. Hill and Barbara Blair, Garvey is quoted: “Never allow your children to play with or to have white dolls. Give them the dolls of their own race to play with and they will grow up with the idea of race love and race purity.”
With a scarcity of African American dolls Garvey established a doll making factory in New York City to make those dolls. As part of his vision to make African Americans financially independent he established the Negro Factories Corporation and through that corporation established several businesses including restaurants, grocery stores, laundries, a hat factory, printing press, tailoring establishment, a trucking business and a hotel.
Garvey understood the value of Africans seeing themselves as the equal of all other human beings and not inferior as they had been taught for generations by a White supremacist culture. Many Africans had internalised those lessons and regarded White as superior because of the propaganda which began as a White rationalization for the evil and brutal system of chattel slavery.
Quoted in “Marcus Garvey Life and Lessons” Garvey urged his followers to: “Tear from your walls, all pictures that glorify other races. Tear up and burn every bit of propaganda that does not carry your idea of things. Treat them as trash. When you go to the cinema and you see the glorification of others in the pictures, don’t accept it; don’t believe it to be true. Instead, visualize yourself achieving whatever is presented and, if possible, organize your propaganda to that effect. You should always match propaganda with propaganda. Have your own newspapers, your own artists, your own sculptors, your own pulpits, your own platforms, print your own books and show your own motion pictures and sculpture your own subjects. Never accept your subjects as of another race, but glorify all the good in yourselves. Keep your home free and clear of alien objects, on other races of glorification, otherwise your children will grow up to adore and glorify other people. Put in the place of others the heroes and noble characters of your own race.”
Garvey’s words, thoughts and philosophies have influenced generations of Pan-Africanists including leaders like El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Jomo Kenyatta, Alhaji Ahmed Sekou Toure and Patrice Lumumba. Garvey also influenced artists including Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Max Romeo, Stevie Wonder, Paul Robeson and Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
Garvey, Burning Spear (Winston Rodney) and Bob Marley share a connection because of their birthplace, St Ann Parish in Jamaica. Marley and Rodney have both paid tribute to Garvey in their work. The lyrics of Marley’s “Redemption Song” come from a speech Garvey gave in Nova Scotia, Canada on October 1, 1937. The speech was published in Garvey’s “Black Man” magazine, Vol. 3, No. 10 (July 1938). “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. Mind is your only ruler, sovereign. The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind to good advantage.”
Garvey, the first of Jamaica’s seven National Heroes, is admired and has been honoured in other countries. A statue of Garvey is located on the Harris Promenade, San Fernando, Trinidad and a bust of Garvey is housed in the Organization of American States’ Hall of Heroes in Washington, D.C. Nkrumah, who led Ghana to independence from Britain in 1957 named the national shipping line of Ghana the “Black Star Line” in honour of the shipping line Garvey established as part of his plan to make Africans financially independent. The national flag of Kenya sports the colours (black, red and green) chosen by Garvey as the flag of his United Negro Improvement Association and African Communities (Imperial) League (UNIA-ACL.)
Garvey influenced the Rastafari movement and the establishment of the Kwanzaa celebration. The 1960s Black Power and Civil Rights movements with the rise of groups like the Black Panther Party and African Americans who were “Black and Proud” owe much to the Garvey philosophies and his UNIA-ACL which was established in 1914.
Garvey was a threat to worldwide White supremacist culture and the White supremacist U.S. government was bent on destroying him and his positive international influence on Africans. That coveted job fell to an enthusiastic young John Edgar Hoover whose notoriety was built on the destruction of Garvey’s life. As he would do with successive generations of African American leaders, Hoover hounded Garvey, manufacturing “evidence” that eventually led to the waning of the influential UNIA-ACL and the destruction of Garvey’s plans for an economically self-sufficient African American population.
In “Redemption Song” Marley asks “How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?” It has been 73 years since Garvey transitioned on June 10, 1940 due in no small part to the machinations of Hoover and the U.S. government body that would eventually become the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI.) Hoover began targeting Garvey since at least October 11, 1919 as shown in correspondence that can be read at: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/garvey/filmmore/ps_fbi.html or in the 1983 book “The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, Volume II, 27 August 1919 – 31 August 1920.”
Burning Spear (Rodney) released in 1975 “Old Marcus Garvey” with these lyrics reminding us never to forget Garvey:
“Children, children, children, children
Humble yourself and become one day somehow
You will remember him you will”
In 2013 we have to remain vigilant to counter the continued White supremacist propaganda that seeks to kill our prophets and set up their false prophets to lead us astray into the land of self-hate.
By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)