Jamaica has enjoyed much international publicity lately because of the 50th anniversary of its independence from British rule and the exemplary performance of its athletes at the recent Summer Olympic Games in Britain.
However, the man who started it all was the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, who was born 125 years ago on August 17, 1887 in St Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. Garvey, who is Jamaica’s first National Hero, is a descendant of Jamaica’s Maroons who fought the British colonizers and enslavers of Africans.
Garvey, born a mere 49 years after Africans in Jamaica and other British colonies were fully freed from chattel slavery (August 1, 1838), is considered the father of the modern Pan-African movement. At a time when the African continent was being carved up and distributed among European nations here was this African man born in one of the British colonies who was brave, brilliant and determined to unite Africans at home and abroad.
His rallying cry was: “Africa for the Africans!”
It is truly amazing that, at a time when Europeans and even some brainwashed Africans in the Caribbean and elsewhere believed implicitly in the superiority of White skin and all it entailed and the inferiority of non-Whites, Garvey bravely stepped forward and declared that Africans were the equals of Europeans.
Generations later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., speaking at the “Marcus Garvey Memorial” at National Heroes Park in Kingston, Jamaica on June 20, 1965 recognized Garvey as “the first man of colour in the history of the United States to lead and develop a mass movement.
“He was the first man on a mass scale and level to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny and make the Negro feel he was somebody.”
Garvey’s opinions and philosophy, which he shared with all who would listen, influenced leaders in the international African community as well as other racialized people. It has been written that former Vietnamese leader, Ho Chi Minh, was a regular attendee at Garvey lectures in New York City.
Garvey founded an organization that in less than 10 years boasted an international membership of millions on five continents.
In a statement published in September 1923, Garvey wrote about the establishment of his organization:
“I boarded a ship at Southampton for Jamaica, where I arrived on July 15, 1914. The Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and African Communities (Imperial) League was founded and organized five days after my arrival, with the program of uniting all the Negro peoples of the world into one great body to establish a country and Government absolutely their own.”
Garvey’s influence just in the USA can be traced through various major organizations and leaders. Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam was a member of the UNIA in Detroit and his organization bore many similarities to Garvey’s organization. El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) was influenced by the teachings of Garvey since both of his parents were local UNIA leaders in Omaha, Milwaukee and Lansing, Michigan. It has been said that Garvey visited their home a few times.
The late Congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm (first African American to run for President of the USA), was a child of Garveyite parents. Carlos Cooks of the African Nationalist Pioneer Movement was also influenced by Garvey’s philosophies. There are Garveyite symbols and ideas throughout the Black Power Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Garvey’s influence can be seen and felt in the Pan-African movement of the 21st century.
Several African leaders over the decades of struggle to free themselves from European oppression and gain independence for their countries acknowledged their debt to Garvey and his opinions and philosophy. Those leaders include Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Nnamdi Azikewe of Nigeria and Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya. Versions of Garvey’s red, black and green flag can be seen in the national flag of Kenya, Ghana and the flag of the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa.
The strong influence of Garveyism on the ANC of the 1920s and 1930s continued in the ANC Youth League of the 1940s and is evident and acknowledged today in the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania (South Africa.)
Garvey himself wrote: “My name was discussed on five continents. The Universal Negro Improvement Association gained millions of followers all over the world. By August, 1920, over 4,000,000 persons had joined the movement. A convention of all the Negro peoples of the world was called to meet in New York that month.
“Delegates came from all parts of the known world. Over 25,000 persons packed the Madison Square Garden on August 1 to hear me speak to the first International Convention of Negroes. It was a record-breaking meeting, the first and the biggest of its kind. The name of Garvey had become known as a leader of his race.”
In “The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, Vol. X: Africa for the Africans 1923-1945” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRycUbyUhxk), edited by Jamaican-born UCLA Professor Robert A. Hill, Garvey’s unrelenting advocacy to spread the word of Pan-Africanist ideas is chronicled:
“After moving to London, Garvey became a regular speaker in Hyde Park. A 1935 observer described his oratorical powers as ‘magnificent’ and noted that he used a good deal of humour and ridicule in defusing opposition from his audience.
“Garvey left London on August 12, 1937 to conduct the second regional UNIA conference in Toronto, Canada, which met in the last week of August. Garvey inaugurated his School of African Philosophy, a training course for UNIA regional officers in the first week of September. He afterward toured Canadian provinces and left Nova Scotia in early October.
“Arriving in Bermuda on 11 October 1937, he was denied permission to leave the ship. He travelled on to Trinidad, St. Lucia, Barbados, St. Vincent, British Guiana and again to Barbados, before retracing his return north. He sailed for England from Nova Scotia and arrived back on 20 November 1937.”
Garvey’s two-day visit in October 1937 to then British Guiana was documented in newspaper articles published by the Daily Argosy, which reported that there was a “crowd of nearly a thousand along a distance of over 200 yards on both sides of the streets”.
Garvey had attempted to visit the British colony in 1921 but it was clear from the diplomatic correspondence between British Governors in British Guiana and Jamaica that he would have been detained had he set foot in the colony that year.
However, on his visit to British Guiana in 1937, after an enthusiastic welcome at the Bookers wharf, he was taken by car to the home of his host, Dr. S.I.T Wills at Lot 190 Charlotte Street. Later in the day, Garvey was given a reception at the Georgetown Town Hall, where he was greeted with the Ethiopian national anthem. Garvey also paid a courtesy call on the governor before proceeding to the Fraternity Hall on Robb Street to address his followers.
During this month (August 2012) Jamaica is celebrating its 50th year of independence from British rule and also celebrating the four gold medals, four silver and four bronze earned at the London Olympics.
Pan-Africanists in Jamaica and elsewhere are celebrating the life of a famous Jamaican who brought international attention to Jamaica before Bob Marley, Rastafari and reggae.
On August 17, we celebrate the birthday of the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey.
By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)