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Commentary: The Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey
Published on August 20, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Murphy Browne

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.

Murphy Browne was born in Berbice, Guyana, and has lived most of her life in Toronto, Canada. She worked as an African heritage instructor with the Toronto District School Board and has been writing for more than 20 years. She has had articles published in several Caribbean newspapers and newsletters and is frequently invited to speak at African Caribbean events.
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 color, 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 published 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.”

In 1975 Burning Spear released 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” Rodney (Burning Spear) 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." Max Romeo encourages us to "Give Black God the glory"

Garvey, the first of Jamaica’s seven National Heroes, is admired and has been honoured outside of Jamaica. 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, DC. 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 uncompromising in his goal of the total and complete redemption and liberation of African people across the planet. In pursuit of this goal Garvey traveled throughout the Caribbean, Europe, Central, North and South America. He succeeded to a great degree, in a time when there was no internet or even television. The UNIA-ACL included approximately 1,200 branches in 40 countries across the globe. There were branches in several African countries including Ghana, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, South Africa and Namibia. Garveyites, followers of Marcus Garvey’s teaching, were to be found globally from Australia to Zimbabwe.

Garvey was a threat to the worldwide white supremacist culture and the white supremacist US 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, including Paul Robeson, El Haj Malik El Shabazz, Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Kwame Ture, 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 74 years since Garvey transitioned on June 10, 1940, due in no small part to the machinations of Hoover and the US 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 here or in the 1983 published book The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, Volume II, 27 August 1919 - 31 August 1920.

Garvey’s philosophy of “Race First” encouraged unity, coupled with self reliance, self determination and economic development; if his efforts had not been sabotaged Africa would now be “for Africans at home and abroad.” Instead we are still in a place where white people think they can determine who we are. This was our reality for more than four hundred years during the enslavement of Africans and the colonization of our nations and territories. It seems that not much has changed. Garvey said: “For over three hundred years the white man has been our oppressor, and he naturally is not going to liberate us to the higher freedom -- the truer liberty -- the truer Democracy. We have to liberate ourselves.”

It is amazing what Garvey was able to achieve given the “interesting times” in which he lived. Many of us take for granted what we have today without giving thought to those whose lives were sacrificed for the small gains that our race has made. Garvey was born a mere 49 years after the enslavement of Africans was abolished (August 1, 1834) in the British “dominions” which included his birthplace Jamaica.

From 1904 to 1908, while Garvey was a young adult, the Germans were making a “valiant” effort to exterminate an entire group of African people. During the four years from 1904 to 1908, Germans in Namibia systematically and savagely murdered Herero people. Coveting the Herero land, cattle and other property, the Germans experimented and perfected vicious, brutal and cruel methods in an effort to destroy the Herero, some of which would later be reported to have been used on oppressed people during the second European tribal conflict (World War II.) The surviving Herero, some of whom had to flee to neighbouring countries, have not yet received reparations from the Germans.

Garvey almost miraculously achieved much at a time when Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora were living in countries that were colonized by Europeans (Ethiopia was the exception.) Wholesale colonization of the African continent began after 14 white men from Europe and the USA met in 1884 at the Congress of Berlin, where they allotted themselves portions of the continent. Over a three-month period from November 15, 1884, to February 26, 1885, this group of white men from Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden-Norway (unified from 1814-1905), Turkey and the USA decided to carve up the African continent for their benefit.

At the time Britain, France, Germany and Portugal had colonies on the African continent so the others wanted the opportunity to exploit Africans and Africa. Chattel slavery, the European 400-year plunder and brutalization of Africans, was almost at an end (at least on paper) so these parasites were seeking another method of leeching the human and other resources of Africa. With no regard for African culture or history, no consultation with any African, this group of white men drew borders that separated families and forced together groups that traditionally lived separately with a delicate balance of keeping peaceful relations by living separately.

This obscene scramble for Africa happened three years before Garvey’s birth and there was a response from Africans in the Diaspora. In 1886 George Charles, president of the African Emigration Association, advised the US Congress that his organization planned to establish a United States of Africa. Pan-Africanists convened the Congress on Africa in Chicago (August 14 – 21) 1893, where they denounced the carving up of the continent by Europeans.

From the 1893 Pan-African Congress on Africa in Chicago the African Association was founded in 1897 by Trinidad-born lawyer Henry Sylvester Williams (February 15, 1869 - March 26, 1911) who is considered the grandfather of Pan-Africanism. Three years later while studying for his law degree in London, England, Williams convened the first Pan-African Conference (July 23 – 25) in 1900.

When Williams and others were attending that first Pan-African Conference in 1900, Garvey was a 12-year-old, just approaching his teenage years. Twelve years later, in 1912, Garvey arrived in London, England, where he lived for two years until his return to Jamaica in 1914. While living in London, Garvey met Duse Mohammed Ali, an Egyptian scholar and editor of the African Times and Orient Review. Garvey honed his public speaking skills at London’s Hyde Park Speaker’s Corner and he wrote several articles that were published in the African Times and Orient Review. This experience contributed to Garvey’s ability eventually to guide the United Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL), which he founded in 1914 when he returned to Jamaica. After Garvey moved to Harlem, New York, on March 16, 1916, the UNIA-ACL became an international organization.

During the European scramble for Africa after the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, the Germans laid claim to German Kamerun, now Cameroon and part of Nigeria; German East Africa, now Rwanda, Burundi and most of Tanzania; German South-West Africa, now Namibia; and German Togoland, now Togo and eastern part of Ghana. Africans across the continent resisted the occupation of their homes by these European interlopers.

Some of the better known leaders of the resistance fighters are Nana Yaa Asantewa of Ghana, Mbuya Nehanda of Zimbabwe, Cetewayo and Shaka of South Africa, Emperor Menelik of Ethiopia, Kinjikitile Ngwale of Tanganyika and Samori Ture of Guinea.

In each case, except Ethiopia, after decades of fighting the Europeans, the territories were colonized for at least 50 years before the Africans regained their political freedom. The barbarism and brutality of the Europeans in subduing the Africans is probably unmatched in the case of the Herero people of Namibia, who were victims of the unparalleled savagery of the Germans.

The German genocide of the Herero people is now well documented. It is fascinating to read the sequence of events, the trickery used by the Germans to gain access and then “own” the African land. August 11, 1904, began the German slaughter of the Herero people and by 1907 approximately 85% of the Herero had been massacred by the Germans. Apart from the wholesale slaughter, German doctors performed horrific experiments on Herero men, women and children who they tortured and mutilated in the concentration camps the Germans established.

The children born of the rape of Herero women by German men, also warehoused in the concentration camps, were included in the “scientific” experiments. German geneticist Herr Doktor Eugen Fischer went to the concentration camps in Namibia to conduct medical experiments on race. Photographs of the horribly emaciated bodies of some of the German victims from the concentration camps are not for the squeamish. The Germans lost their African colonies to other greedy and brutal European nations after their WWI defeat (1914-1918)

On March 21, 1990, Namibia became an independent nation and, in September 2001, the Herero filed a lawsuit in the US Court of the District of Columbia demanding reparations of $4 billion from the German government and several German companies, including Deutsche Bank, mining company Terex Corporation, formerly Orenstein-Koppel Co., and the shipping company Deutsche Afrika Linie, formerly Woermann Linie, all of which allegedly profited from the German occupation of Namibia. The District Court of Columbia has a 215-year-old law on its books, the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789, which allows for civil action from foreign countries.

The Germans continue to resist compensating the Herero for the genocide of 1904 - 1908. Manfred Hinz, a German law professor suggested: "We should think of a reconciliation commission with leaders of the Herero people and Germany to work out an appropriate form of apology and possible reparation and hopefully an out of court settlement." German Ambassador Wolfgang Massing urged the Herero to drop the law suit and try and find other ways to deal with the "wounds of the past".

With "knowledge of their past history, origin and culture", the Herero are very rooted and will continue the pursuit of reparations for the atrocities visited upon their people by the Germans. Garvey who was born 127 years ago would be proud of the Herero people for keeping their history alive and pursuing reparations. Garvey said: Look for me in the whirlwind or the storm, look for me all around you, for, with God's grace, I shall come and bring with me countless millions of black slaves who have died in America and the West Indies and the millions in Africa to aid you in the fight for Liberty, Freedom and Life.

Last weekend, Africans worldwide celebrated the birthday of the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. It is time we live up to the reality of that “mighty race” that Garvey told us we are. We must emancipate our minds from mental slavery and colonization. Stop allowing white people to feel comfortable when they behave as if they have a right to direct our thought processes, choose our leaders, and chastise us for the manner in which we celebrate our culture. No other group would tolerate outsiders dictating to them in this manner.

Garvey told us that we do not need to feel that anyone is better than us we are the equal of any other group of people. “The Black skin is a glorious symbol of national greatness.” He also realized that his teachings would not resonate with every African person. “I have no desire to take all black people back to Africa; there are blacks who are no good here and will likewise be no good there.”

In honour of the sacrifices that Garvey made to educate us, let us work to make “Africa for Africans at home and abroad” a reality. In 2014 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. The movement demanding reparations for the enslavement of our ancestors must also continue.
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