Marcus Garvey and the Afrikan Revolution in the 21st century


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This paper deals with the meaning of Mwalimu Marcus Garvey and the Afrikan Revolution in the 21st century. Mwalimu Garvey is without doubt one of the most important figures of the Afrikan Revolution in the last 50 years and today, more than 70 years after his passing, his mission of total and unapologetic independence for the Black race, remains unfinished.

In order to argue this conclusion, we will reflect on critical moments in Black radical resistance that occurred during the month of August, provide a biographical sketch of who Garvey was, what his contribution was to the upliftment of the Black race, reflect on the challenges he encountered, what is his legacy and what are the implications of his work for the advancement of the Afrikan Revolution today.

1. Opening remarks

  • Egameni ledelakufa, Inkosi uMpolekeng Jantjie. Camagu!
  • Egameni ledelakufa, Inkosi uGalemidiwe Galeshewe. Camagu!
  • Egameni ledelakufa, Inkosi uToto Mokgolowe. Camagu!
  • Egameni ledeluka, uPhakamile Mabija.  Camagu!
  • Egameni ledekafuka, uMmereki Morebudi. Camagu!
  • Egameni ledelakufa, uHutse Segolodi. Camagu!
  • Egameni ledelakufa, uAndries Tatane. Camagu!   
  • Egameni ledelakufa, uNqobile Nzuza. Camagu!
  • Egameni lomfowethu, uJan Rivombo. Camagu!
  • Egameni ledelakufa,uSikhosiphi Rhadebe. Camagu!
  • Egameni likadedawethu, uAlem Dechasa. Camagu!
  • Egameni ledelakufa, uMgcineni Noki. Camagu!
  • Egameni lomfowethu, uMatlhomola Mosweu. Camagu!
  • Emagameni abodadebethu nabafowethu abashona eLife Esidemini. Camagu!
  • Egameni likaKumkanikazi uMam’uZondeni Sobukwe. Camagu!

Camagwini maAfrika!

We invoke these sacred names for a number of reasons. One, to remind us that, as Black people, we have a unique, complex, profoundly traumatic and continuing history that is not comparable to the histories of other races. Two, to remind us not to forget about the gratuitous and unprovoked violence that continues to be unleashed upon our Black bodies (even by our own kind).

And three, to never forget that we live in an era wherein there are some, (both within and outside our race), who would prefer that we be docile, apologetic, acquiesce, equivocate and even be untruthful, in how we reflect on our history and the place we now occupy in the world today, as Black people.

In what is regarded as mainstream public discourse, the general inclination is to try as much as possible to avoid topics or issues that directly affect Black people. And if such discourses do happen, the dominant approach is to use language that is analytically superficial, obfuscates the actual peculiarities that come with having a Black skin or tries as much as possible not to offend the architects and beneficiaries of Black suffering.

For instance, instead of talking about Black people, we seem more comfortable with soporific formulations such as “historically-disadvantaged”, “people from working class backgrounds” or “the poorest of the poor”. Essentially, we tend to prefer language that numbs the consciousness of Black people, instead of awakening it.

But why do we the Black people of today speak with such trepidation? There are a number of reasons for our nervousness. In explaining this form of self-censure, Frank Wilderson, observes that:

“...there is a way in which all Black speech is always coerced speech, in that you’re always in what Saidiya Hartman would call a context of slavery: anything that you say, you always have to think, ‘what are the consequences of me speaking my mind going to be?’”

Bantu Biko situationalises this point when he observes that:

“There is in South Africa an over-riding idea to move towards ‘comfortable’ politics, between leaders. And they hold discussions among themselves about this. Comfortable politics in the sense that we must move at a pace that doesn’t rock the boat. In other words people are shaped by the system even in their consideration of approaches against the system.”

He goes on to say:

“Not shaped in the sense of working out meaningful strategies, but shaped in the sense of working out an approach that won’t lead them into any confrontation with the system. So they tend to accommodate the system, to censure themselves, in a much stronger way than the system would probably censure them.”

Wilderson’s and Biko’s observations buttress the appropriateness of the decision to have Mwalimu Mosiah Garvey as the centre of our discourse here today. This is because, the totality of Garvey’s work, positions him as an antithesis to the kind of intellectual nervousness that has gripped us as Black people. It therefore becomes appropriate to also commend the organisers of this sacred event for their intellectual courage in choosing Mwalimu Garvey as the centre of our discourse here today.

We have been requested to share our thoughts on the topic “Marcus Garvey and the Afrikan Revolution in the 21st century”. As a rule, we never assume that the audience and us, automatically share a common understanding of whatever topic that is placed before us, both in its textual and contextual implications.

The concept of revolution simply refers to an organised and protracted political project that is consciously aimed as dismantling, demolishing, disassembling, destroying, annihilating, obliterating, ending, undoing, uprooting or breaking apart an existing oppressive political order and replacing it with a different one.

If this is the general understanding, then it implies that, in the manner in which Garvey has been positioned in relation to the topic—there is a suggestion that Garvey was a revolutionary. If this is indeed so, then it would place Garvey as the anti-thesis to integrationism, assimilationism or reformism.

The topic, as framed, also talks about the “21st century”. Are we using the formulation “21st century” merely for purposes of facilitating this discourse or do we actually believe and accept the conception of time as invented by Yurugu? I tinker with the topic in this manner for no other reason, but to help us develop a deeper appreciation for the colossus in whose name we gather here today—Mwalimu Marcus Mosiah Garvey.

In our view, Mwalimu Marcus Garvey is arguably the most important figure of the Afrikan Revolution of our time. Today, more than 70 years after his transitioning—his mission of total, unapologetic independence for the Black race (globally) – remains unfinished.

In order to argue this conclusion, we propose to:

  • Reflect on critical moments of Black resistance that occurred during the month of August;
  • Provide a biographical sketch of who Garvey was;
  • Reflect on his contribution to the upliftment of the Black race;
  • Reflect on the challenges he encountered;
  • Reflect on his legacy; and
  • Examine the implications of his work for the advancement of the Afrikan Revolution today.

2. Critical moments of Black resistance 3that occurred during the month of August

The 1st of August marks the 104th anniversary of the founding of Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement and Conservation Association and African Communities League in 1914. Usually called the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). The 2nd of August marks the 94th anniversary of the birth of the novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic, James Baldwin in 1924.

The 3rd of August marks the 186th anniversary of the birth of the educator, writer, diplomat, and politician Edward Wilmot Blyden in 1832. Blyden is regarded by some as the “Father of Pan Africanism” and credited with coining the slogan “Africa for Africans”.

The 5th of August marks the 182nd anniversary of the passing of Anna Douglass in 1882. She was an abolitionist, member of the Underground Railroad, and the first wife of AmeriKKKan social reformer and statesman Frederick Douglass. The 5th of August marks the 80th anniversary of the birthday of James Cone in 1938. Cone was a theologian and a leading theoretician of Black Liberation Theology.

The 5th of August also marks the 42nd anniversary of the murder in detention of Black Consciousness leader, Mapetla Mohapi in 1976. The 6th of August marks the 56th anniversary of the declaration of Jamaica’s independence from Britain, in 1962.

The 7th of August marks the 48th anniversary of Black August Rebellion of 1970. Black August originated in the California’s penal system to honour fallen Black revolutionaries such as Jonathan Jackson, George Jackson, William Christmas, James McClain and Khatari Gaulden. Jonathan Jackson was gunned down outside the Marin County California courthouse on 7 August 1970 as he attempted to liberate three imprisoned Black Liberation fighters.

The 16th of August marks the 6th anniversary of the Marikana Uprising when the South African Police opened fire on a crowd of protesting Black people in Marikana, in the North West Province, in 2012. The police killed 34 Black people and left 78 seriously injured. In addition, 250 of them were arrested.

The 17th of August marks the 131st anniversary of the birth of Mwalimu Marcus Mosiah Garvey in 1887. The 17th of August marks the 212th anniversary of the assassination of one of the cardinal leaders of the most significant moments of Black radical resistance—the Haitian Revolution, Jean Jacques Dessalines in 1806.

Dessalines was ambushed by his own lieutenants. They dragged his body through the streets before it was dismembered. He was the second in command under François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture, who was the cardinal leader of the Haitian Revolution.

The 18th of August marks the 41st anniversary of the final arrest of Bantu Biko in 1977. He was arrested at a roadblock in Makhanda (Grahamstown) on his way from a political meeting in Cape Town. He was detained in Port Elizabeth under the Terrorism Act and tortured to death.

The 21st of August marks the 47th anniversary of the assassination of the revolutionary, George Lester Jackson by prison guards, during a Black prison rebellion at San Quentin, in 1971. Jackson is also the author of the books Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson and Blood In My Eye.

The 22nd of August marks the 187th anniversary of the Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in 1831. This rebellion started just after midnight in Southampton County, Virginia. It resulted in the deaths of more than 50 Whites and in retaliation, hundreds of Blacks were killed.

The 22nd of August also marks the 29th anniversary of the passing of one of the founders of the Black Panther Party, Huey Newton, in 1989. The 26th of August marks the 121st anniversary of the capture of Kgosi Galeshewe by the British land thieves in 1897.After his capture he was sentenced to ten years imprisonment with hard labour. He served five years at the Breakwater prison in Cape Town.

The 30th of August marks the 70th anniversary of the birth of one of the cardinal leaders of the Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton in 1948. Hampton was the deputy chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and was assassinated (at age 21) while sleeping in his apartment during a raid by the Chicago Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The 31st of August marks the 83rd anniversary of the birth of one of the primary leaders of the Black Panther Party, Eldridge Cleaver. Cleaver is also the author of the book Soul on Ice.

3. Who was Mwalimu Marcus Garvey?

Mwalimu Marcus Mosiah Garvey born on the 17th of August in 1887, in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica.  He was the son of Marcus Mosiah Garvey Snr, a stonemason and Sarah Jane Richards, a domestic worker. He was from a family of 11 children, nine of whom died in early childhood. Only his eldest sister Indiana lived to adulthood. Due to the economic hardship of his family, Garvey left school at age 14.

After leaving school, Garvey was apprenticed to a printer and learned the skill of a compositor. He later moved to Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, where he worked as a printer; at the same time, patiently acquired the skills of public speaking and participated in debating and elocution contests. He became interested in politics and soon got involved in projects aimed at helping the downtrodden.

Garvey’s first wife was Amy Ashwood Garvey. She was a Pan Africanist, women’s rights activist and social worker. After they divorced, Garvey then married Amy Jacques Garvey. She and Garvey had two sons Marcus Garvey Jnr and Julius Winston Garvey. Amy was also Garvey’s personal secretary and played a key role in the activities of UNIA.

Garvey had a stroke in January 1940, which left him partially paralysed. In May 1940, George Padmore wrote an article stating that Garvey had died which upset him. Garvey suffered a second fatal stroke and died on 10 June 1940 in London at age 53. After Garvey’s transitioning, his wife, Amy contributed to popularising and enhancing people’s understanding of Garvey’s thought, through the publication of the classic Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey.

4. What was Garvey’s contribution to the upliftment of the Black race?

To help organise Black people for the race war they were facing, on 1 August 1914, Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement and Conservation Association and African Communities League—usually called the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). In line with Garvey’s own worldview, the objectives of UNIA included:

  • To establish a universal confraternity among the race;
  • To promote the spirit of race pride and love;
  • To reclaim the fallen race;
  • To promote a conscientious Christian worship among the native tribes of Africa;
  • To establish universities, colleges and secondary schools for the further education and culture of the boys and girls of the race; and
  • To conduct a worldwide commercial and industrial intercourse.

The first UNIA chapter was formed in New York in May 1917. Within a month, the organisation had two million members all over the United States. By 1920, UNIA had over 1000 chapters in 40 countries around the world such as the United Kingdom, Cuba, Panama, Costa Rica, and Ghana, including the white criminal settler colony referred to as South Africa (and Ga-Kgosi Galeshewe to be exact).

By 1926, the membership of UNIA had grown to over 11 million. This effectively meant that Garvey had built the largest Black political movement in history. In 1918, UNIA created a publication called Negro World. It quickly grew from being a weekly into a worldwide phenomenon with a peak circulation of 200, 000. It featured reports from UNIA chapters, poetry, literary excerpts, a women’s page and commentary on global events significant to Black people.

It had sections in Spanish and French. Colonial authorities feared the Negro World and it was banned in many countries such as Belize, Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica and several African countries.

For the entire month of August 1920, UNIA held its first international convention in New York City. Most events were held at the New York Liberty Hall. One of UNIA’s biggest events was held at New York City’s world-famous Madison Square Garden. An estimated 25,000 Black people attended the convention from all around the world, this included delegates from 25 African countries.

The convention adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World, which was one of the earliest and most complete documents advocating for the rights of Black people, against all forms of worldwide anti-Black terror. The document made demands such as:

  • The freedom of Africa for the Negro people of the world;
  • The condemnation of the term “nigger” and stipulation that “Negro” be spelled with a capital N;  
  • No taxation without representation;
  • Equal treatment before the law; and
  • The condemnation of segregation and lynching.

In 1928, Garvey also created the People’s Political Party, which was Jamaica’s first modern political party and the first to defend the interests of the Black majority. The party’s manifesto called for official representation in the British Parliament, a minimum wage, land reform, a Jamaican university, judicial reform, a government-run electrical system, public high schools and libraries and a national opera house.

In the area of economic warfare, UNIA’s first major commercial venture was the Black Star Line Steamship Corporation in New York in 1919. The goals of the corporation were to establish an efficient mode of transportation, communication and trade among Black people worldwide and to enhance the stature, self-image and pride of these communities.

The public invested in the corporation by purchasing stock shares at five dollars each. The corporation purchased its first ship the SS Yarmouth in September 1919. It was later unofficially renamed the SS Frederick Douglass after the Black abolitionist.

The Yarmouth proceeded to sail for three years between the United States of AmeriKKKa and the West Indies as the first Black Star Line ship with an all-Black crew and a Black captain.

In 1920, Garvey established the Negro Factories Corporation and offered stock for Blacks in AmeriKKKa to buy. He raised one million dollars for the project. He wanted to produce everything that a nation needed so that Blacks in AmeriKKKa could completely rely on their own efforts.

It generated income and provided jobs by its numerous enterprises, including a chain of grocery stores and restaurants, steam laundry, tailor shop, dress making shop, millinery store (clothing, fashion, hats, accessories, etc.), publishing house and doll factory. These are the very same things we are calling for today. 

In New York City alone, Garvey owned several buildings, a fleet of trucks and had over 1,000 Black people working in his businesses. UNIA also operated the Phyllis Wheatley Hotel in New York.

In the area of psychological warfare, Garvey was acutely aware that Blacks in AmeriKKKa would not take action if they did not change their perceptions of themselves. He therefore emphasised the notion of racial pride by celebrating the Black past and encouraging Blacks to be proud of their heritage and proud of the way they looked.

Therefore, long before the advent of the Black Power and Black Consciousness movements, Garvey had already made the statement “Black is beautiful”. He wanted Blacks to see themselves as members of a mighty race. And this is why he said:

“We must canonise our own saints, create our own martyrs, and elevate to positions of fame and honour Black men and women who have made their distinct contributions to our racial history.”

He encouraged parents to give their children “dolls that look like them to play with and cuddle,” Garvey did not want Black people thinking of themselves in an inferior way and this is why he asserted: “I am the equal of any white man; I want you to feel the same way.” In 1920, he was elected as provisional President of Africa by the members of UNIA and dressed in a military uniform with a plumed hat.

At UNIA’s first international convention in 1920, people lined the streets of Harlem to watch Garvey and his followers, dressed in their military outfits, marching to their meeting under banners that read “We Want a Black Civilization”| and “Africa Must Be Free.” All the pomp brought Garvey ridicule from mainstream Black AmeriKKKan leaders, but it also served to inspire many Black s in AmeriKKKa who had never seen Black people so bold and daring.

In the area of spiritual warfare, Garvey understood the extent to which Blacks in AmeriKKKa had embraced religion and in particular, Christianity. He recognised the centrality of the church in the lives of Black people and its potential to be used as a centre from which Black people can advocate for full control in all areas of their lives.

Based on this observation, Garvey blended his Black Nationalist worldview with his Christian outlook and went on to assert that Black people should view God “through our own spectacles.”

If Whites could view God as white, then Black s could view God as Black. In 1924 the convention, UNIA canonised Jesus Christ as a “Black Man of Sorrows” and the Virgin Mary as a “Black Madonna.”

He used the image of Jesus as “a Black man of sorrows” to inspire Blacks to succeed in this life, for Blacks needed to worship a God that understood their plight, understood their suffering, and would help them overcome their present state. To further his aim of synthesising Christianity with Black Nationalism, Garvey recruited pastors into UNIA.

He managed to recruit Christian leaders such as George Alexander McGuire. McGuire was an Episcopalian and elected chaplain-general of UNIA in 1920. McGuire wrote UNIA’s official liturgy, the “Universal Negro Ritual” and the “Universal Negro Catechism” that set forth the teachings of UNIA.

He attempted to shape UNIA into a Christian Black -nationalist organisation. Garvey, however, did not want the organisation to take on the trappings of one particular denomination, for he did not want to offend any of its members. It is also critical to note that, in his reinterpretation of Christianity, Garvey was not interested in promoting hope in the afterlife. 

For Garvey, success for Black people in the present life was the key. Achieving economic, cultural, social, and political success would free Blacks in this life.  The afterlife would take care of itself.

Part of Garvey’s objective was for the establishment of an independent and United States of Africa (something that later became a key feature of Kwame Nkrumah’s Pan Africanism).

However, his ultimate and grand vision was for the Black race to become a totally independent group that can do literally everything for itself, without having to rely on any other non-Black group.

5. The challenges Garvey encountered

Unsurprisingly, in pursuing his vision, Garvey encountered all manner of challenges, including having to deal with enemies from within his own race. Two of his most prominent enemies were J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI and William Edward Burghardt Du Bois. Du Bois was an integrationist who was viciously opposed to Garvey’s radical Black Nationalism and didn’t support his call for a separate Black state and repatriation. Du Bois was also critical of Garvey’s association with the Ku Klux Klan, his criticism of Mulatto leadership, and belief in Black racial purity.

Du Bois, along with other members of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), organised the “Garvey Must Go” campaign and colluded with the United States government to have him deported. Du Bois and James Weldon Johnson of the NAACP, and Chandler Owen and A. Philip Randolph of the publication Messenger, were highly sceptical of Garvey.

By 1922, there was a slight shift in Garvey’s rhetoric. He applauded the Whites who promoted the idea of sending Blacks back to Africa. He even met with a prominent leader of the Ku Klux Klan in Atlanta in 1922 to discuss their views on miscegenation and social equality.  Garvey’s critics used this meeting to step up their criticism of him.  

In 1924 Du Bois claimed that, “Marcus Garvey is the most dangerous enemy of the Negro race in AmeriKKKa and in the world.” Owen and Randolph, whose paper saw the race issue as one of class more than skin colour, called Garvey the “messenger boy of the Klan” and a “Supreme Negro Jamaican jackass”.

He referred to UNIA as the “Uninformed Negroes Infamous Association.” Here we can see that the battle of whether the race first or class analysis thesis is supreme is not a new one.

As you might be aware, the FBI established a special counter-intelligence programme called COINTELPRO (from COunter INTELligence PROgram), to neutralise political enemies of the White supremacist state of AmeriKKKa. Between the years 1956 and 1971, the FBI used the COINTELPRO programme to investigate what they termed “radical” national political groups for intelligence that would lead to involvement of foreign enemies with these groups.

According to FBI documents, one of the purposes of the COINTELPRO programme was to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralise the activities of the Black nationalists”. They wanted to prevent the rise of a Black “messiah”. This is the programme that the FBI used to spy on, infiltrate, frame, incarcerate and assassinate leaders of movements like the Black Panther party.

However, long before the Black Panther party, the FBI had also started its programme to destroy Garvey’s UNIA. In 1919, Hoover hired the FBI’s first Black agent, James Wormley also referred to by the code number 800. Wormley’s job was to infiltrate UNIA.  One of Garvey close confidantes Herbert Boulin was a spy for the FBI. He code was P-138.

It is believed by some that the bankruptcy of Garvey’s company and his conviction of mail fraud and subsequent jail sentence, were all part of a broader strategy of the FBI to destroy Garvey and this massive political and economic empire he had built.

6. What is Garvey’s legacy?

Just as he was a great influencer, Garvey himself was influenced by many others before him. One of the people who influenced him was the educator, author and orator, Booker Taliaferro Washington. This is what Garvey had to say about Washington:

“The world held up the great Sage of Tuskegee—Booker T. Washington—as the only leader for the race? They looked forward to him and his teachings as the leadership for all times, not calculating that the industrially educated Negro would himself evolve a new ideal, after having been trained by the Sage of Tuskegee. The world satisfied itself to believe that succeeding Negro leaders would follow absolutely the teachings of Washington. Unfortunately, the world is having a rude awakening, in that we are evolving a new ideal. The new ideal includes the program of Booker T. Washington and has gone much further.”

From this quote, it is clear that Garvey was also a great synthesiser of the ideas of those who came before him. He took the ideas of Prince Hall (1738—1807), Paul Coffee (1754-1812), Henry Highland Garnet (1815-1882), Martin Robison Delaney (1812-1885), (Delaney is regarded as the grandfather or father of Black Nationalism), Alexander Brummell (1819-1898), Edward Wilmot Blyden (1832 -1912), (Blyden is regarded as the father of Pan Africanism), Henry McNeal Turner (1834-1915), and Carter Godwin Woodson (1875-1950), to another level and transformed them into a powerful and global movement.

Garvey’s ideas had a global appeal and were instrumental in influencing every major Black movement or leader of the past century. His ideas shaped the Rastafari movement and the Nation of Islam. He influenced some of the most prominent Black leaders of the past century such as Elijah Poole later Elijah Muhammad, Louis Farrakhan, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr, and Stokely Carmichael later Kwame Toure.

In Afrika, his ideas shaped those of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Patrice Lumumba, Kambarage Julius Nyerere, Muziwakhe Lembede, Solomzi Mda, Mangaliso Sobukwe, Bantu Biko, the African National Congress Youth League of the 1940s, the Pan Africanist Movement of Azania and the Black Consciousness Movement to name but a few.

Slogans such as “Black is Beautiful”, “Black Pride”, “Black Power”, “Afrika for Afrikans”, “Afrika Cause Must Triumph”, “Mayibuye iAfrika” or “Izwe Lethu” that were adopted by various Black political movements in South Africa (and elsewhere), can be traced back to Garvey’s brand of Black Nationalism.

This includes the colours that some Black political movements and Afrikan countries adopted. There is also a huge body of literature and academic studies that were inspired by Garvey. What are the implications Garvey’s teachings for the Afrikan Revolution in the 21st century?

In my view, the one observation that Garvey made that appositely identified the essence of the problem facing the Black race is when he said, “A race without authority and power, is a race without respect”. Today, 78 years after Garvey’s transitioning, this observation remains unquestionably relevant. Everywhere in the world, the Black race is disrespected and this is primarily because our race has no power.

If we accept as valid Garvey’s diagnoses (over 50 years ago) of the essence of the problem facing our race, then the solution to what we regard as the essence of the problem facing our race today—remains fundamentally the same as prescribed by Garvey. The solution therefore is nothing else but Black Power. Black Power I argue should be the primary objective of the Afrikan Revolution today.

What do I mean by Black Power in the context of today? To fully appreciate the call for “Black Power” and allocate it its proper place within Black radical practice today—it is perhaps important to remember that, through a historically-evolved-all-consuming-global-voilant-patriachial-capitalist-anti-Black system—we as Black people have been invaded, our bodies decimated, our soul castrated and turned into the permanent slaves of non-Black groups (especially the pale-skinned Arabs and Europeans).

It is these and other non-Black groups that continue to control various facets of our Black being. If this is the understanding, then at a fundamental and practical level “Black Power” should be a project that primarily aims to infuse Black people with the capacity (spiritual, psychological, theoretical and practical), to control and determine all aspects of their lives.

In the context of where Black people find themselves today (in South Africa and elsewhere), Black Power would mean the following:

In the area of education, Garvey teaches that, “Education is the medium by which a people are prepared for the creation of their own particular civilisation, and the advancement and glory of their own race.” He goes on to say “This race of ours gave civilisation, gave art, gave science; gave literature to the world.”

In practice, it means today Black people must build their own schools (from pre-school to university), determine the content of what is being taught and be the ones who teach our children. Not outsourcing the souls our children to people outside our race and end up frowning on our own children when they come back highly certificated but cultural bemused.

As Garveyites, we must tell our children (from an early age) that it is a lie that Western epistemologies are the original and universal ways of understanding the self and the world. We must reveal to them what their prescribed high school and university literature seeks to hide from them and tell them that, actually, the revered Greek philosophers like Thales, Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Pythagoras, Zeno, Empedocles, Anaximander, Anaxagoras or Parmenides, were beneficiaries and students of Black philosophers such as Imhotep, Ptahhotep, Khety, Khun-Anup, Duauf, Amenemhat, Amenemope and Akhenaten.

We must tell our children that, long before Yurugu set foot in Afrika, our ancestors were mathematics and science geniuses of the highest calibre. That the father of modern medicine is a Black man, the multi-disciplinary genius, Imhotep and not the Greek, Hypocrates. And that in fact, a lot of the knowledge, manuscripts and artefacts that the Afrikans of antiquity produced, were stolen during various invasions, repacked and presented to us as Western scholarship.

Our children must hear from us about such mathematical instruments as the Ishango bone calculator of the Congo, the Lebombo bone calculator of the Swazi people or about the multidisciplinary genius Hypatia or Ahmed Baba.

We must tell our children all this and more so as to produce a kind of Black child who knows her/his history, is confident in her/his ability to create not just things, but also new social, political and economic realities. Most importantly, the kind of Black child who refuses to simply be a certificated parrot of European, Arab, Chinese or Russian epistemologies.

In the area of culture, Garvey teaches that, “We of the Negro race are suffering more than any other race in the world from propaganda—Propaganda to destroy our hopes, our ambitions and our confidence in self.” The biggest and most difficult war against our race to detect is the conquest for our minds. As Blacks, our self-concept and life style revolves around the Anglo-AmeriKKKan cultural axis. And this in part explains why some of us continue to believe (foolishly so) that the mastery of Anglo-AmeriKKKan norms, values and etiquette is a measure of intelligence or sophistication.

To be able to undo or counter this cultural colonisation, we must build our own cultural institutions that will focus on such areas as media, film, music, theatre, clothing and fashion, literature, food, heritage etc. These institutions will investigate, organise, record, analyse, preserve, refine and promote all the positive aspects of Black imagination and expression, especially spirituality and languages. I see institutions like Ivuma playing this role.

In the area of economics, Garvey teaches us that, “The thing for the Negro to do therefore, is to adjust his own economic present, in readiness for the future. A race that is solely dependent upon another for its economic existence sooner or later dies. As we have in the past been living upon the mercies shown us by others, and by the chances obtainable, and have suffered therefrom, so will we in the future suffer if an effort is not made now to adjust our own affairs.”

At the moment, we Black people in South Africa are complaining bitterly about the poison we are being fed by among others, the Pakistanis, Somalis and others who have taken over the supply of basic food stuffs such as bread in the areas where we live. Just as we can’t hold Woolworths or Shoprite accountable for the poison in some of their products, we don’t have the institutional power to hold the Pakistani and Somalis accountable for the poison that they feed us.

For any self-respecting race, your capacity to produce your own food or educate your own children is what confirms your claims of freedom or independence. The fact that we rely on foreigners for our most basic foodstuffs speaks to our powerlessness as a people.

To develop the capacity to feed ourselves and engage in other forms of commercial activity, Black people must consciously build business entities and associations that will unapologetically ensure that Black business (regardless of size), trade with each other, that the money circulates within the Black community. And most importantly, the money of the Black consumers is used to uplift the Black community and no other community.

The point should be to rid ourselves of the slave mind-set that sees us taking pride in being consumers of what others produce. Blacks must internalise a culture of spending their money on the Black businesses and do so without feeling the need to apologise or explain themselves to anybody.

In the area of politics, Garvey teaches that, “Point me to a weak nation and I will show you a people oppressed, abused, taken advantage of by others. Show me a weak race and I will show you a people reduced to serfdom, peonage and slavery. Show me a well-organised nation, and I will show you a people and a nation respected by the world.”

Political organisation is the one area of human endeavour with the greatest potential to bring us close to the realising to the vision of Black Power and perhaps also the one that best illustrates our weakness as Black people. At the moment, our approach to our affairs continues to be one that serves the interests of the very people who have and continue to keep us enslaved. We generally place our party-political affiliation above our affiliation to our race.

This is why we can say we are in power, but still have Black children who fall into pit toilets and die. Our general approach to Black political affairs invariably entrenches the artificial divisions that were created by our enslavers and further weakens us as a race.

In the area of self-defence, Garvey teaches that, “The powers opposed to Negro progress will not be influenced in the slightest by mere verbal protests on our part. They realise only too well that protests of this kind contain nothing but the breath expended in making them. They also realise that their success in enslaving and dominating the darker part of humanity was due solely to the element of force employed (in the majority of cases this was accomplished by force of arms.”

Today, Whites can still publicly attack, kill or put Black people in coffins on the farms. They do this because they know that, not only are Blacks not united, but also there is absolutely nothing decisive that we as Blacks will do stop the terror against our bodies. With the support of anti-Black groups like AfriForum, Whites are currently training their children and women in the use of weapons. Against who do you think they are going to use this training?  

7. Concluding remarks

Having said all this, we Blacks must not fool ourselves into believing that, those who benefit from our continued slavery (especially economically) – will fold their arms and watch us organise to build Black Power. They will not! They will do all manner of diabolic things to stop our march towards Black Power, including using our own to infiltrate us or serve as a protective barrier between us and them.

We must not fool ourselves, if some of these tactics fail, our race-enemies will not hesitate to kill us. I know this is something some of us may not like to hear, but it has to be said, over and over again. It is therefore important for Black people to understand that, you can’t say you have power or you are a free, if you can’t feed yourself, educate your own children, defend yourself against any external threat or continue to bow to the gods of the murderers and rapists of your ancestors.

Black sisters and brothers, Mwalimu Marcus Garvey was an organisational genius, a master institution- builder and above all, Garvey was a fearless warrior of our race. Therefore, if we are to achieve whatever goals we set ourselves as a race, we will have to get one thing right, which is to build institutions that can translate our ideas into practice, sustain and defend them.

Without physical, well-functioning and unapologetic pro-Black institutions, all our ideas about race pride, self-reliance, Black power or total independence, will remain as useless as the people who conceived them. Black sisters and brothers, let us go out and build own authentically Black -controlled institutions. This, in our view, should be the most urgent task for those Black sisters and brothers, who remain committed to finishing the unfinished business of total and authentic independence for the Black race.


Marcus Garvey’s Africa
Marcus Garvey’s Vision of Pan-Africanism


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Tuesday, 28 May 2024

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