130th anniversary of Marcus Garvey's birth


Thursday, August 17, 2017

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National Hero Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born in St Ann's Bay on August 17, 1887 — 130 years ago today. Born only 39 years after the full abolition of slavery in Jamaica, Garvey turned his attention to the true liberation of the African race everywhere. He spoke about a future United States of Africa, just as there was and still is the United States of America. He also had a slogan, “ Africa for Africans at home and abroad”.

Marcus Garvey, who was widely read, had studied African history and informed his listeners about Africa's glorious past, speaking about the ancient kingdoms of Ghana, Zimbabwe and Timbuktu, their great civilisations and universities that influenced European existence. Marcus Garvey migrated to the USA where he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association, which had its branches in Jamaica.

It was Marcus Garvey who said in 1927: “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, because while others can free the body, none but ourselves can free our minds.” This would be put to song by the late Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley in his world-famous Redemption Song.

Garvey founded a shipping line, the Black Star Line, mainly, it seems, for his idea of repatriation of black people to Africa. The shipping line did not succeed.

His detractors in the USA had him arrested and tried for what is believed by many to be trumped-up charges. He was deported to Jamaica in the 1920s and founded the People's Political Party (PPP). With voting limited to property owners and taxpayers who paid ten shillings and over, the PPP failed to gain a seat in the then Legislative Council. But Garvey did win a seat in local government when he won a seat in the then Kingston and St Andrew Corporation Council (now Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation).

Marcus Garvey understood that it is only by ownership of the means of production that black people could control their own destinies. As a result, the Universal Negro Improvement Association sought to organise co-operative businesses wherever its branches existed in the world. In later years Norman Manley would also emphasise co-operatives in Jamaica. And a year after Garvey died the Roman Catholic Church started the credit union arm of the co-operative movement in Jamaica.

While for political and other reasons some have sought to selectively emphasise the clashes between Garvey and Norman Manley, the fact is that Manley respected Garvey for his work. There is much written evidence of this, which would be known if only people would read. While they were of clearly different personalities, there were great similarities in their outlook, which again would be known if only people would read. One must look at the manifesto of the People's Political Party and the original manifesto of the People's National Party.

While Garvey's service was largely intangible, except perhaps for the Black Star Line, as he was not in a position to provide material benefits. In the words of Michael Manley in his book Struggle in the Periphery, Garvey certainly sowed seeds. He started the whole drive to bring about mental emancipation of black people.

While we certainly have made great strides since the days of Garvey, the total completion of the mental emancipation exercise still eludes us. This is because there are those who have used all sorts of means, including modern technology, to keep black people mentally enslaved.

Perhaps one of the biggest perpetrators of this is the beauty contests that take place throughout the world, including Jamaica, which are judged in European terms. But there is no end in sight because there are great financial profits in it for the organisers.

You would be surprised to know that my views of opposition to beauty contests were shaped by someone who was head boy of my alma mater, Jamaica College, when I was in second form. And that head boy was Bruce Golding — prime minister of Jamaica four decades later.

Marcus Garvey held the same viewpoint about these so-called beauty contests and so did the brown-skinned Norman Manley. The Roman Catholic Church alludes to this in the documents of the Second Vatican Council (article 53 of the church in the modern world). But, in summary, Marcus Garvey tried to educate the descendants of slaves that our African culture was equal to or greater than any other culture, including and especially European culture. He also showed black people that they would never be truly liberated until they had some control of the means of production.

Incidentally, more than 80 years after the birth of Garvey, the late Guyanese lecturer Dr Walter Rodney sought to carry out the same work of Marcus Garvey in enlightening people about things African. For this he was expelled from Jamaica ironically by Jamaica's first visibly black-skinned prime minister, Hugh Lawson Shearer.

There were riots in 1968 after Rodney was declared persona non grata. Hugh Shearer defended himself by producing what was purportedly evidence that Rodney was involved in subversive activities to overthrow the Government. There was absolutely no evidence that the pamphlet was produced at the university or that Rodney ever had anything to do with writing it.

Much has been made of the fact that the initial reaction of Norman Manley was that he fully understood Shearer's position having had to deal with a near overthrow led by Reynold Henry (the son of Claudius Henry) while he (Norman Manley) was premier of Jamaica. But in his speech in Parliament, David Coore, then a senior Opposition spokesman said that there was absolutely no evidence that the pamphlet was published at The University of the West Indies. Coore's speech was published in the Public Opinion but not in The Gleaner.

Walter Rodney died in a bomb blast in Guyana in 1980. He wrote two books that are considered classics, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa and Groundings with my brothers. Both books were a sort of literal description of the works of Marcus Garvey and all he stood for. The struggle continues.




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