The Garveyites: Part One …Marcus Garvey and the birth of Pan-Africanism


IN this series we shall be looking at Marcus Garvey in relation to the organisations he established and the ones that were inspired by his movement.
Yes, we once published an article or two on Marcus Garvey in The Patriot, but in this series, we provide more detailed personal information on Garvey by way of providing sufficient background to the current series.
Marcus Garvey marked the beginning of the organised struggle for the liberation of blacks all over the world.
Garvey’s struggle for blacks to untangle themselves from the chains of slavery and colonisation by whites is now known as Pan-Africanism.
Before Marcus Garvey, most blacks especially in the Diaspora lacked knowledge of self and pride in their own race.
In America, the blacks of those lands who had fallen victim to centuries of slavery had lost their history, culture and even their names.
In Africa, the blacks were falling victim to colonisation.
Both the blacks in Africa and abroad were disunited and lacked direction as to how to deal with the matter.
Blacks in Africa did not know about the situation of their brethren in America. Similarly, the blacks in America did not comprehend the situation of the blacks in Africa.
Marcus Garvey’s legacy was in teaching black pride, black history and most importantly, the way out of the desperate position that blacks had been put in by whites.
Marcus Garvey achieved this by challenging the whites at an intellectual level and organising groups and institutions that would counter the white oppressive system.
Marcus Garvey was born in Jamaica in 1870.
Blacks in America had been freed from slavery in 1863.
Blacks in the Caribbean islands and South America would also be freed shortly thereafter.
In Britain the freeing of slaves started a few decades earlier, in 1807.
However, this freedom from slavery was backhanded as no notable repatriation was given to the blacks in all the above mentioned places.
They were neither recompensed for the property they lost as a consequence of their ancestors’ enslavement from Africa, nor were they repatriated back to their homeland, Africa.
The blacks were simply freed from being slaves and they were expected to pick themselves up from there.
Slavery had turned blacks into labourers who were prohibited from reading and writing.
The main reason that whites opted to free blacks was the Industrial Revolution which replaced human labour with machines.
On release almost all the Blacks were illiterate and thus set up to be the losers in the new capitalist world where intellectual skills were a requirement for one to cope.
This meant that as the free blacks escaped slavery, they were soon thereafter ensnared in poverty.
In Africa, the European nations were taking over Africa in the Scramble for Africa which took place in the 1890s.
The blacks had become a laughing stock for whites as the black race was considered the lowest and even blacks themselves began to believe the lie.
Black Americans were told that Africans were savages who hobnobbed from one tree to another.
Because the black Americans had not been to Africa in centuries, they believed the white lie and even today very few black Americans think highly of Africa.
Africa was portrayed as a jungle with no civilisation particularly in American films. Black Americans were also portrayed as docile beings who knew nothing, but how to sing and dance.
Marcus Garvey grew up at a very racially turbulent time for blacks.
Garvey’s parents belonged to a people known as the Maroons.
These were a community of blacks who were known for continually resisting slavery and trying to conserve their African culture.
Marcus Garvey’s father had been a slave and Garvey was the name of his father’s slave master.
His father was a builder (mason) and such was his occupation after he was freed. He read books and Marcus inherited his father’s passion for reading.
Marcus’s mother worked for a white family not as a slave, but as a paid labourer.
His parents taught him self-confidence and unlike many blacks of his time, Marcus had great ambition.
However, because of unfavourable financial conditions, Marcus left school at 14 years.
He began working at a printing press as a printer.
In 1910 he travelled to Central America as a journalist.
There he witnessed the disorganisation, division and powerlessness of the blacks who were ironically the backbone of the economies and the builders of the cities he passed through.
Marcus read Booker T Washington’s book on slavery, which reawakened him to their experience of slavery and made him understand why the blacks were so weak a people.
They had been groomed into a scared and timid people who basically worshipped the white race.
After this awakening Marcus became an activist who had set his mind on strengthening his people’s spirits.
Marcus married a black woman called Amy and together they founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1914.
Before then, Garvey had established his own newspaper called Garvey’s Watchman.
The motto of UNIA was ‘One God, One aim, One destiny.’
His goal was not only to unify, but also to lead all black people around the world for he felt that he had a calling which demanded that he leads.
Facing financial problems, but desirous to give momentum to his movement, he decided to move to the United States where he would carry out his work and gain international influence and higher chances of funding.
In 1916 he left Jamaica without his wife (she would later follow).
He settled in Harlem New York where he lived with a Jamaican family.
Shortly after his arrival, he participated in a tour around 38 states of the USA.
Like he had experienced in Central America, Marcus again witnessed the universal nature of the black people’s perceived racial inferiority.
Although the blacks were freed from slavery, they were segregated.
There were black schools and white schools, black toilets and white toilets and so on.
The facilities for whites were top notch and the facilities for blacks were substandard.
This was in the days of the infamous Jim Crow, a racist white man who approved the oppression of blacks even in government.
Marcus witnessed the 1917 race riot which saw the death of 39 whites and hundreds of black people.
In the USA, the only notable black movement at that time was the Negro Association of American Coloured People (NAACP) headed by a black called W.E Dubois.
The NAACP did not respond strongly to white provocation except to speak diplomatically and to conduct silent marches.
This disgusted Garvey.
He hated white liberals who pretended to care about blacks and he also hated their black peers who thought the whites could liberate them.
Marcus believed that if the problems at hand affected the blacks, then it was up to the blacks themselves to solve the problems as they saw fit, not the whites who were causing the problems.
In September of 1917, Marcus set up the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Harlem.
l To be continued


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