Filed Under:  Columns, Opinion

The Hard Truth – Marcus Garvey – None greater!

13th August 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Min. J. Kojo Livingston
Contributing Columnist

He built the largest Black movement and organization in modern history. It was larger than the Civil Rights Movement…and with a lot less technology (no TV at all).

His influence crossed the ocean and can be seen in the flags of most Afrikan nations today. He had untold millions of supporters in the Caribbean and South America. His words and his work instilled a pride that threatened to break the stranglehold of Black self-hatred that had been systematically taught and beaten into us for over 300 years.

Maybe that’s why he was considered a “threat.” Maybe that’s why he had to be “neutralized.”

The fact that you know little, if anything, about him is a testament to the power and of our enemies. A man can shake a nation, a hemisphere and the world and be virtually erased from history in less than forty years if his enemies control the media and education.

They even fear his memory.

“He” is the Honorable Marcus Garvey, founder of the UNIA-ACL and one of the most powerful men, of any stripe, to ever walk the face of the earth…and he is one of ours.

Baba Garvey was not only Black in ethnicity, he was an absolute “race man”, thoroughly committed to the uplift of Black/Afrikan people everywhere. On August 17, 1887 this great man was born in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. He came to the US in 1914, seeking to meet Booker T. Washington, whom he admired for his self-help philosophy. Washington died before they could meet. However, what he saw happening to Black people here moved him. He went back to Jamaica and started the UNIA-ACL –Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League.

Garvey traveled the US and the rest of this hemisphere speaking and building the UNIA. A powerful orator, he did more than just talk, he organized Black cooperative businesses like grocery stores, laundries, restaurants, hotels and factories. He preached Black pride, power and self-sufficiency and paraded it up and down the major avenues of big cities. He even developed a fleet of ships, the Black Star Line, which was designed for international trade and moving passengers back to Africa should that time become necessary to escape white torture. He hosted the first All-Africa Conference in 1920 which brought 20,000 participants from around the world. It was at this conference that he unveiled the Red, Black and Green flag. He was voted President of Africa, even though he died without setting foot on The Continent.

It was the combination of his powerful oratory and his creation of functional businesses, institutions and entities such as the Black Cross Nurses and the African Legion that captured the imagination and loyalty of millions of Black people. The lowest estimate of his paid members ranged from 2 to 3 million. He claimed as many as 5 to 6 million.

We don’t worship the man. He is not God, but certainly a Saint to many of us. His teachings and his example stand as a beacon, a map, a compass to what is both possible and necessary for us today. His speeches in 1920 could have been written this morning.

Garvey organized millions of Black people in the USA and across the world without the benefit of the internet, television, cell-phones or faxes. There were no jets making daily flights across the globe, no websites, blogs, text-alerts, or teleconferences. In fact the telephone was not common in most homes when he was building the UNIA. This makes his accomplishment that much more impressive.

However the Honorable Marcus Garvey had one major advantage over those of us who organize for Black self-determination today – clarity. No one could claim to be “colorblind.” The lynchings, overt discrimination, even the language used to refer to us made clear our relationship to white people and this nation. Today Black people have enough room to pretend not to even notice racial differences. Many refuse to acknowledge that racism or injustice even exists…until it bites them openly. Many claim that we are wrong to promote our own history and culture, that it is pointless to organize to pursue the interests of the race. Many feel that our highest aspiration should be to blend in and be accepted by other groups, especially white people. Although they openly acknowledge that every other ethnic group has advanced by working together and keeping their identities, they feel we should keep trying to take another route.

This thinking is called “Black exceptionalism”, the notion that certain rules only apply to us. It is this mindset that we must overcome by teaching, exposing the true nature of our situation and focusing on the benefits and need for self-sufficiency and self-determination. This concept alone makes Garvey’s ideas an object of fear to those who run this nation.

Garvey never threatened the USA, nor did he advocate violence, insurrection or revenge against this nation or white people. However the mere notion of Black people standing up with pride and doing for ourselves was enough to make Garvey a “national security threat.” A young J. Edgar Hoover was assigned by what would become the FBI to sabotage and break the group. He had virtually unlimited resources to plant Black spies in the group and engage in a program of domestic espionage and deception that led directly to Garvey’s arrest on the false charge of mail fraud.

Garvey was held at Atlanta Federal Penitentiary for two years, then deported from the port of New Orleans, where he gave his farewell speech. The UNIA has continued to exist through the years and is now experiencing resurgence as Pan Afrikanist groups around the nation are starting to unite.

Nearly 100 years ago our people came together in a mighty way, on our own terms, with fewer resources than we possess today…which brings us back to that eternal question…

…Whatchagonna DO?

This article was originally published in the August 13, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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