The immortal message
For the most part, Marcus Garvey's accomplishments are showcased during Black History Month. They have also been featured in the lyrical compositions of musical outfits such as Burning Spear.
But for all our efforts, we are yet to grasp the magnitude of this historical figure. Fortuitously, the Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey has been republished. It is a voluminous work that underscores Garvey's piercing insight into and profound
understanding of the social, political, and economic problems of his time. Remarkably, Garvey's thesis is more relevant today than ever before.
We live in a time when social activists are challenging police misconduct in black communities in the US; and a time when high unemployment among blacks persists despite a two-term black president. Equally alarming is the debilitated state of black Africa and a black Diaspora that is still divorced from the levers of economic power.
Garvey has long offered tangible solutions to these nagging issues. As early as the 1920s, he set the tone with a slew of businesses in Harlem. During this period, the Establishment of the United Negro Improvement Association and the boldly ambitious Black Star Line Shipping Corporation served as the bulwark of his economic enterprise. His message has always been definitive: the black race must achieve economic independence or forever be slaves to monopolistic powers.
Garvey goes further, though. He envisions an independent Africa, an Africa that serves as a protectorate for millions of blacks in the Diaspora. Skilled blacks were asked to emigrate and build Liberia. This undertaking would have served as a model for the rest of the continent. Not a far-fetched idea by any means. Today, the Ooni of Ife has expressed similar sentiments and so have the governments of the Gambia and Benin. Also, the African Union (AU) has redefined the African continent into six regions: North Africa, South Africa, West Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, and the Diaspora the aim being to merge all six regions into a single "constitutional" entity.
The industrialisation of Africa is a matter of exigency, according to Garvey. It is existentially significant to the Diaspora. His writings on this subject demand reflection: "Do they lynch Englishmen, Frenchmen, Germans, or Japanese? No. And Why? Because these people are represented by great governments, mighty nations and empires, strongly organised. Yes, and ever ready to shed the last drop of blood and spend the last penny in the national treasury to protect the home and integrity of a citizen outraged anywhere."
He never stops demanding justice, mindful of the exploitative seed in the hearts of men. "[S]o long as the strong continues to oppress the weak; so long as the powerful nations arrange among themselves to oppress the weaker ones, and to keep the more unfortunate of humanity in serfdom, and to rob and exploit them, so long will be the cause of war be fed with the fuel of revenge, of hatred and of discontent."
And ever so prophetic, Garvey cites racial dialogue as paramount to stability. The 2016 conference at the White House to address racial tensions in the United States only lends credence to the efficacy of Garvey's pronouncements. In another script, Garvey's angst is almost palpable: "The number of blacks in jails, prisons, and reformatories of the United States, the British West Indian, and other colonies and countries, the protectorates and dominions of Great Britain and France in Africa, is shamefully in excess proportionately, of all other race groups to the populations. Something is wrong."
Nearly one hundred years after Garvey's statement, the US is still grappling with a skewed judicial system as addressed in Michelle Alexander's 2010 classic, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
On many levels, Garvey transcends the social sciences. His counsel is clothed in practical mysticism. He decries supplications to God without action. We are co-creators in a divine plan, he posits. We create our own reality.
In Man Know Thyself, he forays into the far reaches of human consciousness. He pens: "For man to know himself is for him to feel that for him there is no human master." He pens:"For him, Nature is his servant, and whatsoever he wills in Nature, that shall be his reward. If he wills to be a pygmy, a serf or a slave, that shall he be. If he wills to be a real man in possession of the things common to man then he shall be his own sovereign. Man has no master but God [and] man in his authority is a sovereign lord."
Still, he acknowledges the psychological lassitude of many in his race and more disturbingly, their willingness to sabotage unity as evident in his own legal travails. "The greatest weapon used against the Negro is disorganisation," he says, and later, laments, "The trial of my case has added to my knowledge new information of the depths to which members of my race will descend to injure each other in the rivalry for place, patronage and position." But his Mosaic stance is stirring: "I have one consolation that I cannot get away from the race, and so long as I am in the race and since I have sense and judgement enough to know what affects the race affects me, it is my duty to help the race to clear itself of those things that affect us in common."
Interestingly, there is a poetic, artistic side of Garvey hitherto unexplored.
In one of his many epigrams, Garvey muses on the complexity of love. "[Love] is all joy," he writes: "It sweetens life but it does not laugh. It comes and goes but when it is active there is no greater virtue... .We cannot hold our love, but there is one love that never changeth or is mistaken, and that's God's. The longer we hold our love, the nearer we approach like unto our Creator." And on death he offers: "He who lives not uprightly dies completely in the crumbling of the physical body, but he who lives well, transforms from that which is mortal to immortal."
The Opinions and Philosophy of Marcus Garvey is a literary monument, an oeuvre of immense importance to a beleaguered people.
In August 2014, the Jamaican Government announced that Garveyism would be introduced in schools, a transformational step that will undoubtedly reap manifold benefits.
Surely, a radical approach to veritable sovereignty and empowerment is long overdue, and as a new chapter begins, the compelling words of Garvey resound, "A race that is solely dependent upon another for its economic existence sooner or later dies. ... so will we in the future suffer, if an effort is not made now to adjust our own affairs."