Ever so often we turn our thoughts to personalities we call our Heroes; persons who have had an impact on our world, not just locally, but globally. Among such persons is Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr., whose name is often mentioned in the same breath as Mandela, Malcolm, and Marley.
August 17th, will mark the 124th year of Marcus Garvey’s Birthday. He was born on this day in the year 1887 and died in June 1940. In memory of his life and contribution to humanity, we take this opportunity to look at the legend of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr.; who he was, and the significance of his legacy.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr. was born in Jamaica, the last of 11 children born to a Mason, whom he was named after, and Sarah Jane Richards described as a Domestic Worker and Farmer. He obviously came from humble origins. But he was educated, and after several years of formal schooling he took up an apprenticeship at a printery in his native land. We learn that his father was a literary man, keeping a lot of books at home, and young Marcus made use of them. He became conscious of the racial injustices against people of color and got involved in trade union activities in Jamaica where he led a strike for higher wages before he immigrated to the United States at the age of 28.
Marcus Garvey is described as a “black nationalist who created a ‘Back-to-Africa’ movement in the United States. He became an inspirational figure for the civil rights activists in that country. He was a publisher, a journalist, entrepreneur, motivational speaker and poet, and a staunch supporter of the Black Nationalism and Pan-African Movements that struggled against colonialism in Africa and the Americas; wherever peoples of color and particularly descendants of Africans were being oppressed. Garvey believed that “Africa should be for Africans, at home and abroad”.
A man of great passion and vision, Garvey has had his share of critics, and to place his views and activities at a time when Black people were still under much oppression, it is understandable that he would have faced a great deal of opposition and resentment from the established order of the day. He was struggling against fundamental ideas that supported racism, such as Segregation and Jim Crow laws in the United States, Apartheid in South Africa and Colonialism in other parts of Africa and the Caribbean. Along with other great thinkers and doers of the time, including Virgin Islander Edward Wilmot Blyden, he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL), operating in Harlem, New York. Shortly thereafter the association launched an ambitious project, the Black Star Line which was to promote a return of African descendants to the Motherland “to redeem Africa”.
The scheme appealed to the masses of Black working class and lower middle classes of people who saw in it an opportunity to escape prejudice and discrimination, racial violence and unemployment in America. By the mid 1920’s the UNIA had more than 700 branches in 38 States and more than 200 offices outside of the United States. Imagine the challenges that such an operation faced without the assistance of modern communication technology! But through his newspaper, The Negro World the idea was promoted and celebrated with advertisements, songs and poems. In the early years of the VI Folk Museum in Road Town, there was a set of Certificates offering shares in the Black Star Line, indicating that the BVI was not left out of this massive outreach undertaking.
However, due to circumstances; betrayal by trusted colleagues, breakdown in the vessels that were used, charges of mismanagement and mail fraud, the Black Star Line lasted only a few years before it collapsed and Marcus Garvey was a target for ridicule and accusations. In a social and political climate where black enterprise of such magnitude was unheard of, it is a wonder that it made it as far as it did. It is also a testimony of what is possible if there is a vision , unity and commitment to work to back up such vision and bring it to fruition. It reminds me of the election to the Presidency of Barack Obama, using what you have at your disposal to make something great happen. Obama’s campaign had strong social media networking in its favor, and the Black Star Line had “snail mail” but it was all about connecting with people, and getting the message out.
Before his final days spent in virtual exile in England, Marcus Garvey had already created a philosophical idea known as Garveyism which fundamentally promoted black people’s social, political and economic advancement and progress universally. He inspired world leaders, particularly in Africa, America and the Caribbean. He is revered by Rastafarians, and others who strive to be free from colonial stagnation and oppression. Marcus Garvey’s Message to the People is a compilation of his writings first published in 1986, edited by Tony Martin. This publication encapsulates the literary works of Marcus Mosiah Garvey and contains valuable lessons that are timely and timeless.
Lesson I starts out with topics such as Intelligence, Education, Universal Knowledge and How to Get It, followed by other lessons on subjects such asDiplomacy, Economy, Self-Initiative, Personality, Winning Mankind by Kindness and Living for Something, among other straight-forward and commonsense advice.
Precious gemstones that I have found under the subject of Economy (Lesson 10) are as follows: “Never exhaust yourself, always have a reserve”. “In earning money, one should never spend as much money as [one] earns. That is bad business”…. “Whatever [one’s] earning capacity [one] should always be thrifty enough to save at least 15 to 20% of [one’s] income, storing it up for making better opportunities when they come and providing for a rainy day.” “Never engage yourself in living luxuriously when you can only live ordinarily”. “Never give away anything that can be turned into money except you can spare it”. Never borrow on interest from anybody…If you pay your own debts with your own money you will save the interest for yourself that you pay to others” …(that was before the days of Credit cards, but still make good sense today, especially in the global economic crisis environment we live in). Apart from personal finance, there is also practical advice about going into business that is still applicable in today’s world. These are highlighted in Lesson 18 under Commercial and Industrial Transactions.
Like every visionary leader, Marcus Garvey was not without his haters, but he was clearly a man of courage and passion. He became Jamaica’s first recognized National Hero and by extension, one of history’s memorable figure for his contribution to humanity. For more information about Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr., Google the name and check out the various websites and links that pop up. Marcus Garvey, remembered on August 17th, commemorating the day of his birth 124 year ago.