BOOK REVIEWS: THE SIGNIFICANCE OF GARVEY
Marcus Mosiah Garvey was and is many different things to many people. Opinions vary from “nefarious rogue” to ”The greatest thing that happened to the · black man.” Regardless of where on this continuum of opinions we stand, it is necessary to examine what Garvey achieved and what relevant influence, adverse or otherwise, his legacy “Garveyism,” is having. To the unjustly oppressed Negro, particularly in the Third World, this exercise is essential. For to establish and comprehend the essence of Garveyism, and the significance of Garvey, is to make more possible the freeing of the Negro from his present social economic and cultural oppression.
Garvey’s significance is five-fold; each aspect necessitates thorough investigation. Perhaps it is appropriate to start with Garvey’s most important achievement. This was the building and recreating of racial pride among the Negroes of the United States, Central America and the Caribbean Islands. Although the rebirth of Negro pride is a comparatively recent phenomenon, it should not be regarded as a plant which came quickly to fruition. On the contrary, it has only blossomed forth after many years of ineffable work by men like Garvey. Dubois Ind more recently, Martin Luther King and Stokely Carmichael. It cannot be claimed that Garvey sowed the seed, but it would undoubtedly be true to say that he helped to nurture it, particularly through the crucial years between 1920 to 1930. To fully realize the worth of this achievement, we must cast our minds back and recall that these were years when oppression, discrimination, intolerance and in justice were rampant and unchecked. In fact, it is possible to declare without much exaggeration that the nocturnal activities of the Klu Klux Klan and the Knights of the White Light epitomized the opinions held by the majority of white Americans.
Garvey used two approaches to lead the Negro to racial pride. First, he made them conscious of their honorable past. Through his vehicles of expression, the ” Black World” newspaper – his magazine “Black Man,” his pamphlets and his bellicose racialist speeches, he awakened the Negro to the glories of his history. Garvey showed that the Negro to the glories of his history. Garvey showed that the Negro was, and is, a strong and noble race, capable of great achievements. Extolling the feats of Toussaint L’Overture, the heroism of Nat Turner, and the splendors of the Ethiopian empire, he indoctrinated the Negro. The core of this indoctrination contained the exhortation:
“Up, you mighty race. You were once great: you can and will be great again!”
Secondly, Garvey built racial pride by his example and exploits. He established large, grandiose organizations such as “The Black Star Steamship Line.” “The Universal Negro Improvement Association” and the Negro Factories Corporation. The significance of the second of these organizations merits closer examination.
The U. N.I.A. had a tremendous impact on the Negro masses of the Americas. It was huge, claiming at one time a membership of over 2 million, it was international, having branches in many countries and it had a multi-colour clad, pseudo-army made of the Africa Legion, the Black Cross Nurses, the Universal African Motor Corps, the Black Eagle Flying Corps and a youth auxiliary. The U.N.I.A . also created a black nobility and published a Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World. All this naturally, does not seem very impressive to the educated black man of today, particularly since the U.N.I.A’s effect was so ephemeral. However, it must be bourne in mind that the level of education common to the Negroes then was very low indeed. To the average Negro of that day, the U.N.I.A. was his Saviour and a source of boundless pride. It was as big as any white organization, and was, or at least appeared to be very powerful – powerful enough to fight for and protect them physically as well as legally.
This latter factor, contributing to the rebirth of Negro pride, was also instrumental in realizing Garvey’s second most important achievement. This was the restoration of the black man’s self-confidence, and a reawakening of his ambition. The U.N.1.A. and the Black Star Line, though decadent behind their specious facades, restored confidence in the Negro that he had ability and
could achieve any desired goal. The Black Star Line was a complete business acumen. Nevertheless, it taught the Negro that although this venture failed, such Negro ventures were possible. Having regained his confidence, the Negro could once again be ambitious.
The rebuilding of racial pride and the restoration of self-confidence resulted in the third of Garvey’s achievements. This was the destruction of the myth that the white man was superior to the black man.
It should be realized that the American Negro of the 1920’s and 30’s was a d-e cultured and brain -washed being, particularly in the Deep South . A long history of oppression and the forcible subjection to a set of cruel institutions and circumstances, helped produce this condition. Negroes were brought to the Americas as slaves from Africa. Generations of them lived, suffered and died within the confining framework of slavery.. After the American Civil War of 1860-65 slavery was abolished. Although free, the Negro emerged from slavery permanently maimed and devoid of nearly all traces of his indigenous culture, i.e. the African one. He was completely the product of that barbarous conglomeration of Anglo-European social beliefs and practices some referred to as American culture. In addition, the idea that the black man was inferior to the white man was beaten into the Negro, sometimes physically. It is quite understandable why the Negro came to accept his inferiority and the myth of white supremacy, not only because of his history but also because of the present social, political and economic circumstances under which he was compelled to exist. Politically and socially, he was a second class citizen; in fact so many of his rights has been restricted or removed that he was not enjoying full citizenship, which like his white brothers, he was entitled to. Because Negroes were denied opportunities of acquiring education it was a fact that the average white man was better informed , more skilled and generally more competent. The whites used their artificial superiority to impress upon the Negro that he was of inferior ability. After decades of indoctrination the Negro came to accept and believe ‘with’ or ‘without’ question, the notion that he was by nature, of inferior mental capacity. The eradication of his myth is not yet complete, but the process is well under way. The beginnings of this process can be traced to the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth century. It is obvious just why Booker T. Washington was of such paramount importance.
Washington in achieving scientific eminence and fame confirmed and supported the idea of the possibility for Negro equality with the white man or for that matter, with any man. Garvey had had a significant role to play in destroying the myth. By his example, his achievements, his creation of gigantic, prestigious organisations and possibly most effectively, by his writing and preaching of the tenets of Garveyism.
In all his writings, exhorting the Negro, Garvey explained that in order for the peoples of the world to respect the Negro, he must prove his equality, his ability and his metal by achievement. In his article ” Appeal to the Soul of White America,” published in the Negro World , October 1923, he wrote….
“Progress of and among peoples will advance them in the respect of other races and nations. The Negro must be up and doing if he will break down the prejudice of the rest of the world. Prayers along is not going to improve our conditions. nor can the policy of watchful waiting. We must strike out for ourselves in the course of material achievement and by our own effort and energy present to the world those forces by which the progress of man is judged.”