Pan-Africanism is an ideology and practice with many fathers. Indeed, as a Face2Face Africa commenter recently informed us, Edward Wilmot Blyden is one of the earliest people associated with the organized desire of the descendants of the Africans deported to the West to return to Africa. Kwame Nkrumah, W.E.B. DuBois, and George Padmore are also named among the thinkers, activists, and politicians who advanced this movement. But there is perhaps no name more wedded to the “Back to Africa” concept as Marcus Mosiah Garvey.
Born in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, on August 17, 1887, Garvey grew up the West Indies and later traveled to England, where he worked for an influential political journal called the African Times and Orient Review. In 1917, he made his first voyage to the United States. He landed in Harlem – the Black version of America’s melting pot, where hustlers and intellectuals were forced by the nation’s racial rules to live together amidst the church ladies and showgirls.
He met ambitious souls who ran north from the southern United States in search of work opportunities and freedom from open war against “uppity” Blacks. And other Blacks like himself, who had come from the islands or – like Nkrumah – from various parts of Africa to study or work. Garvey recognized the common origin, common problems, and common destiny facing these different groups, and crystallized his vision into a “United States of Africa.”
It is fitting then, that on today, what would have been his 129th birthday, we should take a look at five gifts Marcus Garvey has given to the African world he dedicated his life to organizing.