Bigger, faster and stronger animals intimidate and dominate the not so fortunate ones. However, being witty and clever can postpone death another day in the jungle of life.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr., the Jamaica-born orator proved with his wit, clarity of thought and charming words that no matter what, the disadvantaged can take on a mighty opponent such that even in failure, a dent would have been caused.
Garvey emerged as a Jamaican political activist, publisher, journalist and entrepreneur but by the time he died in London on June 10, 1940, he had deeply impacted the world as well as the lives of many people on the African continent he never stepped foot on, Europe, Asia and the Americas.
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Garvey who died aged 52 was the founder and first President-General of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL, commonly known as UNIA).
He was in essence a Black Nationalist and Pan-Africanist forging the ideology ‘Garveyism.’
Looking to the world and finding no dominant black leader, Garvey declared himself Provisional President of Africa. It is in that role he championed a return to Africa by people of African descent to help develop the motherland. Sadly, time wasn’t his best ally as death came knocking.
However in America, his organizational abilities in rallying Blacks who had been made to feel worthless to become a power bloc so much so that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had to dedicate resources and spies to break the UNIA front. He also ordered for subversive acts to be carried out against Garvey and the group. They would lead to Garvey’s incarceration on suspicious charges and upon his release, he was deported to his homeland of Jamaica.
The imperialist arm was also over Jamaica and Garvey finding that he needed an intellectual base to work with to achieve Africa’s freedom moved to England in 1935 to continue his Pan-African work. In five years, however, he died in 1940 from a stroke. Through malice or error, an obituary had been published about Garvey’s death while still alive; upon reading the obituary in the paper his health deteriorated leading to his death.
That the Jamaican government accepted his body in 1964, 24 years after his burial reflected badly on the state. He was, however, reburied in the National Heroes Park and made a national hero.
But Garvey’s light had shone bright in his life time and even brighter in death. His call for a united Africa, overthrow of European colonial rule resounded well with many who easily identified the oppression of melanated people globally.
Malcom X who became El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz and worked for a united front by Africans on the continent and African-Americans noted “it was Marcus Garvey’s philosophy with Pan-Africanism which initiated the entire freedom movement which brought about the independence of African nations. All the freedom movements in America were initiated by the work and teachings of Marcus Garvey.”
African-American politician Adam Powell said of him: “Marcus Garvey was one of the greatest mass leaders of all time.”
Ghana’s former president Kwame Nkrumah considered perhaps the brightest who carried on Garvey’s work stated, “the book that did more than any other to fire my enthusiasm was The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey.”
Former Nigerian president Nnamdi Azikiwe held that “Garvey was one of the most far sighted persons of African descent to walk upon God’s earth.”
The civil rights notable Martin Luther King, Jr. stated “in the history of the U.S., Garvey was the first one on a mass scale to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and make the Negroes feel he was somebody.”
Kenya’s former president Jomo Kenyatta also asserted, “in 1921, Kenya nationalists unable to read gathered around the reader of Garvey’s newspaper and listen to an article two or three times and run various ways through the forest to repeat carefully what they have memorized to Africans hungry for some doctrine which lifted the servant consciousness which Africans lived.”
According to C. L. R. James “he started us off. For me, Marcus Garvey was the beginning, the first man to make Black people feel a real … aware of themselves as an international force.”
To Jamaica born poet Claude McKay: “Marcus Garvey’s influence over Afro-Americans, native Africans and people of African descent everywhere was vast.”
A fitting tribute then to an African great leader by some of the heavyweights who put in sweat, tears, blood and toil to liberate Africans on the continent and beyond.