On Marcus Garvey’s Birthday Celebration

by Sundiata AcoliAUGUST 1998, SPEECH AT MARCUS GARVEY’S BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION
In my opinion, Marcus Garvey was the greatest organizer of Afrikan people ever in the western hemisphere, meaning the Americas. The only person who has come close since is Minister Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam and if he continues he may exceed Garvey.

Marcus founded and led the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1914. At its peak it had over 2 million members worldwide, 700 chapters in the united states, 74 chapters in Louisiana alone and its headquarters in Harlem, New York had 35,000 members. All this at a time when the Black population in Harlem and the u.s. was less than half of what it is now. It also had chapters in the Caribbean, Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, etc. and in Central America, Costa Rico, Panama, Honduras, Cuba, Belize, etc. and in Latin America and Afrika.

When Marcus’ wife, Amy Jacques Garvey, met the King Of Swaziland in Afrika he told her he had heard of only 2 Afro-Americans in his life: Jack Johnson, the 1st Black heavyweight champion and Marcus Garvey. The early members of the ANC, the organization that later came to power in South Africa and freed Nelson Mandela, were Garveyites. The UNIA also had chapters in Australia, Europe and Canada; in other words almost where ever there were Black people in the world in significant numbers who had heard of Garvey there was likely to be Garvey sympathizers, supporters, or a UNIA chapter.

UNIA had a Negro Factories Corporation that one time employed up to 1000 people. It owned restaurants, groceries, laundries, a Black doll factory, hotels and trucking businesses. Its Negro World newspaper was the most widely distributed Black newspaper in the world. Besides English, it also published a Spanish and a French edition. Black long shoremen/merchant seamen helped distribute Garvey’s newspaper around the world and smuggled it into countries where banned. One of Garvey’s most stunning achievements was the founding/ownership of the Black Star Steamship Line. He named his 1st ship the Frederick Douglas. His 2nd ship was an excursion boat, the Shadyside, which took Blacks on cruises up/down the Hudson River of New York. His 3rd steamship was named the Antonio Maceo, after the great Black Cuban revolutionary who fought for the independence of Cuba.

For a Black organization to own a steamship line in the 1920s is comparable to a Black person today owning an airline, railway or car manufacturing plant. He planned to purchase/rename his next ship, the Phyllis Wheatly, after an early Black poet, but he was arrested, framed, sent to prison and afterwards deported in order to derail him, the UNIA and Black people from the path of freedom.

These are just a few of the material accomplishments of Marcus before he was struck down by the u.s. government who then used everything in their power to wipe out the record of his phenomenal career. As a result, whole generations of Afrikan children grew up and never knew of him or saw his name in history books. They could wipe him out of the history books but they couldn’t wipe out the impact of his work, his spirit, and the influence he had on the many people he met, touched, inspired and influenced. Many later became world leaders of their people, like Kwame Nkrumah,

1st President of Ghana, who said Garvey’s Philosophy & Opinions had a greater impact on him than any other book, and who named his country’s steamship line the Black Star, in honor of Garvey. Jomo Kenyatta, leader of the Mau-Mau and 1st President of Kenya, met Garvey and was influenced by him during their earlier days together in London. Garvey had similar effects on Godfrey Binasia who later became President of Uganda and on Ho Chi Minh, the great Viet Nam nationalist, who as a young merchant seaman attended UNIA meetings in Harlem whenever his ship docked in New York; also Ida B. Wells, the courageous two-gun toting sister, who crusaded against Black lynchings in the u.s., and many, many more.

They could wipe him out of the history books, even wipe out his physical accomplishments, but they couldn’t wipe out his greatest contribution which was to the spirit, mind, psyche and soul of Black folks. At a time when we were despised throughout the world and ashamed of Afrika, he taught us to love ourselves, to be proud of ourselves and Afrika, to believe in ourselves and to depend on ourselves. Tony Martin, Black scholar/author, breaks Garvey’s philosophy down into the following three main tenants:

* Race First – which stresses that as Blacks, we are oppressed because of race and should strive to put our racial self-interest first. We should support our own businessmen, professionals, writers, athletes, etc., first, provided they have our people’s interest at heart. See beauty in our own kind, stop idolizing and mimicking Whites, bleaching our skin, processing our hair, etc. Black writers, artist, musicians, dancers, etc., should use their creative talents to push forward the struggle of our people.

* Self-reliance – We should not rely on others for liberation but “Do For Self” to become strong and independent. In this regards one of my favorite statements of his is “If we mush have justice, we must be strong, if we must be strong we must come together, if we must come together we can only do so thru the system of organization” – meaning everyone doing their own thing “ain’t gonna get it.” To be effective we must join/build organizations.

* Nationhood – We must strive to build up a strong independent Black nation. Afrikans the world over will never really be respected until we build a strong Black nation, preferably on the Afrikan continent, that can offer economic, diplomatic, military and moral support to Afrikans wherever they might be in the world. His long-term dream was of a strong independent United States of Afrika.

They could wipe him of the history books but they couldn’t wipe out the great legacy he left us, which was the proven blueprint, a master plan, he laid out for successfully organizing Afrikan people for freedom. He proved that it works because he used it to organize more Afrikan people in the western hemisphere than any other person since and you can see this thread, Garvey’s handprint, running thru every Black nationalist organization that’s been effective/successful in organizing large numbers of Afrikan people for freedom and this holds true from the Moors, to Rastas, Nation of Islam, SNCC, All-Afrikan People’s Revolutionary Party, Republic of New Afrika, The Black Panther Party to the Black Liberation Army but that’s another topic to be explored another day.

In closing I’d like to give a small example of Garvey’s influence on me and members of the Panther 21, which was a case back in 1969 when we were on trial for conspiracy. We were on trial for 2 years, the longest trial in NY history to that date and were acquitted in 2 hours. During the trial we wrote a collective biography which contains biographies of Lumumba Shakur, lead defendant, his wife Afeni, Tupac’s mom, Sekou Odinga who was here at USP Allenwood earlier and was convicted of liberating Assata; and others on trial you perhaps don’t know, Jamal Josephs, Dhoruba binWahad, etc. We passed around the mike, spoke into a tape recorder and the publishers, Vintage Press or somebody, transcribed the tape into a book. Frankly, everybody spoke but me. Each time my turn came my mind would go blank, so they let me write mine out and read it into the tape recorder. They didn’t hold it against me too much because they adopted my suggestion for the book’s title which is “Look For Me in the Whirlwind”. I got the title of the book from a letter that Marcus Garvey wrote to his supporters right after arriving at Atlanta penitentiary. I’d like to read that letter to you so that you can get a taste of the type of man that Garvey was:

FIRST MESSAGE TO THE NEGROES OF THE WORLD FROM ATLANTA PRISON*

“February 10, 1925 – My work is just begun, and when the history of my suffering is complete, then future generations of Negroes will have in their hands the guide by which they shall know the “sins” of the twentieth century. I, and I know you, too, believe in time, and we shall wait patiently for two hundred hears, if need be, to face our enemies through our posterity.

After my enemies are satisfied, in life or death I shall come back to you to serve even as I have served before. In life, I shall be the same; in death, I shall be a terror to the foes of Negro liberty. If death has power, then count on me in death to be the real Marcus Garvey I would like to be. If I may come in an earthquake, or a cyclone, or plague, or pestilence, or as God would have me, then be assured that I shall never desert you and make your enemies triumph over you. Would I not go to hell a million times for you?

If I die in Atlanta, my work shall then only begin, but I shall live, in the physical or spiritual (sense) to see the day of Africa’s glory. When I am dead, wrap the mantle of the Red, Black and Green around me, for in the new life I shall rise with God’s grace and blessing to lead the millions up the heights of triumph with the colors that you well know. Look for me in the whirlwind or the storm, look for me all around you, for with God’s grace, I shall come and bring with them countless millions of Black slaves who have died in america and the West Indies and the millions in Africa to aid you in the fight for Liberty, Freedom and Life.

The civilization of today is gone drunk and crazy with its power and by such it seeks through injustice, fraud and lies to crush the unforunate. But if I am apparently crushed by the system of influence and misdirected power, my cause shall rise again to plague the conscience of the corrupt. For this I am satisfied, and for you, I repeat, I am glad to suffer and even die. Again, I say, cheer up, for better days are ahead. I shall write the history that will inspire the millions that are coming and leave the posterity of our enemies to reckon with the hosts for the deed of their fathers. With God’s dearest blessings, I leave you for a while.”

*From the Philosophy & Opinions of Marcus Garvey, Amy Jacques Garvey, ed., Atheneum, New York 1969

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