122 years ago, a great man was born. Marcus Mosiah Garvey was a publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, Black Nationalist, Pan-Africanist, and orator of tremendous note. Garvey was a controversial leader who believed firmly in the power of unity in the black community. His quotes are so often used but — in my opinion — infrequently contemplated and understood. Here are some of my favorites.
In 1918, Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) group launched a newspaper called Negro World. Unlike just about every publication of the time, Garvey refused to run ads for skin lighteners or hair straighteners. He rebuffed their efforts with the following quote: “Take the kinks out of your mind instead of your hair.”
He was a dark skinned man and was never ashamed of the depth of his color. He embraced himself as he was and encouraged other black people to feel the same. “The Black skin is not a badge of shame, but rather a glorious symbol of national greatness.”
Many of his most powerful statements were dedicated to empowering those that felt powerless or defeated because of the color of their skin or the circumstances of their birth. Consequently he declared, “Up, you mighty race, accomplish what you will,” and a phrase I sincerely believe in, “With confidence, you have won before you have started.”
Why is Marcus Garvey being celebrated on Afrobella today? Because his name is woven throughout the music that has become the soundtrack to my life, and many of his original beliefs (not all, please note) have come to shape my own destiny. As Garvey said, “a people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
It’s so important to look back at the ancestors who paved the way for us to follow, and laid the foundation upon which we all build.
By the end of Marcus Garvey’s life, he had been resigned to a life of isolation. Reggae legend Burning Spear has sung often and emotively about Garvey’s legacy, and one of their songs, Old Marcus Garvey, captures that so poignantly.
Marcus Garvey is long gone — we can only look for him in the whirlwind — but his legacy will never be forgotten. Memorials to him stand around the world, and his teachings stand the test of time. Many of them can seem out of date, or to come from a place of deep anger and desire for separation, but given the context of history, Garvey’s lessons remain deeply profound.
If you’d like to learn more, visit Marcus Garvey.com. SocialistWorker.co.uk did a great piece on Garvey, as did PBS American Experience — that is WELL worth viewing, and just today the Jamaica Observer published an op/ed titled Garvey Would Be Proud. I believe he’d see much to analyze and criticize. But yes, he would (and should) be proud. Rest in peace, Marcus Garvey.