Black people were being brainwashed, ridiculed, flogged, humiliated, burned, raped and hanged by racist whites at the time Marcus Garvey stepped into the United States of America. Black oppression and slavery was the norm at the time and a white slave-owner who killed a black slave was not guilty of killing a human being. After all, a man cannot destroy his property without any good cause. Black people who resisted and dammed their masters and the unfair system were tortured, burned and hanged at the entrance of city gates to serve as reference point to those troublesome blacks contemplating following that defiant footstep. Their homes were periodically razed by racist whites trying to punish certain disobedience and those whose hearts bleed as one negro heart beats.
There was segregation in prostitution too. Black people who slept with white commercial sex workers were tracked, beaten and killed for insulting and desecrating the superior white institution. In most of the lynching and abuse, police officers stood and watched as the racists performed the exorcisms. Even in pedestrian movement, racism loomed large. Blacks who encountered whites on the opposing walkway had to jump into gutters and continue their pointless journey. The existence of slave breakers was also commonplace. Mentally tough slaves who refused to obey instructions, who engaged in independent thinking, who fought their masters, just like Frederick Douglass, were sent to a specialist to have a slave mindset planted in them. The slave owner bought his property at a very high price and wouldn’t watch it die of disuse. This was the atmosphere Marcus Garvey met when he emigrated to America.
In 1887, Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born in Jamaica by black parents, Marcus and Sarah Garvey. His mother gave him the name Mosiah hoping he would lead black people to the promised land someday. Just like the biblical Moses, he was to liberate the captured, impoverished and brainwashed blacks all over the world. Names and words mattered to Black people and Africans and Marcus Garvey’s mother was drawing from that spirituality. Marcus Garvey grew to be one of the greatest proponents of negritude. He learnt from his father’s library how whites colonised his people and saw the limitlessness of racism.
As a child he played freely with all the other children but the day his white friend travelling to Scotland for studies told him “My parents said I was never going to write or get in touch with you anymore because you are a nigger,” his worldview changed. Her father was a clergyman, unfortunately, and her words shocked and peppered him to his marrows. He didn’t understand how he or anyone could be rejected because of skin colour. Reading in his father’s library and other weekly political newspapers like the Jamaican Advocate, he knew he had to do something. He saw that at the heart of the disdain for black people lay hate. Hatred not for the intellect of the black man but hatred for his skin colour–something he didn’t choose. He moved from Jamaica to Panama, Honduras, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Colombia, West Indies, London to Harlem, New York, USA, searching for good jobs and wherever he went, institutionalised racism flourished.
He noticed another problem that helped racism and racist governments. Black people had been defeated mentally and this was largely responsible for the state they were plunged into. Many of the black people he met were too starved intellectually to consider any fight against racism wise. When a black person tried to fight racism, he was treated like an outcast by fellow blacks and their body language encouraged his expulsion from the group. They couldn’t let him destroy their good life. There was no one to speak for them. Many didn’t know they had a problem as they’d been brainwashed to see the black colour as divinely inferior. There was no black person smart enough to properly diagnose the problem. There was no working black government or system in place. He couldn’t find big black owned businesses, he couldn’t find that black mind that would uplift other minds. He set out to be that mind. So, he stepped in.
Mental emancipation was the key. Black people have to value black people before they can treat black people with respect. He believed that a sound vehicle for positive change is necessary for positive change to happen. He later wrote “I asked, ‘Where is the black man’s government? Where is his king and his kingdom? Where is his President, his Country, his Ambassador, his Army, his Navy, his men of big affairs?’ I couldn’t find them; and then I declared, ‘I will help to make them. ‘’’ He started a Back To Africa movement to resettle America’s black people to Africa. Though the Back To Africa movement didn’t work as planned, he succeeded in raising the conscious level of the black people living in that continent and beyond.
To Marcus Garvey, African countries failed because they didn’t create their countries. We fail because an erroneous structure was imposed on us by men who simply wanted to exploit us and the people in leadership are too impaired to see it. He picked up from where Frederick Douglass stopped and aided in creating membership for the disciples of Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, men who joined hands to reduce the level of racism in the western world. He didn’t just say Black Is Beautiful, he also showed that Black is Beautiful. He preached against the use of skin and hair agents that lighten the skin and make blacks more western or white in appearance. Inferiority was never to be entertained, laziness was not in the menu either and greatness was not an exclusive of any race.
That did strike a chord in the hearts of the poorly treated black people of the time. The racists were scared too because Marcus Garvey was preaching what they termed a dangerous sermon. In the eyes of the racist, the typical black person is only built to take after others but not think. Thinking was reserved for the more superior race and like the writer Richard Wright testified in The Black Boy, seeing a black person reading was a crime. Richard Wright’s boss noticed some changes in his behaviour–Richard was becoming smart. He has been borrowing and hiding to read books and when his master noticed some changes in his behaviour he asked if he was getting smart. Richard responded ‘NO’. That was the dangerous system Marcus Garvey was up against and he did fine before he was assassinated.
This is why we love Marcus Garvey. He tried many jobs and businesses, failed, picked himself up and continued the journey. He moved from country to country trying to earn fair and liberate his people. He knew that at the heart of every oppressed black man existed a powerful brainwash system and tried his best to uproot that unproductive system. He walked the walk. He was not just an orator. The most important aspect of his being was his conscious and free soul. He was not trapped by the feelings of inferiority complex, he promoted Black Pride. He strongly admired his people and had a great liking for the words of the African author Attoh Ahuma “UP, YOU MIGHTY RACE. YOU CAN ACCOMPLISH WHAT YOU WILL.” It encapsulated his mission.
He didn’t just believe we can do whatever we will, he achieved so many things he believed in. Looking at today’s Africa and the position of the black race in the scheme of things, the words of Marcus Garvey still hold true. In Nigeria for example, the British broke our spirit, stole our nations’ human and natural resources, joined us together against our will, gave us a name and made sure the system they left behind promoted negative growth. We have had countless leaders but none has deemed a renegotiation worthy. Like Marcus Garvey noticed in his time, we do not love ourselves too. So many of us are still in the mental asylums built by the colonialist and to make matters worse, these group of mentally enslaved are in leadership.
We have sick people in power, who don’t know they are sick, trying to heal other sick people. The few men who have the intelligence of Marcus Garvey, like Robert Mugabe, have a different soul. The few Africans who know what is at stake are curved in our graph of progression. Our Presidents still go abroad for treatment and to be honest, a dog in some western countries is shown more respect than a million of us here. The words of Marcus Garvey are treated like toilet paper by those in power. The children of Marcus Garvey are not in the position of Power. The men in power are not proud of their skin. They have bleached their souls, drunk in selfishness and do the bidding of some foreign power. In Nigeria, a man who claimed to have the cure to the dreaded disease, AIDS, was disregarded for not seeking ethical approval before embarking on his journey. Our leaders are economic, intellectual and mental slaves. Our leaders are all Marcus Garvey hated.
By Rey Alaetuo
A conscious Poet and healthcare professional living in Lagos, Nigeria.
Courtesy: Mortal Poet