Marcus Garvey: A Failure?

Marcus Garvey was a failure and should not be revered as a hero. At least that's what some of the opponents of the exoneration petition would like me to believe. Here's an example of what one opponent posted in a recent online exchange:

Opponent: Garvey abandoned the movement for green grass [of America]...Garvey wanted to be President of Africa, he even gave himself that title.

GP: Re: Garvey. Please read Marcus Garvey, Hero: A First Biography by Tony Martin. Garvey created the "first modern political party in the BWI" You don't have to die in order to be a hero. You have to change HOW people THINK about themselves. Garvey FOREVER changed how Black people in the West and in Jamaica thought about themselves. He brought back the pride to the race. This is why Rastafari rightfully regard him as a prophet because of his redemption of Black people.

Opponent: Geoffrey Philp, a national hero must contribute the growth and development of his country. Garvey did no such thing. Had he not [been]deported he would [not] remember Jamaica.

I do not have to read any book to convince me. If Garvey was true [to] his cause he would have stayed in Jamaica and fought…The only thing Garvey had was lyrics. I decide what I read and at this time in my life I have read enough to know Garvey is no dam hero.

Besides, the telling comment "I do not have to read any book to convince me," which belies an ignorance of the UNIA's roots in Jamaica, I'll reproduce the section from Marcus Garvey, Hero: A First Biography by Tony Martin to which I alluded:

The PPP picked a slate of candidates, with Marcus himself running for the St. Andrew seat. He also prepared an election manifesto. Among its planks were the following—self-government for Jamaica and representation in the British parliament; protection of native labour; a minimum wage; workmen’s compensation; an eight-hour working day; urban improvement; land reform and an all-Jamaica Water Board for irrigation and other works; compulsory improvement of urban areas by large companies which made huge profits in those areas; promotion of local industry; establishment of a university and polytechnic; free secondary and night school education in each parish; a national center for the performing arts; a law to “impeach and imprison” unjust judges; prison reform; the institution of legal aid; a law against buying or otherwise unfairly obtaining votes at election time; granting Montego Bay and Port Antonio the corporate rights of cities; upgrading the Kingston Race Couse into a National Park; and a federation of the West Indies (130).

Garvey's enemies in Jamaica made sure that none of his proposals were ever enacted and they eventually ousted him from his seat. Can you imagine if Jamaica had embraced Garvey's ideas of self-reliance that he proposed in 1914 when he inaugurated the UNIA or in 1938 when he was elected to the parish councils in Jamaica?

Unfortunately, the same pattern of sabotage by his own people that Garvey had gone through in the USA, the most egregious of which occurred with the Black Star Line, had followed him back to Jamaica:

WINSTON JAMES: They placed spies in the UNIA. They sabotage, ah, the Black Star Line. The engines sometimes of the ships were actually damaged by foreign matter being thrown into the fuel and so on. And there was every effort made to destroy the movement, however, that wasn't the only thing that actually destroyed Garvey. There were internal problems to the movement as well as these external forces.

NARRATOR: Garvey's own crews took the Black Star Line to the brink of disaster. One captain steered his vessel off course to visit his wife. Another had a nervous breakdown and tried to sink his own ship.

The Black Star Line, which Garvey intended to be a viable testament to Black nationhood, self-reliance and respect, was derailed by those closest to him. The treachery of Garvey's confidants led to his conviction of charges of mail fraud. In a broader context, the disloyalty of his associates was not only a betrayal of the man, but also of his vision of African redemption.

Since then, Garvey's enemies, beginning with the "Garvey Must Go" campaign, have successfully distorted Garvey's legacy and have continued to distort his reputation by heaping libelous calumnies on his name.

Can you imagine what would have happened if Garvey's real legacy had not been erased from our collective memory? 

For if Marcus Garvey is a failure, then the blame does not fall on his shoulders. Rather it rests with those, then and now, who betray his vision of African redemption.

It is for this reason, the Marcus Garvey Celebrations Committee (South Florida), Rootz Foundation, and the Institute for Caribbean Studies, have joined to petition President Barack Obama to exonerate the Right Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey and to continue his work African upliftment.

If you would like to join in this cause to exonerate Marcus Garvey, please sign the petition:


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