“I Am the Equal Of ANY White Man”– Marcus Garvey

This post originated as an article in the The Literary Digest, Volume 68, Issues 8-13 under the title “A NEGRO MOSES AND HIS PLANS FOR AN AFRICAN EXODUS”

Marcus Garvey

A GORGEOUS IDEA and a gorgeous robe figure in most A accounts of the vast project being engineered by the Honorable Marcus Garvey, who heads a movement to lead all Africans back to Africa. The idea comes first, of course for it forms the basis of Mr Garvey’s project, but it seems the brilliant green and crimson robe helps a lot when the dusky leader arrayed in this splendiferous garment, appears before his followers and in fiery speech reminds them of the wrongs they have suffered and explains his scheme to bring about a new era for the negro race. Garvey’s plans have for their object no less an enterprise than to take the continent of Africa organize, it develop it, arm it, and make it the defender of all the negroes in the world. The idea was first promulgated by the half-Egyptian half-negro editor of Africa and Orient Review, published in London, from whom it is said Mr Garvey borrowed it. It involves the founding of a great nation of blacks sufficiently powerful to protect every member of the negro race wherever found. The whites are protected all over the world reasons Garvey. For instance, if a nephew of Uncle Sam comes to grief in any corner of the globe his benevolent avuncular guardian in the stovepipe hat and highwater pants comes to his rescue, always. But no power stands ready to rescue the negro and so Mr Garvey conceives his mission in life to be to start such a power. This is his scheme and to its realization he is devoting all his time and energy at the office of his promotion organization in New York City. Apparently his efforts are producing results also, for we are told that in some three and a half years his followers have increased from hardly more than a score to 4,000,000 and that their number is being augmented daily. Garvey is branching out in other directions also, one of his enterprises including the nucleus of a steamship line known as the Black Star and consisting at the present time of two small steamers and an excursion boat. Marcus Garvey is a Jamaican, thirty four years old and described by Rollin Lynde Hartt in The Independent (New York) as “black, splendidly, bituminously black. A full-blooded, low-browed, heavy-jawed, woolly-pated African–the real thing.” Mr Hartt goes on:

He glories in it. He rebukes his people for bleaching their skins, straightening their hair, and aping the white man. He would applaud the Zulus who, when presented to a native chieftain say, “Hail to thee, O chief. Thou art black.” When I suggested that certain negrophils in Massachusetts might be induced to put money into the Garvey movement he said ,”We don t want their money; this is a black man’s movement.” When I quoted a remark of Mr Carl Akeley’s to the effect that American negroes, once established in Africa, might revert to type he rejoined: “We will take the risk. We mean to show what negroes can do for themselves. It is an experiment we may lose out, but we may win out.”

Garvey denied having made the statement, attributed to him that Christ was a negro. “My belief is simply that Christ’s ancestry included all races, so that he was Divinity incarnate in the broadest sense of the word,” he explained. He also denied belief in an ancient and superb African empire that has decayed adding, “I don t pretend to know about such matters.” To quote Mr Hartt further:

President of the Black Star Line, president of the Negro Factories Corporation, president-general of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League and Provisional President of Africa, Garvey tells his followers I am the equal of any white man I want you to feel the same way No one need think we are still the servile bending cringing people we were up to fifty odd years ago in this country. We are a new people, born out of a new day in this country. We are born out of the bloody war of 1914-18. A new spirit, a new courage has come to us.”

His manner toward me, however, was modest and unassuming, I shall remember a carelessly drest, ill-shaven, soft-voiced negro hunched up at his desk and speaking in level tones, with rarely a gesture and then only of the expository sort. If his dark eyes burned, it was with an intellectual light. He seems strangely unemotional, perhaps because he has implicit faith in the rationality of his ideal and in its justice. “When the Jews said, ‘We shall have Palestine,’ we said, ‘We shall have Africa.'”

But on the platform he can be fiery.

“During the world war, nations were vying with each other in proclaiming lofty concepts of humanity. ‘Make the world safe for democracy,’ ‘self-determination for smaller peoples’ reverberated in the capitals of warring nations opposed to Germany. Now that the war is over, we find these same nations making every effort by word and deed to convince us that their blatant professions were mere meaningless platitudes never intended to apply to earth’s darker millions. We find the minor part of humanity–the white people–constituting themoselves lords of the universe and arrogating to themselves the power to control the destiny of the larger part of humanity. Such an attitude is indeed a curse. In Africa it takes the form of suppression of the right of the African to enjoy the fruits of his ancestral lands. In America it takes the form of lynching disfranchisement, burnings, and the thousand and one petty insults born of arrogance and prejudice. So now comes the negro through the medium of the Universal Negro Improvement Association demanding the right and taking unto himself the power to control his own destiny. We are too large and great in numbers not to be a great people, a great race, and a great nation. I can not recall one single race of people as strong numerically as we are who have remained so long under the tutelage of other races. The time has now come when we must seek our place in the sun.”

That place is Africa declares Garvey. “Without Africa the negro is doomed even as without America the North-American Indian was lost. We are not preaching any doctrine to ask all the negroes of Harlem and of the United States to leave for Africa. The majority of us may remain here but we must send our scientists, our mechanics, and our artizans, and let them build railroads, let them build the great educational and other institutions necessary, and when they are constructed, the time will come for the command to be given. “Come home!”

It was in line with this policy that fifteen negro surveyors, architects, builders, chemists, and physicians recently sailed from New York to Africa in Black Star liners. They were the pioneers of the African independence Garvey expects to establish on the Dark Continent. Their destination was Liberia, the negro republic on the west coast of Africa which Garvey plans to make the corner-stone of his All African nation. From there he hopes to spread his propaganda until all the 400,000,000 negroes now in the world, according to Garvey shall have been gathered under one banner. Mr. Garvey told Mr. Hartt how he expects to take over the African continent, most of which is now held by various European nations. In effect, his plans on this point seem to involve a sort of “watchful-waiting” policy. He has an idea that if the European Powers had their hands full elsewhere their African holdings would fall an easy prey to anybody disposed to appropriate them. As Garvey is quoted:

We can not tell how far distant is that day when the bugle-call will be heard, the bugle-call to another great world conflict. We can see discord brooding every day among the nations of the world. We can hear the rumbling of forthcoming wars. Methinks I can see the war clouds of Europe–I give them ten years from now. Oh I believe in time! I believe in time and I give them ten years to send up that war-smoke again. We are waiting for it. When it comes we young men are going to try what virtues there are in the materials they gave us to use in France, Flanders, and Mesopotamia. The life I could give in France and Flanders and Mesopotamia I can give on the battle plains of Africa to raise the colors of the red the black and the green forever. Whether they desire to salute the flag today we do not care but we will make them salute it to-morrow.

Mr. Hartt says he has found some difficulty in determining what the people of his own race think of Garvey. They seem to believe he is too idealistic and that his plans are too vast. But they all know about him and seem interested in his project. Then the writer gives his own impressions of this negro Moses:

I find it a little difficult to determine what I myself think of Garvey. I laughed at first. Then I felt a sharp pang of sympathy. “A shame,” I said, “that this rainbow-hued hope should have obsessed a poor, misguided, fanatical dreamer of a black man!” Hear how he speaks of it:

“While in Washington I went to Mount Vernon to pay my homage and respect to the Father of American independence. On my way to Mount Vernon I saw automobiles and carriages and pedestrians all wending their way toward that place and when I got to the gate I saw great crowds of people going in and out. I followed the crowd and was shown the resting place of the great hero of right. And as I gazed at that hallowed shrine a new thought, a new inspiration came to me. It was the vision of a day–near, probably–when hundreds of other men and women will be worshiping at a shrine. This time the vision leads me to the shrine of some black man the father of African independence.”

But the more I studied him the more I came to respect the moral dignity of his manhood. Says Garvey, “The hour has come for the negro to take his own initiative. It is obvious, according to the commonest principles of human action that no man will do as much for you as you will do for yourself Any race that has lost hope, lost pride and self respect, lost confidence in self in an age like this, such a race ought not to survive. Two hundred and fifty years we have been a race of slaves; for fifty years we have been a race of parasites Now we propose to end all that. No more fear, no more cringing, no more sycophantic begging and pleading; the negro must strike straight from the shoulder for manhood rights and for full liberty. Destiny leads us to liberty, to freedom that freedom; that Victoria of England never gave; that liberty that Lincoln never meant; that freedom that liberty that will see us men among men, that will make us a great and powerful people.”

Coming from a representative of any other race, such utterances would command instant admiration. Must the negro alone cringe and cower? If not, then what will come of all this? Something splendid? Something tragic? Something ominous? Or possibly–nothing? For my own part I see in Garveyism two elements of large significance. It means that the negro is drawing away from the white race. Declares a Garveyite: “Lynchings and race riots all work to our advantage by teaching the negro that he must build a civilization of his own or forever remain the white man’s victim,” adding. “Race amalgamation must cease; any member of this organization who marries a white woman is summarily expelled.”

In the next place, it means that negroes are learning the practicality of united action. What course will that action next take? Thus far no harm has come of it, yet it is a new thing, quite; and, without a more than paradonable exaggeration Garvey observes: “It has been said that the negro has never yet found cause to engage himself in anything in common with his brother; but the dawn of a new day is upon us and we see things differently. We see now, not as individuals, but as a collective whole, having one common interest.”


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.