Every year on August 17, people from around the country meet at Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, NY to participate in the Black Power March. This tradition has been carried out for the past seventy-five years. This rally is indicative of the impact Marcus Garvey made on the African-American community. His promotion of education, economic advancement, and independence among blacks all over the world is still the mission of many today. Some view him as an inspiration while others, such as many Rastafarians, believe him to be a prophet. Regardless of the extent to which one attributes Garvey’s importance, what cannot be denied is his sustaining influence upon the civil rights movement. Who was this man and why are his ideas still being propagated seventy-five years after his death? Should he be accepted as a champion of civil rights or should his teachings be viewed as religious extremism? The latter seems more likely. The goal of the civil rights movement should be equality, not dominion. When one seeks to advance his own race beyond all others, he seeks control instead of liberation. Though some of what Garvey taught warrants acceptance, many of the means by which he sought to carry out this teaching would prove counterproductive to achieving civil equality. In an era where “Black Lives Matter” is a predominant battle cry, acceptance of Garvey’s ideas would result in chaos. Garveyism, when carried to its logical conclusion, promotes an unbalanced society in which all races are inferior to African-Americans.
Marcus Garvey was born on August 17, 1887 in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. He was born to a middle class family and acquired his love for reading from his father. “Marcus quickly learned to respect his father’s independence, intelligence and wisdom.” At age fourteen, Garvey was affected deeply by an encounter with racism. When he became interested in a white minister’s daughter, they were separated immediately. Garvey explained,
They sent her and another sister to Edinburgh, Scotland, and told her that she was never to write or try to get in touch with me, for I was a “nigger.” It was then that I found that there was some difference in humanity, and that there were different races, each having its own separate and distinct social life. After my first lesson in race distinction, I never thought of playing with white girls anymore.
When he was sixteen, his father’s death forced him to leave school in pursuit of a job. He gained experience as an apprentice printer which helped him earn a top position at a printing company in Kingston, Jamaica’s capitol. While working in Kingston, Garvey began participating in non-formal debates and studying the art of public speaking. When poverty and natural disaster began to threaten the his employees’ jobs, he became their advocate. His fight for their well-being cost him his job.
Garvey then left Jamaica to work on a banana plantation in Costa Rica. It was this experience that opened his eyes to the exploitation and forced segregation that white men forced upon West Indians. Further travels revealed further oppression. While seeking an education at the University of London, Garvey interacted with several Pan-African nationalists and became familiar with Booker T. Washington’s writings. About this, James Ryan wrote, “One of the most influential of these thinkers was Booker T. Washington. Washington’s ‘Up From Slavery’ introduced Garvey to the idea that integration into white society was not a solution for achieving equality for blacks. Garvey took this belief a step further – he believed that in order to find freedom, blacks should resettle in Africa and create a new country.” It was here that he began to formulate his global plan for Africa’s descendants.
After leaving London, Garvey moved back to Jamaica where he formed the Universal Negro Improvement Association. He later moved to Harlem, NY where he began establishing U.S. chapters of his organization. With the contributions he received from the U.N.I.A., Garvey formed the Black Star Line, which was a shipping company he attempted to use to boost trade and economics for blacks. Soon after he married Amy Jacques, he was charged with mail fraud and served two years of a five-year sentence. After being released from prison, Garvey pursued an unsuccessful political career in Jamaica. He then moved to England where he died on June 10, 1940.
An Exploitation of Wounds
The quest for civil equality has noble foundations. Throughout history, people of African descent have experienced hardships such as slavery, exploitation, and unequal treatment. This problem needed, and to some extent still needs, a rational solution. Garvey’s attempt to combat racism was not rational, but extreme. His solution to the problem created only more problems.
Garveyism and the UNIA combined the various elements of black nationalism—religious, cultural, economic, and territorial— into a distinctive blend of philosophy and agenda. Fundamental to this viewpoint was the emotive power of blackness. Garvey was a zealot who advocated self-economic determination and African redemption. Garveyism proclaimed and promoted the coming revitalization of people of color around the world and exalted the power of the black race.
Garvey’s answer to inequality was the exaltation of the black race. He did not strive for equality, but superiority. The inevitable outcome of his philosophy is a race of African nationalists, separated from and dominant over the rest of the world. His overwhelming support from the black community was due, at least in part, to his exploitation of their deepest wounds. In a time when the black man was held down and passed over, Garvey provided hope.
The years following World War I were filled with disillusionment for American blacks. U.S. involvement in that war encouraged a new wave of African-American migration out of the South. As northern industries supplied the needs of the Allies and with European immigration closed off, the nation had a demand for both skilled and unskilled labor. Black hopes raised by these opportunities were dashed as relations between the races worsened in the 1920s. After the Supreme Court declared municipal segregation ordinances unconstitutional in 1917, restricted residential covenants were drawn up by many white real estate agents. These discriminatory practices carried over into the labor force, where African-American workers were given the more menial, lower-paid, or arduous jobs.
He spoke a message of triumph to those who had been oppressed, ridiculed, and viewed as inferior. He was the voice of those who had been hurt for too long and refused to take it anymore. His message was not that people of color deserved equality, but that they were superior to those who oppressed them. He rejected entirely the notion of integration, but taught separatism and black pride to the highest degree. He said, “When Europe was inhabited by a race of cannibals, a race of savages, naked men, heathens and pagans, Africa was peopled with a race of cultured black men, who were masters in art, science and literature; men who were cultured and refined; men who, it was said, were like gods…” He spoke a message of worth to those who had been treated as worthless. His goal was to inspire them to break the bonds of oppression and rise to a level of excellence that could not be matched by any other race. In his speech, “An Eye for an Eye,” he said, “You are black men because you are negroes. Four hundred millions of you shall through organization shake the pillars of the universe and bring down creation even as Samson brought down the temple upon his head and upon the heads of the Philistines” Obviously, Garvey was not interested in peace, but war. His militant approach was accepted well among people of color who were angry and ready for change. Although this anger was justified, the philosophy was not. Throughout history, some of the greatest devastation has been caused by people blinded by their sufferings.
A Dangerous Path
To understand the danger of this mindset, one has only to look at Nazi Germany. Garvey’s African nationalism and Hitler’s Aryan supremacy were very much alike.
The Forceful Nazi stand against the treaty and the promise of a restoration of Germany to its former greatness appealed in particular to those who, while outraged and vengeful, felt helpless… Nazi’s believed that the preservation of the Aryan race required the establishment of a German empire, or Third Reich, that would extend far beyond Germany’s pre-1914 borders. If the race were to survive, it would need space and resources for its expanding population—an empire large enough to compete with the United States, Great Britain, and Russia.
Like Hitler, Garvey wanted to inspire a helpless people into becoming a global powerhouse. “Garveyism proclaimed and promoted the coming revitalization of people of color around the world and exalted the power of the black race.” He sought the purity of his own race and rejected integration altogether. Unlike Garvey, Hitler was able to make his vision a reality. His message of hope, as is widely known, transformed into a reign of terror which claimed the lives of millions. Had Garvey’s similar ideology come to fruition, it is likely that the same outcome would have taken place. An unlabeled Social Darwinism could have resulted in the mass genocide of those who were not part of his chosen race. Perhaps the only reason that Garvey’s legacy is not stained with the contempt that surrounds Hitler’s is that he was never able to accomplish his ultimate goal.
A Renegade Vision
Even other Pan-African thinkers disagreed with the plans he had for his homeland. “Garvey was contemptuous of traditional black organizations, and he bitterly attacked W.E.B. DuBois, Asa Philip Randolph and other black leaders. Prayers and petitions, he said, would never solve the race problem. The only solution, lie said, was power, black power, solidly rooted in a free and united Africa.” A mass return to Africa was Garvey’s endgame. While others agreed with this premise, many were wary of his forcefulness. Liberation was Garvey’s religion and there was no higher goal. Anyone who opposed his mission, even in the slightest way, was held in contempt. Garvey was so driven to see his own vision become a reality that he had no use for the heretics who did not support his master plan. When one man demands allegiance and rejects every form of accountability, it is likely that his hunger for power has consumed him and he has departed into the realm of extremism. Perhaps when ideology becomes religion, there is no longer room for those who choose to remain rational.
Though Garvey has been dead for seventy-five years, his legacy remains. One group that still holds to many of his teachings are Rastafarians. “Rastafari, also spelled Ras Tafari, religious and political movement, begun in Jamaica in the 1930s and adopted by many groups around the globe, that combines Protestant Christianity, mysticism, and a pan-African political consciousness.” Many in this movement, which is now centered in Ethiopia, view Garvey as a prophet who proclaimed God’s message to the world. “As John the Baptist was to Jesus, according to nearly all Rastafari, so is Marcus Garvey to Haile Selassie, the Messiah returned to liberate his people.” They also correlate their lineage and experiences with the Christian Bible. The mass exodus back to Africa is paralleled with the biblical Hebrew exodus and is viewed as a prophecy awaiting fulfillment. They also claim a genealogical link to the Davidic line of nobility. “For centuries, Ethiopian nobility had seen themselves as the descendants of King Solomon. Paying special attention to Old Testament verses that concerned Ethiopia, King Solomon, and the House of Judah, some people came to feel that God’s promised kingdom was Ethiopia, the land to which his people would return and where they would no longer suffer.’ Garvey’s influence upon Rastafarians is evident, not only in the similarities of the end goal, but also in the borrowing and reshaping of Christian theology. Garvey formed a god out of his own image in order to sway negro Christians toward his cause. “African Americans naturally believed in an Ethiopian God according to Garvey and would begin to worship him as such.” Like Garvey, Rastafarians worship a god who is black. Their reasoning is that, if white people worship a white god, they should worship one who is black. As is the case with many other religious cults, and Garvey himself, Rastafarians have hijacked Christian Scriptures in order to promote their own agenda. They disguise black superiority in a cloak of unity and love. The endgame, though, is the fulfillment of Garvey’s ultimate vision: to unite and dominate.
These modern Garveyists hold true to their prophets methods of manipulating the exploited. “They stand against Babylon, a term used for anything that has oppressed blacks. Historically, whites have oppressed blacks by slavery. Currently, oppression takes the form of illiteracy, inequality, and poverty.” This seems to be a recurring pattern among many oppressed people groups. They begin as a people who are genuinely mistreated. A strong, vocal leader then steps in with a vision to alleviate their suffering. The people feel empowered and elevate their leader to a god-like status. Religion and philosophy are made subject to the leader’s vision. There will always be an enemy and oppression will always exist. The result is a culture of perpetual victims who use claims of oppression to gain power.
Black Lives Matter
Black Lives Matter is a group of civil rights activists who hold frequent protests to promote black liberation. They began to gain prominence in the wake of widely reported fatalities attributed to police officers. According to their website, “Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.” Though this group does not emphasize a mass return to Africa, it is still rooted deeply in fundamental Garveyism. They claim to be victimized based on race, but statistics prove otherwise. This is not to say that racist acts of violence do not occur, but that these events are far more isolated than the BLM movement would have us to believe.
In 2014, there were 2,451 recorded murders of African-Americans in the United States. 2,205 of these murders were committed by other African-Americans while 187 were committed by whites. In the same year, 3,021 white Americans were murdered. 2,448 of these murders were committed by whites while 446 were committed by African-Americans. According to these statistics, ninety percent of African-American homicides were committed by other African-Americans. Despite these numbers, Black Lives Matter continues to preach a message of liberation from white oppression. This is yet another attempt to obtain power by claiming victimhood. They overlook obvious facts in order to push forward their agenda. They publicize incidents, some of which might be legitimate, and stretch them to encompass their view of society’s treatment of African-Americans. This group manipulates people into feeling exploited in order to gain power over them. Whereas Garvey had only to recognize mistreatment, Black Lives Matter manufactures it for the same purpose. Like Garvey, Hitler, and the multitudes of extremists found throughout history, the success of their political movement is reliant upon a people group who have traded rational thought for emotional impulsiveness.
While it certainly cannot be denied that African-Americans in the past experienced unfair hardship, much has been done to promote equality. Laws are in place to ensure equal housing, education, and compensation. Though racism toward African-Americans is not dead, it has been irreparably disabled. Instead of celebration, though, it seems as if there is only more strife. Why is it that many civil rights activists still claim victimization despite the measures taken to insure equality? It is because, like Garvey, equality is not their primary goal. They demand supremacy. They are not satisfied with being considered equal with caucasians, but desire to rule over them.
This problem must be addressed at a psychological level. The primary conflict is not derived from oppression, but from self-worth. According to psychologist Gary Collins, self-worth, “…must not be considered the same as self-worship, self-love is not the same as selfishness or self-centeredness, and self-affirmation is different from self-conceit. We can be aware of ourselves without being absorbed in ourselves.” Many modern, as well as historical, activists have responded to oppression by elevating themselves above their oppressors. When their self-worth was attacked, they overcompensated in their retaliation. Because they were wounded by white oppressors, they seek to inflict the same wounds. This is not a quest for equality, but for vengeance. The only viable solution is forgiveness and reconciliation. If the Garveyists’ demands were to be met, the outcome would be another unequal society where blacks ruled over all other races. The pendulum would continue to swing back and forth and no resolution would ever be reached.
Marcus Garvey envisioned a world where all the wrongs done to his people would be made right. He wanted to unify all of Africa’s descendants into one place and one philosophy. Garvey did not want to live in peace with caucasians, but preferred to separate from them completely. He wanted to show the world the supremacy of black power and to rise to a level of excellence that could not be matched by any other race. Perfect humanity, for Garvey, was found in blackness. He preached their potential to rise above the cultural stigma and to excel in every aspect of life. They were, according to his theology, God’s chosen race. Garvey’s gospel of black superiority was his solution to a world where negroes experienced oppression and mistreatment at every turn.
The ultimate solution, though, is the gospel of Jesus Christ. According to Galatians 3:28-29, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” In Christ, all are unified in him. Race is no longer the primary distinction among people groups. Blacks, whites, Hispanics, etc. are all equal at the cross. This is why pacifying the most vocal activists will never provide sufficient results. The only response to oppression is the unifying gospel of Christ. In him, all people are equal. Christ’s blood is just as sufficient for the black man as it is for any other ethnicity. He provided reconciliation to God for all trust in him as savior and lord. At the foot of the cross, racism dies and unity begins. Garvey’s gospel fails in comparison to the perfect one given to us by God.
 “Expanded Homicide Data Table 6,” 2014 Crime in the United States, accessed November 22, 2015, https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2014/crime-in-the-u.s.-2014/tables/expanded-homicide-data/expanded_ homicide_data_table_6 _murder_race_ and_sex_of_vicitm_by_ race_and_sex_of_offender_2014.xls.