Birthday of Marcus Garvey: John the Baptist-style prophet to many

Group of African Americans drumming and dancing in a park

Drum circle, Marcus Garvey Park, Harlem, New York City. Photo courtesy of Flickr

“With confidence, you have won before you have started.”
Marcus Garvey

Click the DVD cover to visit its Amazon page.

Click the DVD cover to visit its Amazon page.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 17: From reggae bands to kids in Buffalo, from Rastafari to Africans of the Diaspora—all mark the birth anniversary of Marcus Garvey, born on this date in 1887. A Jamaican-born black nationalist who created the “Back to Africa” movement in the United States and is regarded as a prophet by the Rastafari religion, Garvey spent his life globetrotting for the cause of empowering Africans. Among his most notable accomplishments are the creation of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and African Communities League, which together claimed millions of members at the height of Garvey’s popularity.

Components of his philosophy for African economic empowerment and awareness, known as “Garveyism,” remain well-known today. Garvey was named the first national hero of Jamaica in 1964.

Q: Who was the first recipient of the Marcus Garvey Prize for Human Rights?
A: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Read more about Garvey at Wikipedia. At Read The Spirit, we also recommend the excellent PBS American Experience production, now available on DVD: The American Experience: Marcus Garvey, Look for Me in the Whirlwind. PBS still maintains the website for the documentary, which includes a transcript and other educational materials.

Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr. was born in an impoverished Jamaica to a wealthy family. From his father, Garvey inherited a vast library and a love of reading, which led him to become well-educated by the time he left school at age 14. From this young age Garvey traveled the world, and at age 27, he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Reputation exceeded the public speaker, and Garvey’s tours often centered on topics like race pride, social and economic freedom, and unity. In 1935, Garvey moved to London, where he died of a stroke five years later.

A RASTAFARI PROPHET:
JOHN THE BAPTIST & MARCUS GARVEY

During his speeches throughout the 1920s, Garvey often spoke grandly of a vision he had of the future—the appearance of a “black king” in Africa that would soon be crowned, thereby granting deliverance. In one speech, Garvey declared:

“I was determined that the black man would not continue to be kicked about, as I had seen in Central America, and as I read of it in America. Where is the black man’s government? Where is his King and his kingdom? Where is his President, his country, his men of big affairs? I could not find them, and then I declared, ‘I will help to make them.’ My brain was afire.”

After hearing many similar declarations, Garvey’s followers naturally kept a close eye on news from Africa. When Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia was crowned in 1930, members of the Rastafari religion—many of whom regard Selassie as a Messiah—hailed Garvey as a religious prophet. Some regard Garvey as the reincarnation of John the Baptist.

IN THE NEWS:
A BUFFALO ESSAY CONTEST & AFRO-MEXICAN REGGAE

A local essay contest in Buffalo, New York, is set to assist the mayor in solving some of the city’s most pressing issues–from the perspective of students in grades 6 through 12. Participants will take the perspective of city mayor in solving challenges like violence, unemployment and education. (Buffalo News reports.) According to sponsor Eva Doyle, students can earn extra credit by incorporating the principles of Marcus Garvey and Garveyism into their answers.

In San Diego, bands and fans will gather at the WorldBeat Center on Aug. 18, for a tribute to the legacy of Marcus Garvey. A Mexican reggae band will mix African and Mexican cultures, in a way that organizers hope will tackle prejudice and promote unity.

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