MARCUS GARVEY VERSUS W.E.B. DUBOIS: WHAT HAVE WE LEARNT FROM THESE TWO GIANTS?
By Fahim A. Knight-El
There have been various black leadership personalities and black spokespersons that have risen to national and international prominence since our sojourn in America (1555 to Present), which have shaped and impacted the intellectual landscape of the so-called African American, but perhaps none have had the lasting affects as Marcus Mosiah Garvey (1887-1940) and WEB Dubois (1868-1963) on the organizational and intellectual development on those who followed; these two, (along with Booker T. Washington) individuals truly laid the modern leadership foundation for most black leaders that followed after them. This writer has written many pieces on the Black experience, but I have never written a complete article dedicated to the life and times of Marcus Garvey. I have always admired his work and legacy and his commitment to the causes that affected African people and over the years I have deeply incorporated his philosophy into my personal life and worldview. There was no reason for me over the years not to have written and dedicated an article to the work of Marcus Garvey. But I do believe everything happens in the universe when it is supposed to happen and I believe that today as I write this article I have entered this paradigm—the Creator has finally brought me to this space and time, which to intellectually revisited one of my activist heroes and pay homage to him by dedicating a 4,000 word essay in his memory—no other leader has shaped my cultural worldview like Marcus Mosiah Garvey and I must admit that I am standing squarely on his foundation and legacy. Black leaders who often did not go along with the status quo has been systematically written out of history, but I do not blame them, we have an obligation to write and document our own history and cite our historical worth and contribution to human civilization—this is what I do as the chief researcher of the Keeping it Real Think Tank.
The United States Government and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and an ambitious Federal agent named J. Edgar Hoover in 1922 led the criminal prosecution against Marcus Garvey charging him with mail fraud and in 1923 Garvey was convicted of mail fraud in which in 1925, a Federal Judge imposed a five year prison sentence where he was sentenced to Atlanta Penitentiary. In 1927 Garvey’s sentence was commuted and he was deported to his homeland of Jamaica where one of the largest crowds in the history of Jamaica welcomed one of their fallen son’s back home. Garvey became a victim of United States Government dirty tricks and conspiracy. Hoover would later craft one of the largest and far reaching government espionage programs called Cointelpro, a counter-intelligence operation that was organized in 1950s under the leadership of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover aimed at destroying progressive black leadership which lasted until the 1970s.
I had in the past read the books written/edited by his wife Amy Jacques Garvey titled: “Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey”, and “Garvey and Garvyism”, John Henrik Clarke’s book titled: “Marcus Garvey and the Vision of Africa”, Tony Martin’s book titled, “Race First’, Robert A. Hill’s book titled, “The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers”, and E.D. Cronon’s book titled, “Black Moses, the Story of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association”. These resources and others have been in my personal library for some time now and advise those who are seeking a deeper understanding and interpretation of Marcus Garvey’s philosophy and theories to consult the works that I have cited above.
Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Dubois was not created in a historical vacuum, but it was the history of Chattel Slavery (1555-1865) that gave rise to these two distinct and revolutionary personalities. The Transatlantic Slave Trade and Middle Passage was one of the greatest crimes ever committed against humanity where over 100 million Africans were kidnapped from Africa brought to the Americas as slaves. Millions were killed and died in the hulls of slave ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean during the deadly passage known as the Middle Passage, this tragic represented a holocaust and this was nothing they made up in Hollywood and even Alex Haley's book titled, "Roots" and movie of the same title, "Roots" doesn't even come close to an accurate account and depiction of the pain and suffering that my African Ancestors may have experienced for 310 years under this inhumane system. No, movie or book can ever captivate the magnitude of the crime of Chattel Slavery. It was this process where Africans were rob and stripped of their names, religion, culture, land and was forced to accept and embrace an alien people's culture and history. This physical, mental and spiritual assault left a people forever scared and who now have been on a quest for over 450 years to reconnect with a land, people and culture of their ancestors. This spirit can be found in the Akan language of Ghana described in Sankofa—“It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.” Garvey’s movement typified the spiritual intent of Sankofa.
The social and psychological affect of plantation life and the dehumanization process that took place left a race of people who are still suffering from Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (this an extreme psychological condition akin to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) in 2012 because the pain and suffering of the African slave has been passed down in the African American and those Africans who have been scattered throughout the Diaspora collective biological DNA and certain present day behavior that we demonstrate is a direct result of a race of people who have never been allowed to properly heal from the devastating and traumatic experience of Chattel Slavery. There was no debriefing and no psychological therapy—the slave master in 1865 told blacks they were now free to legally go by the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) under President Abraham Lincoln and the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (1865). Black leadership evolved from this historical experience—good, bad or indifferent.
Marcus Garvey was born in Saint Ann’s Bay Jamaica in 1887 and was inspired by his father who served as the unofficial lawyer in their village and who was deeply committed to the labor movements and justice for black workers and even young Marcus Garvey received his first political activism working in the Jamaican Labor Movements traveling outside of Jamaica to Costa Rica, Panama and other Latin American States working to organize labor. Many African slaves landed in Jamaica and other Caribbean nations that were under British Rule (however, many slaves who became known as the ‘Maroons’ upon landing in Jamaica fought and resisted slavery by escaping into the mountains of Jamaica and was never captured by the British slave makers). Marcus Garvey’s father was a direct descendants of the ‘Maroons’, But prior to British domination of the Caribbean Islands in 1494 Spain and Portugal signed the Treaty of Tordesillas where Spain and Portugal divided the newly discovered lands outside of Europe between themselves. This treaty was later reaffirmed by Pope Alexander VI of the Catholic Church with the signing of the Papal Bull of Demarcation.
It would be Bishop Bartholomew Las Casas in 1517 that decreed that it was a Christian obligation to civilized the heathens from around the world and he upheld the so-called sanctity of the Treaty of Tordesillas and Papal Bull of Demarcation. The European Slave Traders often used the Caribbean Islands as seasoning grounds before the African slaves were transported to Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, North Carolina, etc. However, there were times that African slaves were brought directly from Africa to the U.S. slave markets and ports in Savannah, Charleston, Virginia, Mobile, etc. I cite this history because it properly lays out a historical foundation and it is this history that permeates the black liberation struggles that evolved in the United States of America (slavery is a historical reference point for everything that is wrong about America). Marcus Garvey was influenced early on by the work and legacy of Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) and his leadership at Tuskegee Institute. Garvey had read Washington’s autobiography titled, “Up From Slavery” which was written in 1901. Washington became one of the leading black spokesman during the early part of the 20th Century and he was sought of handpicked by the powerful white establishment in which many blacks viewed him as an “Uncle Tom” and an apologist for the racist system of America and they rebuked him for his social, political and economic compromises he made with the white status quo.
Washington was a southerner who did not openly view Civil Rights and political agitation as a good tactic or strategy which to fight racial injustice and he preferred a more passive and nonthreatening approach to get things accomplished on behalf of black people (some refer to him as a genius and others refer to him as a traitor of the worst kind). It was W.E.B. Dubois that became one of his most outspoken critics and condemned Washington for desiring to keep blacks in a servitude position. But Garvey who was in Jamaica admired Washington's do-for-self and pull yourself up by your bootstraps economic concepts. Washington preached the importance of blacks owning land and remaining in the south as farmers and tradesman. He also, advocated that blacks should attain vocational and technical education and training over a liberal arts education; as much as Marcus Garvey could appreciate Washington's philosophy, it infuriated Dubois that a black leader would be advocating that blacks remain on the plantation as planters and farmers.
Let me interject that Washington was the recipient of huge amounts of white philanthropy money (it was white philanthropy that helped him build Tuskegee Institute) and many believed that it was they who were shaping his political leadership agenda. The whites at this time were concern with maintaining the status quo and the historical arrangement of the existing power dynamic. Nevertheless, in 1916, Marcus Garvey emigrated from Jamaica to the United States with aspirations of meeting Washington, but upon his arrival to Harlem, New York he learned that Washington had died a year earlier in 1915. But Garvey believed in the value of vocational and technical training espoused by Booker T. Washington and most of all valued the importance of land ownership. Garvey would later purchase commercial cargo ships such as the Black Star Line Steamship Company, Black Cross Navigation and Trading Company, the Negro Factories Corporation, the Black Cross Nursing Unit, the, doll factories, restaurants, publishing housings, grocery stores—Garvey believed in economic self-sufficiency and with the exception of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam no other black leader or organization has had that type of economic success. Garvey had a program; the majority of the militant and radical black leadership of the latter half of the 20th Century have not introduce nor built anything since Marcus Garvey. This plank would stand later as the basis to Garvey's ideology relative to Nationalism and Pan-Africanism.
Garvey did not accept Washington's political accommodation approach as being the ultimate solution to black liberation and Garvey stated: "Africa for the Africans at home and abroad." Garvey was indeed a political agitator and intentionally made provocative statements to agitate the white establishment as well as show courage to the black disenfranchised. Dubois in his book titled, "The Souls of Black Folk" (1903) called Washington's "The Atlanta Exposition" (1895) speech (this speech would have been equalvent to the leader of the present day National Urban League president giving his speech on The State of Black America), in which Dubois in his critique called the speech "The Atlanta Compromise" maintaining that Washington would make us money, but not men. Dubois had some fundamental disagreements with Washington and those differences were clear.
But at times, it was difficult for me, to navigate through my research to draw some distinct ideological and philosophical and clear delineations between Garvey and Dubois; yet this was not to say that there were not any because there were; I make this statement because both men were deeply committed to Africa and Africans on many different levels. Dubois no doubt was an intellectual genius who became the first African American to received a Ph.D in history in 1895 from Harvard University in which he wrote a dissertation titled, "Suppression of the African Slave Trade" and used his scholarship to debunk the racist notions that Africa was the dark continent and they made no worthwhile contribution to human civilization. Dubois was a fair skinned mulatto black who grew up in Great Barrington, Massachusetts and based on the United States being a ‘pigementocracy’ where rewards and privileges were granted based on skin color—Dubois physical complexion benefitted him to the determent of the dark skinned Garvey. No doubt Garvey was very dark skinned with overt African racial features and he was ridiculed by the light skinned Dubois and A. Phillip Randolph.
Garvey was received upon arriving to New York by another powerful and prominent West Indian from Saint Croix named Hubert Henry Harrision (1883-1927) who Dr. John Henrik Clarke deemed the "Black Socrates". It was Harrison who gave Garvey his first political platform in Harlem and was a great influence on Marcus Garvey's early development as a black leader in the United States. Perhaps the one relationaship next to Washington that had an everlasting impact on shaping young Garvey’s international ideological framework was in 1912 when he traveled to Great Britain and London there he met an Egyptian (of Black Sudanese origin) Muslim named Duce Muhammad Ali who operated a Pan African periodical titled, "African Times and Orient Review". Some historians argued that Garvey was introduced to Islam under Duce Muhammad Ali. But lets be clear Garvey linked up with Bishop George Alexander McGuire who in 1920 founded the African Orthodox Church and this became the official religious affiliation to the UNIA and like black specific Islam it was steeped in black symbolism which created God, angles and the prophets in the image of African people.
Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1914 in Jamaica with a mission to organizing Africans at home and Africans throughout the Diaspora from around the world behind the concept of Pan-Africanism which called for the collective unity of Africans throughout the world. Garvey is known and often associated with the Back to Africa movement, but lets be clear, I do not think Garvey realistically had a plan to relocate 22 million blacks back on the African continent and even to this date I do not think there is any African nation or government that has the political, economic, and social infrastructure to accommodate that type mass migration. But I do think that Garvey’s back to Africa Movement (Martin Delaney actually coined this phrase Back to Africa) and theories had a physical component and psychological component—History has revealed that, perhaps Garvey from a psychological and culture standpoint understood the importance of identifying with Africa better than any other black leader in the history of the black liberation struggle and the struggle for political, economic and social redemption. Garvey totally understood that there had to be a reaffirmation and a declaration that rooted the people of the African descent who was scattered throughout the Diaspora to a legitimate connection to a homeland, which in this case was Africa.
However, this was not to suggest that Garvey did not believe in a true physical remigration back to Africa and this was not just some emotional sounding off because Garvey was negotiating with the Liberian Government for land (to establish a resettlement) as well as seeking to establish an international trade and commerce pact. Liberia in the 1820s was colonized by former slaves from the United States of America in which many blacks migrated from America to this West African State. Liberia received its independence from the United States in 1847 and Garvey was well aware of the historical relationship between the two nations.
Three years before Garvey was born Africa was divided up and partitioned by the European powers at the Berlin Conference in 1884-1885, it has been this devastating colonial act that destroyed African sovereignty, culture and left a people, politically, economically and socially inept. Africa is still presently suffering from these artificial barriers that were set up for the historical benefits of Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, United States, etc. I believe that slavery raped Africa of its human resources and the colonization of Africa raped Africa of its material resources (these were crimes of great magnitude). Garvey understood that he had to teach the knowledge of self and connect the disconnected cultural dots that were severed doing the dehumanization process of Chattel Slavery. They gave black people the false image of Jesus ('God' but all wise people know that Jesus was a prophet and there is no where noted in the Bible where Yeshua Ben Yusef taught Christianity) in Leonardo Di Vinci rendition of Yeshua Ben Yusef (Jesus the son of Joseph) was lie and a historical distortion—Leonardo Di Vinci painted himself and not the Nubian version of Yeshua Ben Yusef (Jesus the son of Joseph). It was this image according to Dr. Naim Akbar that had the most devastating and everlasting affect on the thinking and minds of black people.
Garvey in order to redeem a people who were victims of this heinous crime their minds and thinking had to be reformed—African symbolism, literature, African Tradition, African religion, African culture, etc., this type of nationalism was more than necessary to inspire and empower a people who had lost everything. Garvey knew and understood that white supremacy had evolved based on a misconstrued interpretation of history, which was falsely rooted in the superiority of white people and the inferiority of African people. His mission was designed to decolonize the minds of black people; this plank was essential for people who had experienced a holocaust to make an attempt reclaim their own heritage, traditions, legacy, culture, etc., in order to foster a disperse nation towards personal empowerment and nationhood. His mission was to deconstruct the images that were given to us under a system of white supremacy. Garvey also understood that every sovereign and independent nation had a flag and he gave us the red, black and green: the Red (signifies the blood of the people), Black (represents African people) and the Green represented the land. I have a huge African liberation flag in my home.
Many of the Black bourgeoisie establishment leaders became increasingly jealous of Marcus Garvey's success in which eight of the top black leaders at that time sided with the United States Government plot to destroy Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Dubois spearheaded this attack and he constantly made some disparaging remarks calling Garvey a buffoon, ugly monkey, clown, idiot, etc., these reactionary black leaders were jealous and envy of Garvey's organizational success and Dubois did whatever he could to sabotage Garvey. Garvey had a very large appeal to the grassroots and masses (attracting Blacks in the Caribbean, Central and South America, Africa in which he established UNIA chapters throughout the world and at the peak of his organization he had the largest black membership of any organization consisting of five million people. Many of these black bourgeoisie leaders were members of the Boule (Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity) founded in 1904 as oldest Black Greek Society in the United States (it was founded two years before Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated in 1906) modeled somewhat after Skull Bones founded on the campus of Yale University.
The Black Boule is perhaps the most powerful black secret society in America possessing much more political clout than the Black Prince Hall Masonic Order, but lets not be confused these two groups are intertwined on many different levels. Dubois who was one of the founders of the Niagara Movement (1903) which became the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (1909), but these groups could not mobilize black people like Garvey and UNIA. Also, Dubois vacillated between Socialism/Communism, Nationalism, Pan Africanism, Integration, and scholarly intellectualism. Dubois believed the way to elevate the African American race was sending 10% of the best of our minds to liberal arts colleges and universities, he referred to this approach as the Talented Tenth Theory, but most of his critics viewed this approach as an Elitist movement and this would only create a petit bourgeoisie black class of reactionary uppity Negroes. Dr. E. Franklin Frazier in his book titled, "Black Bourgeoisie" wrote about this sector and Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950), (defined the circumference and diameter of the thinking of this class in his book titled, "The Mis-Education of the Negro”). Garvey was more in line with Woodson's scholarly assessment who was the second black to obtain a Ph.D in history from Harvard University and wrote articles for Garvey's periodical titled, "The Negro World".
Dubois view of Pan Africanism lacked the militancy and radicalism of Garvey's view of Pan Africanism; it was as though that Dubois understood the necessity of a Pan African movement (at least in theory, but Garvey was implementing the practical tenets of the theory) and would argue that if Dubois truly understood the Pan African dynamic, why didn't he support Marcus Garvey's cause of a unified African world? (Yet, Dubois called his first Pan-African Congress 1900 and would called four more Pan-African Congress 1919, 1921, 1923 and 1927) . There were many reasons, but the one that sticks out was that Garvey was unlettered, he did not attend the Ivy League and prestigious universities of America and Europe. Garvey had no college degree from the white man's schools of higher learning, but his charisma and passion to see black people liberated and free was captivating and most established "Negro' leadership did not have the mass appeal that was associated with Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).
Black intellectuals have always felt that they were card carrying white citizens and it was they who had a moral obligation to lead the so-called African American race to social, political and economic redemption and salvation. Many of these ego tripping "Negro' leaders saw themselves as being better trained and educated for the job of 'Negro' leadership than leaders like Henry Highland Garnet, Paul Cuffee, Bishop McNeil Turner, Marcus Garvey, Noble Drew Ali, Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, Clarence 13X (Father Allah) and the Nation of Gods and Earths, Yahweh Ben Yahweh and the Black Hebrew Israelites known as the Nation of Yahweh, Dr. Malachi Z. York-El and the Nuwaubians, etc. There would not have been a Noble Drew Ali and the Moorish Science Temple of America, Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, Kwame Ture (Stokley Carmichael) of the African People's Revolutionary Party who coined the phrase 'Black Power', Malcolm X and the Organization of Afro-American Unity, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seales and the Black Panther Party, Imari Abubakari Obadele and the Republic of New Africa, Louis Farrakhan and the revised Nation of Islam, Malik Zulu Shabazz and Dr. Khallid Abdul Muhammad and the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, Maulana Karenga and the United Slave organization—scholars such as John Henrik Clarke, Yosef Ben A.A. Jochannan, C.L.R. James, George Padmore and the Pan African Congress Movement, the Rastafarian movement, etc., are forever linked to the spirit of Marcus Mosiah Garvey.
All of them have Marcus Garvey's imprint written all over most of these above mentioned organizations and leaders that I have cited. Many of them have used the cultural, theoretical, and political model of Marcus Garvey to create neo-Pan Africanist and Nationalist based movements and ideologies, which can never escape the contribution Garvey made to lay the original programmatic blue print that we see rooted in the present day African Liberation Movements. I would go as far as to say, you cannot have an intelligent conversation about Black Nationalism and Pan Africanism without Marcus Garvey being at the forefront of the discussion. Most of the revolutionary organizations and leaders have grabbed a piece of Garvey's coattail along the way. I say long live Marcus Garvey and the UNIA. I also can remember back in the late 1980s and early 1990s there was an academic led movement referred to as Afrocentricty or the African Centered movement being led my Molefi Kete Asante and other black scholars, but as I studied and embraced the African Centered movement, it was easy to see that it too, was so in debt to the cultural and intellectual philosophy of the ideology of Marcus Garvey.
Dubois out lived Washington and Garvey and he later would admit that looking back on things that Garvey and Washington was right about so many things and he issued a historical apology to both of these prior leaders who preceded him in death. Dubois like Garvey was eventually conspired against by the U.S. Government and was charged with un-American activity and brought into a United States Court in 1951 because of his Communist views, but was later legally exonerated. He gave up his United States Citizenship after this trial and migrated to Ghana, Africa to live in the country of his Pan-Africanist friend, President Kwame Nkrumah where eventually died in 1963.
Fahim A. Knight-El Chief Researcher for KEEPING IT REAL THINK TANK located in Durham, NC; our mission is to inform African Americans and all people of goodwill, of the pending dangers that lie ahead; as well as decode the symbolism and reinterpreted the hidden meanings behind those who operate as invisible forces, but covertly rules the world. We are of the belief that an enlightened world will be better prepared to throw off the shackles of ignorance and not be willing participants for the slaughter. Our MOTTO is speaking truth to power. Fahim A. Knight-EI can be reached at fahimknight@ yahoo.com.
Stay Awake Until We Meet Again,
Fahim A. Knight-El