Outside the obligatory press releases from political parties and some groups — among them those who have appointed themselves advocates of the Jamaican people — we didn’t see much happening, on a national scale, to mark the 136th anniversary of National Hero Marcus Garvey’s birth on August 17.
The relative dearth of national activity brought to mind the lament of reggae icon Burning Spear, in one of his most popular songs: “No one remembers old Marcus Garvey”.
Burning Spear, whose given name is Winston Rodney, may not be entirely correct, but he makes a very good point, essentially that we do not pay sufficient respect and attention to Mr Garvey, Jamaica’s first national hero, whose teachings are still relevant here and, indeed, globally.
This very point was raised by the Jamaica Observer in an editorial in 2015. At the time the newspaper noted the low-keyed ceremony to honour Mr Garvey in St Ann’s Bay, where he was born, on the occasion of the 128th anniversary of his birth.
The question the Observer asked in 2015 remains relevant today: Is enough being done to recognise and celebrate the life and achievements of one of the greatest Jamaican men of African descent?
History records that Mr Garvey was only 27 years old when he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) to improve the lives of people of Africa and the African Diaspora. He saw Africans at home and abroad as one mighty race. As such, the motto of the UNIA, which was said to have numbered up to four million members at one stage, was ‘One God! One Aim! One Destiny!’
That he was a motivational and charismatic speaker was not in doubt. Therefore, it was not surprising that he was able mobilise the largest movement of black people in the history of the United States and perhaps in the world during his lifetime.
His ideas and work have been foundational to all struggles for the liberation of black people everywhere since his untimely death in 1940.
Indeed, the American leader Malcolm X said of Mr Garvey’s influence: “Every time you see another nation on the African continent become independent you know that Marcus Garvey is alive. Had it not been for Marcus Garvey and the foundations laid by him, you would find no independent nations in the Caribbean today. All of the freedom movement that is taking place right here in America today was initiated by the work and teachings of Marcus Garvey.”
We share the Jamaica Observer’s view that the importance of Mr Garvey is not only in the example he set by his leadership and accomplishments, but derives from the fact that many of his goals are yet to be fulfilled; his philosophies and teachings are still very relevant to people of Africa and the globally disbursed people of African descent.
In its editorial the Observer correctly pointed to the work done by two brilliant and distinguished Jamaican scholars — professors Robert Hill and Rupert Lewis — to document, explain, and elucidate the life, work, and teachings of Mr Garvey.
Professor Hill has compiled the single most important archival collection of Mr Garvey’s works: The multi-volume Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, while Professor Lewis has written and edited several books on the national hero, which are among the best reference works around.
We salute them and hope that the State will emulate their dedication to keeping alive the teachings of The Rt Excellent Marcus Garvey, a giant among men.