Marcus Garvey: A Controversial Figure in the History of Pan-Africanism

Article excerpt

Abstract

Pan-Africanism is a political doctrine, as well as a movement, with the aim of unifying and uplifting African nations and the African Diaspora as a universal African community. In that sense, Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), founder of the Black Star Line and pioneer of the back-to-Africa movement can certainly be considered a Pan-Africanist. But is not the concept of Pan-Africanism supposed to include the notion of African pride too? I believe so. Nevertheless, when we take a closer look at Garvey's life and ideologies, the notion of African pride is barely perceptible at times. Indeed, we sometimes get the impression that he tended to put Western culture/ civilization on a pedestal. For example, it would appear that he tended to idolize Western leaders such as Napoleon and Hitler - though they were extremely racist. It also seems that he tended to prefer Christianity over African religions, Western music such as classical music over African music, and Western uniforms rather than African clothing, and so on. All these points, which seem to be the fruits of intellectual colonization, make Garvey a controversial figure in the history of Pan-Africanism. Besides trying to analyze objectively the complex personality of Garvey, this paper is aimed at questioning the notion of Pan-Africanism and raising the issue of intellectual colonization.

Keywords

African cultural heritage; African Diaspora; African Empire; African pride; back-to-Africa movement; Black Star Line; Christianity; clothing; culture; education; intellectual colonization; Jamaican Patois; literary English; Marcus Garvey; music; Pan-Africanism; races; Rastafari; UNIA.

Introduction

Doing doctoral research on the history of Jamaican popular music in the twentieth century, I study the life of singers, producers and other protagonists of that story. Thus, I recently took an interest in the life and theories of Marcus Garvey who has been perceived as a true prophet by most Rastafarians since the beginning of the Rasta movement in the early 1930's. For a great many people, especially in the Caribbean, Garvey is often depicted as the father of Pan-Africanism, a political doctrine and movement designed to unify and uplift African nations and the African Diaspora as a universal African community.

In that sense, Garvey, the founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), founder of the Black Star Line and pioneer of the back-to-Africa movement can certainly be considered a Pan-Africanist.

But is not the concept of Pan-Africanism supposed to include the notion of African pride too? I believe so. Nevertheless, when we take a closer look at Garvey's life and ideologies, the notion of African pride is not perceptible at times. Indeed, we sometimes get the impression that he tended to put Western culture/ civilization on a pedestal. For example, it would appear that he tended to idolize Western leaders such as Napoleon and Hitler - though both of them were extremely racist. It also seems that he tended to prefer Christianity over African religions, Western music such as classical music over African music, and Western uniforms rather than African clothing, and so on. All these points seem to be the fruits of intellectual colonization, and thus make Garvey a controversial figure in the history of Pan-Africanism.

Thus, this paper examines Garvey's Pan-African accomplishments/projects, and explores the ambiguity of his character with an emphasis on some contradictions in his ideologies and lifestyle.

Garvey's Pan-African Accomplishments and Projects

As I said above, some of Garvey's actions can certainly be associated with Pan-Africanism, and in this context I will not entertain a full biography, because notable scholars such as Edmund David Cronon, Tony Martin, Rupert Lewis, Robert Hill and others have made an outstanding contribution already. …