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The politics of re-looking at Marcus Garvey

Practical Politics

David L. Horne, PH.D. | 2/25/2021, midnight

A well done video is lately making the rounds on YouTube laying out the claim that Marcus Garvey, and by extension the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (U.N.I.A.-A.C.L.) organization and government he and his colleagues built (and after 100 years is still around), was not Pan Africanist.

Although the authors and producers can certainly be praised for presenting a cornucopia of important information on the statements and actions of Bishop Blyden, Alexander Crummell, Martin Delany, Henry H. Garnett, T.T. Fortune, Alexander Waters, B.T. Washington and many others who said and did important things during the history of African folk living in embattled Western spaces, those authors and producers are wrong. Number one, in their presentation they could have and should have mentioned more African American women who were instrumental in that history.

More importantly, the authors and producers made a claim obfuscated by the evidence they presented, not clarified or elucidated by that evidence. In elementary logic, that is called a non sequitur: The classic logical fallacy that is a claim made with evidence presented that may be important and interesting, but not pertinent, to the claim made. For instance, a BLM protester is arrested out of a crowd and charged with displaying reckless disregard for citizens’ safety. The evidence presented to convict is a history of the Black Lives Matter Movement and the African-sounding name of the person arrested, all of which may be interesting, but irrelevant, in terms of the charge.

Missing in the evidence presented was a report of what the person charged actually did what amounted to reckless disregard.

The evidence the authors and producers presented in their video was very interesting, but also very irrelevant to the charge they initially made. How exactly are they defining Pan Africanism, and how did Mr. Garvey not adhere to that definition ? Whether Blyden, Garnett, et al provided early influences on Mr. Garvey was not at issue in their charge. Their argument had to show how, if true, Mr. Garvey missed the mark of being a Pan Africanist.

First, that means the authors and producers had to define Pan Africanism. Then they had to demonstrate that Mr. Garvey failed to adhere to that definition regularly in deed or action. Now clearly there are and were several competing definitions of Pan Africanism during Mr. Garvey’s career and now. All of those definitions, however, have certain immutable characteristics, including:

  • Belief and action concerning the ending of colonialism/neo-colonialism in Africa and the formation of a unified Africa that included those in the African Diaspora

  • Belief in and work towards claiming (or re-claiming) African territorial sovereignty---Africa for Africans (that is, Africans in charge of Africa)

  • Belief in and work towards unifying all Africa into a single, complex entity under one government.

Sure, there are several major arguments for an Africa organized under scientific socialism, organized under democratic federalism, etc. But those are flavors of Pan Africanism, not the essence of the entity.

Was there evidence that Mr. Garvey failed to work towards either of the three aspects of Pan Africanism during his activist life? There was none offered in the video.

Well, Marcus Garvey was a Pan Africanist, and his legacy is the continuing work of the organization/government he built, the U.N.I.A.-A.C.L. A quick perusal of the “Declaration of Rights of the Negro People” produced and presented at the famous U.N.I.A. Convention of 1920 states:

“We believe in the freedom of Africa for the Negro people of the world, and by the principle of Europe for the Europeans and Asia for the Asiatics; we also demand Africa for the Africans at home and abroad."

According to its paperwork, the primary purpose of the Black Star Shipping Line created by Marcus Garvey was to own and command ships to travel back and forth bringing commerce and people to Africa. And although Mr. Garvey never got to make a trip to the continent, he engaged heavily with Liberian government officials regarding the U.N.I.A. purchase of a large body of land in Liberia from which Negroes from America and elsewhere could build a progressive African American, and African Caribbean, presence on the continent (Return of the Diaspora).

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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