Writing the Struggle – Black is Beautiful
Marcus Garvey’s contribution to Africa’s independence
The man who penned the famous poem that gave birth to the slogan “Africa for Africa”, Marcus Garvey, was prevented from travelling to Africa by American authorities who refused to give him a visa.
But this did not stop him from pushing on with his fight for the freedom of Africa, and indeed for all black people across the globe.
Garvey, who was born in St Anne’s Bay, Jamaica in 1887, saw at an early age how his father stood up for his rights and how important it was be strong and stand up for what is right.
While many black people at the time were ashamed of their skin colour, Garvey told them that black was beautiful.
Through his self-taught journalism and writings, Garvey was able to reach out to many people such that some of his followers called him a prophet or messiah because of the accuracy of his analysis of the contemporary black person’s situation.
Garvey pushed for African pride, saying at that a race without authority and power is a race without respect.
With Africa increasingly appreciating that salvation comes from within, Garvey’s teaching appear to be getting the attention they deserve now from Africa’s citizens.
His poem “Africa for the Africans” sums up his ideas and ideals. Unsurprisingly, these are the ideals the African Union is advocating for by calling for self-sustenance and advocating for the African Renaissance that the likes of Thabo Mbeki have long dreamt of.
Garvey wrote: “Say! Africa for the Africans, / Like America for the Americans: / This rallying cry for a nation, / Be it in peace or revolution. / Blacks are men, no longer cringing fools; / They demand a place, not like weak tools; …Time has changed, so hail! New Africa! / We are now awakened, rights to see: / We shall fight for dearest liberty…
“Blackmen's hands have joined now together,/ They will fight and brave all death's weather,/ Motherland to save, and make her free,/ Spreading joy for all to live and see./ None shall turn us back, in freedom's name,/ We go marching like to men of fame/ Who have given laws and codes to kings,/ Sending evil flying on crippled wings…
“Greet the world as soldiers,/ bravely true:/ ‘Sunder not,’ Africa shouts to you.”
This inspirational poem gave rise to African nationalism which saw leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah declaring that: “I am not African because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me.”
In his 1957 speech on the occasion of Ghana’s Independence, Nkrumah declared – just like Garvey – that “new Africa is ready to fight his own battles and show that after all the black man is capable of managing his own affairs”.
“We are going to demonstrate to the world, to the other nations that we are prepared to lay our foundation – our own African personality,” Nkrumah said.
He also spoke about creating “our own African personality and identity” because “it is the only way we can show the world that we are ready for our own battles”.
Nkrumah ended this with his famous statement: “Our Independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of Africa.”
This was Garvey core message in his teachings and writings – the need for Africa identity, unity and self-respect.