Marcus Garvey was one of the foremost political thinkers and activists of the twentieth century.
A successful campaigner and mass movement organiser, his skill lay in being able to connect with the grassroots and propose a course of action for social elevation that honoured heritage while challenging prevailing socio-economic conditions.
More is often said about his aesthetics and theatrics than about his core philosophy, which included considerations of theology, church organisation, concepts of race, concepts of modernity, processes of modernisation, elitism, Pan-Africanism, and the role of esteem in both liberation and modernisation.
Related Lecture: Turning Points in Pan-Africanism, Marcus Garvey
Garvey is perhaps most known for his advancement of Afro-American repatriation to Africa. Developing the ideas set out by Edward Blyden a generation earlier, Garvey added the need for a priori economic emancipation where Blyden had spoken more of a priori psychological emancipation as a pre-requisite to returning to Africa. In addition, Garvey drew inspiration from Booker T Washington but where the latter advocated the acquisition of tangible wealth as a priority for Black liberation in the diaspora, Garvey distinguished his message by advocating for financial wealth in the form of stocks and shares. All of this is to say that Garvey was deeply rooted in the political thought of his and previous generations and sought to propose something new to Africans in the diaspora.
He ran into opposition from proponents of Black American patriotism who had many valid criticism of Garvey’s rhetoric and proposed solutions. It can be said that Garvey failed to recognise the differences within the Pan-American experience, coming as he did from a majority Black nation, Jamaica, that had seen nothing comparable to the post-emancipation violence and persecution experienced by African Americans. He also had to contend with the fact that he was never able to visit Africa and so his understanding of African political society was little at best and colonial at worst. He is often forgiven this deficit in his experiential knowledge and by extension the at times stunted nature of the way he speaks about Africa because his Afro-positivism is undisputed and his genuine desire to re-engage with the continent is unchallengeable.
We teach Garvey’s life and thought on our Foundation Certificate in African History both as part of studies in Pan-Africanism and Nationalism and as part of studies in African Political Philosophy.
Below are five top books to begin with if you are interested in learning more about Garvey, his life and his thought:
This anthology contains some of the African-American rights advocate’s most noted writings and speeches, including “Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World” and “Africa for the Africans.”
This is the first volume in the classic work, The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey (originally published in 1923). It is a collection of his speeches and essays compiled by his widow, Amy Jacques Garvey, setting out a vision to unite Africa and Africans.
This is the first volume in a monumental ten-volume survey of thirty thousand archival documents and original manuscripts from widely separated sources, brought together by editor Robert A. Hill to provide a compelling picture of the evolution, spread, and influence of the UNIA. Letters, pamphlets, vital records, intelligence reports, newspaper articles, speeches, legal records, and diplomatic dispatches are enhanced by Hill’s descriptive source notes, explanatory footnotes, and comprehensive introduction. Of the over three hundred items included in Volume I, only very few have ever been published or reprinted before.
With masterful skill, wit and compassion, Colin Grant chronicles Garvey’s extraordinary life, the failed business ventures, his misguided negotiations with the Ku Klux Klan, and the premature obituaries that contributed to his lonely, tragic death. This is the dramatic cautionary tale of a man who articulated the submerged thoughts of an awakening people.
“Marcus Garvey Life and Lessons: A Centennial Companion to the Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers” by Robert Hill (ed)
A popular companion to the scholarly edition of The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, this volume is a collection of autobiographical and philosophical works produced by Garvey in the period from his imprisonment in Atlanta to his death in London in 1940.