Garvey and economic independence

By Dr. Conrad W. Worrill -Guest Columnist- | Last updated: Aug 16, 2012 - 8:00:27 PM

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Marcus Garvey
August is an important month in the worldwide African Liberation Movement. This is the month we pay tribute to the legacy of one of our greatest organizers and leaders who served the African World Community—the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. Garvey was born August 17, 1887 in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. The organization he founded, the Universal Negro Improvement Association, in Kingston, Jamaica, 1914 will again pay tribute this month to the great legacy of this giant in our struggle.

In this present era of economic and educational onslaught against the Black community in America, it is important that we understand that the rise of the African Centered Education Movement should be linked to our quest for economic independence.

We must free the “African mind” through African Centered Educational activities so that we might better understand the importance of economic self-reliance.

One model that we draw strength from in pursuing economic and educational liberation is the model established by Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in the 1920s.

The more I read and study about Garvey, the more I am amazed at the great contributions he made for Black people to become a self-reliant and self-sufficient people. At the core of Garvey’s program was his urging of Black people to acquire education and economic power. As he always stated, “A race without power is a race without respect.”

When we examine the economic condition of Blacks in America, and throughout the world, we find one glaring problem—Black people do not control their economic resources at the level they should. This is primarily due to our miseducation as a people. In a disproportionate manner, Black people depend on the European and Asian world for food, clothing, and shelter. More often than not, the European and Asian worlds are the producers, processors, distributors, and wholesalers. Black people are the consumers.

This was one of the major problems that Garvey addressed during his lifetime and that Minister Louis Farrakhan continues to address.

As Dr. Tony Martin writes in his book Race First, which is one of the best books written on the works of Garvey, “Marcus Garvey, unlike his major rivals in the United States, built a mass organization that went beyond civil-rights agitation and protest and based itself upon a definite, well thought out program that he believed would lead to the total emancipation of the race from white dominion.”

To implement his program, Garvey set up the Negro Factories Corporation. Its objective was to build and operate factories in the big industrial centers of the United States, Central America, the Caribbean, and Africa. The NFC established a chain of cooperative grocery stores, a restaurant, a steam laundry, tailor and dressmaking shop, a millinery store, and a publishing house.

Garvey also established a steamship company, The Black Star Line. He envisioned a fleet of steamers carrying passengers and establishing trade among Black people of the United States, Central America, the Caribbean, and Africa.

In the summer of 1920, Garvey launched his full blown program at the First Annual Convention of the Universal Negro Improvement Association of which he was the founder and first President General.

On August 2, 1920, after a massive parade of thousands of well drilled, uniformed ranks of the UNIA, 35,000 delegates from all over the United States and some 25 countries convened at Madison Square Garden, in New York City. It was, according to the New York Times, one of the largest gatherings in the history of the hall.

Dr. Martin explains that, “Central to the ideological basis underpinning Garvey’s program was the question of race. For Garvey, the Black man was universally oppressed on racial grounds, and no matter how much people try to shy away from this issue, the fact is, this is still true today.”

As Malcolm X used to say, it was our Blackness “which caused so much hell not our identity as Elks, Masons, Baptists or Methodists.” If we are ever to become a liberated people this idea must be deeply rooted in the day to day organizing and mobilizing of our people as we seek economic and educational liberation. Far too many Blacks in America have abandoned this idea in their organizing projects.

Garvey understood that the foundation of our liberation is economic and educational independence based on racial solidarity. There are numerous lessons we can learn from the legacy of the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. Without economic independence tied to the acquisition of political power, Black people in America and Black people everywhere will continue to be the subjects of the whims of other people.

In this regard, Garvey said, “... you can be educated in soul, vision and feeling, as well as in mind. To see your enemy and know him is a part of the complete education of man. ... Develop yours and you become as great and full of knowledge as the other fellow without entering the classrooms.”

(Dr. Conrad Worrill is chairman emeritus of the National Black United Front located at 1809 East 71st Street, Suite 211, Chicago, Illinois, 60649. He can be reached at 773-493-0900, or e-mail [email protected]. Log-on to for more information.)