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“The whole thing, my friends, is a bloody farce, and that the police and soldiers did nothing to stem the murder thirst of the mob is a conspiracy on the part of the civil authorities to condone the acts of the white mob against Negroes.” Marcus Garvey
With a few minor changes in the words, one would think this quote was in reference the unrest happening right now in Ferguson, Missouri due to the killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, but it isn’t.
The quote above by Marcus Garvey was delivered when he responded to the 1917 East St. Louis Race Riot, nearly 100 years ago.
Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association, historically known as the UNIA, responded to the race riot of East St. Louis by calling it a “crime against humanity.” This riot occurred after 470 African Americans has been hired to fill positions left abandoned by white workers that had gone on strike against the local Aluminum Ore Company. The angry whites of the town filed formal complaints to the Mayor against Black migration to the city of East St. Louis. Soon after the formal complaints, an alleged attempted robbery of a white man by an unarmed Black man began to circulate. As a result, an angry white mob began beating and violating the Blacks of the city—these actions resulted in the National Guard being called in to quell the violence, but it only grew worse. The end result of the St. Louis Race Riots, amidst all of the violence and the maimed and murdered African Americans, was that several officers of the East St. Louis police force were indicted for not doing enough to eradicate the mob violence.
Marcus Garvey, born in St. Ann’s Bay Jamaica on August 17, 1887 was a fearless, enterprising man of great conviction. Highly inspired by the formerly enslaved American hero, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey set out to establish a united Black people. He encouraged repatriation to Africa, the industrialization of Blacks and the establishment of an organization that would help Blacks to meet his goals, the UNIA formed in 1914. Further inspired by the large numbers of Black people living in Harlem, Marcus Garvey relocated the UNIA to Harlem’s 138th Street in 1917, and was a leading voice against racial injustice every time these injustices arose. As demonstrated above, Marcus Garvey spoke against the East St. Louis Race Riots of 1917, and his vigilance against the killings that occurred during the Red Summer of 1919 led to the continued growth of the UNIA.
Using Madison Square Garden as his venue, Marcus Garvey attracted 25,000 people to hear him deliver the Declaration of Rights the Negro Peoples of the World at the UNIA International Convention of 1920.
This man was on a mission.
To fulfill his dream of Blacks repatriating to Africa, Marcus Garvey and the efforts of the UNIA purchased a fleet of ships, The Blackstar Steamship Line. Although the ships were never able to fulfill the purpose intended by Garvey and the UNIA, purchasing the ships was a promising move by any Black leader, and a clear testament to the UNIA’s economic prowess.
Like most leaders of his time, Marcus Garvey was not devoid of controversy that would taint his reputation among Black followers and other Black organizations. The point, however, is that Marcus Garvey was a visionary and he was emphatic about the direction he thought would suit Black people best. He had an “All Black Everything” vision; under the banner of Red, Black and Green he envisioned a Black Army. He lauded Black women as “queens” that gave “color to the world.” He also was clear and staunch in this assertion that he was equal to the white man and he wanted other Blacks to feel and know the same thing.
Marcus Garvey, having been consumed by the poetic and political potential of the United States, specifically Harlem (He was in Harlem in the height of the Harlem Renaissance), as well as the ideas of Black Unity and a Black nation, Marcus Garvey was a true Renaissance Man.
Marcus Garvey died in 1940 while in London, England after having two strokes.
He has influenced people who still follow his teachings, Garveyites. Rastafarianism is highly influenced by Garveyism. The man heralded by Ossie Davis as “our own Black shining Prince,” El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X), was raised by a Garveyite, his father Earl Little. And, all around the world we can find many examples of people holding true to Marcus Garvey’s call, “Up you mighty race; you can conquer what you will.”
On this Centennial (100 years!) of the UNIA and on what would have been the 127th year of Mr. Garvey’s birth, we say HAPPY BIRTHDAY Marcus Garvey!
Facebook has proven to be worth all of the hype it has earned—it has connected childhood friends, helped friends become lovers, and it has even been a great stage for [healthy] political and historical debates.
My friends of Facebook have contributed to a rich conversation about President Robert Mugabe’s latest decision to remove about 35 white landowners from landownership, but not from owning businesses and other properties in the Southeast African nation of Zimbabwe.
According to a July 2014 article called, “Mugabe Orders White Farmers Off Of Land” written by Abena Agyeman Fisher on Face2FaceAfrica, President Mugabe is planning to make major changes in the distribution of land ownership in Zimbabwe. Not everybody is happy about it, and my Facebook friends have a lot to say about it.
Some of them view Mugabe’s policies as “ignorant” and they assert that he is no longer the “independence hero” he was once thought to be. In addition, some of them present that he is establishing a “two wrongs make a right precedent” while others maintain that the people of Zimbabwe, represented by the leadership of Robert Mugabe, have a “God-given right to put changes in place…”
Clearly there are no easy solutions to correcting the wrongs of histories past and rightfully so. History is a very convoluted concept of facts, memories, rights and wrongs. It is filled with vantage points, imposters, oppressors, victims and survivors. And ultimately, each of us, whether in positions of power, or as conscious citizens, supports the concept of history we construct and the role we play.
Robert Mugabe is no saint, and of course, like each of us, is a sinner. And now, he will face the book of history for this recent decision and for his legacy of as a leader.
While Mugabe may no longer be a hero to all, he may certainly become one again to many.
One of my commenters wrote the “…sins of the father don’t pass on like bank accounts and to attempt to correct historical injustices using today’s players sets a bad “two wrongs make a right” precedent.”
When the sins involve racial injustice that have been systemically implemented and violently enforced over the course of prejudicial / discriminatory, unjust, inhumane, dehumanizing laws, the posterity (next generations) of the purveyors (creators) of those laws reap the benefits, and the subjects reap the disadvantages of those laws. These sins absolutely pass on like bank accounts. Even worse, most of us, especially when you’re on the beneficial end, never question why these sins are so advantageous—it is just passed on as “the way that it is.”
And, those in power often run away from explaining the origins of these de facto benefits.
The reality of Zimbabwe is that it is a country that has not resolved its racial and political issues—the roots run deep. The other reality is that the generations of white families that have “owned” its land have done so through illegal occupation. There is no statute of limitations on doing what is right, no matter how many generations pass. The whites of Zimbabwe today are reaping the benefits of the crimes of their ancestors, just like the Africans have reaped the disadvantages of theirs.
Just because the “Star of Africa”, the largest diamond ever to be found in the world, has been in possession of England since 1905, does not make England its rightful owner. Because Africa was invaded and illegally occupied by European nations through violent means and war via the Berlin Conference of 1884, none of what Europe has taken in Africa makes Europe Africa’s owners. The same is true for the whites in Zimbabwe.
The theft of land is a horribly debilitating offense, and it is directly tied to a people’s sustenance, the sustainability of their generations, and acquisition of [future] wealth–ask any of the Blacks that endured Jim Crow America and were forced to abandon their hard-earned, formerly-sharecropped, and former plantation lands in places like Alabama and Mississippi due to vicious, legal and uncontested racial violence; and, without delay, they would attest that their stolen land has created major communal, familial and financial setbacks in their lives. Remember Mose Wright–Emmet Till’s uncle that testified against the men that killed is nephew? He was run off of his Mississippi land and there are many more stories like his. He and the others are entitled to reparations.
In his very craftily written article, The Case for Reparations, TaNehisi Coates presented a pristine argument for reparations for Blacks that had been unfairly denied access to wealth-building and the acquisition of property due to Chicago’s unfair red-lining and housing laws. These laws were established by an American government that refused to recognize the rights of all of its citizens. Blacks were left out. And, we are entitled to reparations because the policies were wrong.
The whites in Zimbabwe are not entitled to own Zimbabwe’s land because the policies that made them “owners” were wrong. The Blacks were denied access to Zimbabwe’s land during imperialism, and history has a way of correcting those wrongs. It’s called reparations; and, Robert Mugabe is leading that charge for Zimbabwe on his watch.
Over the course of nearly 60 years, Germany has paid some $89 billion in reparations to Holocaust survivors, survivors’ children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren–and they’ve even paid the survivors living in Russian-occupied territories. The policies that savagely killed Holocaust victims and left some scarred for life were wrong; and, the German government of today says that its people are entitled to reparations.
In all issues of race and racial injustice, we must speak plainly, openly and honestly. The whites of Zimbabwe do not “own” the land. No matter how many generations have been on the land, they are in Zimbabwe due to colonial occupation and racial subjugation.
Robert Mugabe does not have all of the answers, but we cannot be so quick to condemn his policies as “ignorant” when they attempt on implement fairness for people for whom justice escaped. If Robert Mugabe is a villain for attempting reparations for his people, then all leaders that correct past wrongs are villains.
There is the implication that once the land gets [back] into the hand of the Zimbabweans that they will be very unproductive with it and the land will lose value because Zimbabweans will not industrialize the land for business. It is the same arguments America used to deny Black Americans access to land, property, politics, and education. The argument is wrong.
I am always intrigued by the use of semantics when there is an examination of white people being governed by the policies of Blacks. Arguments of morality and justice are quickly asserted in their cases whereas Blacks are usually only afforded a legal argument—about laws that are already unjust and immoral.
Robert Mugabe must face the book of history about the legacy of his leadership, and in the meantime, I look forward to reading more about his plan for implementing [land] reparations.
It is always the strangest thing in the world to me when we celebrate milestone events in this country that are nuanced with a particular group of Americans in mind–especially when that group is African Americans. It is especially peculiar to think of celebrating the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the premier pieces of legislation that defined the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. But, today we commemorate it–Happy 50th Anniversary!
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a long and hard battle fought by African Americans to get Congress to pass a strong meaningful piece of legislation that would secure our ability to be treated fairly according to the law, and especially in places of public accommodation. Congress was not super sold on passing this bill as America was ultra polarized and the racial tensions of America were about to reach their boiling points during the decade of the 60s. Prior to Johnson’s passing of the bill, it had been introduced by former president John F. Kennedy. Congress had made attempts to kill this bill and the likes of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Georgia Congressman John Lewis, and organizer A. Phillip Randolph had organized and participated in the August 28th, 1963 March on Washington to underscore the need for African Americans’ fair and equal treatment under the law.
Although revised and arguably watered down by most analyses, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it so hotels that were once suddenly “vacant” when African Americans solicited them could no longer prevent our stays. Those very same Woolworth counters that refused groups like the Greensboro Four (4) of 1960, only four years earlier, now had to open their counters for African American patronage and dine-in participation and not just take out. With the passage of this bill African Americans were not ever going to move the backs of any buses unless we wanted to. And, certainly after this bill was passed, discriminatory practices still prevailed because bad habits and even worse beliefs and practices were not abandoned overnight, but at least they were easier to fight and criminalize due to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on July 2nd.
Take a listen:
On Friday, July 4th, 2014, we will celebrate 238 years of American independence from the control of the British crown and King James. Long before American Independence was a conceivable idea in the mind of European immigrants looking for solace from their nations’ persecution, African Americans were here and even before Columbus–we were merchants, mariners, explorers, and of course, we were the labor that created this “land of the free” and “home of the brave.”
No matter how strange it is to have to even celebrate 50 years of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 victory, especially in a country nearly two and a half centuries old and one that would have never seen the light of victory without its “native sons”, we celebrate this legislation nonetheless.
Happy Birthday Civil Rights Act of 1964!
“The media’s the most powerful entity on Earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” Malcolm X
Today, May 19th, 2014 we say Happy Birthday to Brother Malcolm X, one of the world’s “brightest hopes” as he is “extinguished now, and gone from us forever…unconquered still. (Ossie Davis–Malcolm X’s Eulogy).”
As is the case with hindsight, we never really understand the blessing of a treasure until it has seeped from within our grasp, been moved from within our reach, or taken away from us too soon. We often refer to this as missed opportunity. In regards to man, we really only know of their value in death. Such is the case with Malcolm X.
So much of Malcolm X, “our living Black manhood” was lost in the media’s coverage of him as a controversial figure. In the media, Malcolm X is militant, angry, and violent. And, he is never a man.
In the media he is also an agitator rather than a self-help guru–today I suppose even Oprah Winfrey and OWN TV would be doing a Master Class on him because of his ability to help each of us to live our best lives. He is the soul of our Sundays as we reflect on the true meaning of life, but he is also the weekend fever that makes us active, involved and responsive.
In the media, soundbites are used to express the totality of his life, but beyond the camera lens, Malcolm’s total life is an example of transformation, introspection, resilience and the full human experience.
Malcolm X is a mountain.
The media has hijacked his image and taken his words to create him as polarizing to the success of human excellence. But we must know and project him differently. We must know that although Malcolm X did not have the formal education that we revere in our leaders, the invaluable education of accountability and service he taught is as priceless as his precious life.
Today on his birth, Google chose to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Rubic’s Cube–a three-dimensional combination puzzle by its Hungarian namesake used to challenge our brains on the myriad ways in which to get all of the same colors on one side of this movable block.
The most puzzling thing to me, however, is how we can continue to deny Malcolm X–this “black shining prince” Ossie Davis described as a man “who didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved us so.”
As long as we have access to smartphones and social media and pens and paper, we are the media. We have the power to shape our heroes in the ways in which they should be viewed–we have the ability to tell their truths; and, we also have the power to write them back into places in which they have been erased. After all, it was Malcolm X who said:
“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
If we choose to hate Malcolm X, we choose to hate an everyday man with the extraordinary courage to stand up to white supremacy, institutional racism and maintain / assert his manhood with the best of integrity–something that each of us is equipped to do.
I choose to celebrate this sphinx of a man.
He is love.
He is light.
And, I love him so.
Read Ossie Davis’ full eulogy below:
“Here–at this final hour, in this quiet place–Harlem has come to bid farewell to one of its brightest hopes–extinguished now, and gone from us forever. For Harlem is where he worked and where he struggled and fought–his home of homes, where his heart was, and where his people are–and it is, therefore, most fitting that we meet once again–in Harlem–to share these last moments with him. For Harlem has ever been gracious to those who have loved her, have fought for her, and have defended her honor even to the death.
There are those who will consider it their duty, as friends of the Negro people, to tell us to revile him, to flee, even from the presence of his memory, to save ourselves by writing him out of the history of our turbulent times. Many will ask what Harlem finds to honor in this stormy, controversial and bold young captain–and we will smile. Many will say turn away from this man, for he is a demon, a monster, a subverter and an enemy of the Black man–and we will smile. They will say that he is of hate–a fanatic, a racist–who can only bring evil to the cause for which you struggle! And we will answer and say to them: Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him, or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Did he ever do a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did you would know him. And if you knew him you would know why we must honor him.It is not in the memory of man that this beleaguered, unfortunate, but nonetheless proud community has found a braver, more gallant young champion than this Afro-American who lies before us–unconquered still. Afro-American Malcolm was most meticulous in his use of words. Nobody knew better than he the power words have over minds of men. Malcolm had stopped being a “Negro” years ago. It had become too weak a word for him. Malcolm was bigger than that. Malcolm had become an Afro-American and he wanted–so desperately–that all his people would become Afro-Americans too.
Malcolm was our living, black manhood! This was his meaning to his people. And, in honoring him, we honor the best in ourselves. Last year, from Africa, he wrote these words to a friend: “My journey,” he says, “is almost ended, and I have a much broader scope than when I started out, which I believe will add new life and dimension to our struggle for freedom and dignity in the States. I am writing these things so that you will know for a fact the tremendous sympathy and support we have among the African States for our Human Rights struggle. The main thing is that we keep a United Front wherein our most valuable time and energy will not be wasted fighting each other.” However we may have differed with him–or with each other about him–let his going from us serve only to bring us together, now.
Consigning these mortal remains to earth, the common mother of all, secure in the knowledge that what we place in the ground is no more now a man–but a seed–which, after the winter of our discontent, will come forth again to meet us. And we will know him then for what he was and is, our own black shining Prince!–who didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved us so.” ~Mr. Ossie Davis, February 27th, 1965 delivered at the Faith Temple Church of God.
For more information on Ossie Davis feelings toward Malcolm X, go to: Ossie Davis and Democracy Now
“This assumption that of all the hues of God, whiteness alone is inherently and obviously better than brownness or tan leads to curious acts…” Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, “The Souls of White Folk,” from Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil (1920)
In the midst of the latest rash of race-induced headlining stories, two more questions come to mind:
1). What does it mean to be racist in America?
2). Why is race still so hard to digest?
We have not even begun to make that journey.
On April 22nd, 2014 the Supreme Court supported the voters of Michigan by upholding a ban on affirmative action in the state, specifically as race is used as a factor for admitting students to the University of Michigan. Justice Sotomayor, appointed by President Obama, was one of two justices (Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg joined her) who voted against the Supreme Court decision. In her now much referred to 58-page dissenting opinion, Justice Sotomayor pointed out that white graduates of public Michigan institutions could still exercise the privilege of lobbying the admissions board to garner acceptance for other relatives into the school; thus, they can use a “legacy” policy of admissions. Black students, especially ones never having any relatives who have ever attended college before, will not be so fortunate.
And so I began thinking about what would happen to students whose race was “detectable” by their names. And, would these same students also be denied entry because an admissions counselor had these special “race discerning” powers just by reading the name on the application?
Out of my own curiosity, I presented my students with a role play / scenario to see if they could determine the race of a person based on the person’s name. In a hypothetical, in-class assignment, I had my students pretend to be a panel of admissions counselors with the sole responsibility of admitting students to our make-believe school, but they could not consider the student’s race.
Hmmm…But, would they?
They were charged with developing our made-up Freshman class from the applicants presented. While I didn’t disclose any of the racial demographics with my students, they did as I assumed they would–associated the names they considered Black and/ or “ghetto” with a Black person, gave a ‘white’ designation to names that they argued a white person would have, and assigned “other” to names that appeared to be of Arabic, Asian and/or Hispanic descent.
Surprisingly however, my students naturally capped the number of perceived Blacks they admitted despite the applicants’ qualifications. And, they were far more lenient with the spaces given to white and Other students arguing their attempt to create a “diverse environment.”
This is what racism does. It forces those that have been disenfranchised to self-impose limitations. It makes the targets of its practice justify why racism may not be happening when clearly the effects of the actions imposed by the dominant, ruling class suggest that racism is the only plausible explanation.
While watching my students continue with this assignment, it was clear to me that Professor Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, Constitutional Law Professor at John Jay College, was right to coin the Supreme Court’s Schuette vs. Coalition of Defend the Affirmative Action ruling a ‘Supreme Flaw.’ in the New York Amsterdam News, Vol. 105, No.17.
Our world has evolved in ways I am certain earlier Neolithic people never imagined. The idea of race is already a baffling enough construct. Add to that the notion that we still have not reached a place where it can be discussed genuinely and meaningfully there is no wonder it appears we are all suffering from indigestion.
We could all use a little bit of relief.