Black History Month: Marcus Garvey & Edward Wilmot Blyden

We Celebrate Black History Everyday Here on UnCensored. We celebrate Sam Ditshego, a great Pan Africanist, thinker, educator who joined the ancestors last October.

Edward Wilmot Blyden

There are many heroic leaders in the Black Valhalla of the Americas as the late Professor Ivan Van Sertima wrote a few years back. However, in this article I would like to focus on three of them.

Marcus Garvey, born on 17 August 1887 was influenced by, among others, Edward Wilmot Blyden known as the father of Pan Africanism, born 3 August 1832. Those not familiar with the works of Blyden and Garvey might be taken aback by Blyden’s, Garvey’s and Martin Robison Delaney’s reference to race since ‘race’ is a social construct and because Robert Sobukwe spoke of one race, the human race and has also read and quoted the works of Garvey.  It is because the late 19th and early 20th century science was preoccupied with questions of race, preoccupations that took their most extreme and horrible form in the theories used by white supremacists to commit the most horrendous racist crimes, especially against Africans.

Sam Ditshego took ill in October last year, having tested positive for Covid-19 and was taken to 1 Military Hospital, where he was discharged reportedly not at risk, then died three days later.

To put the thorny issue of race into perspective, I propose to quote from the introduction of Martin Robison Delany’s 1879 book titled The Origin of Races and Colour.

“Martin Delany wrote this 95 page treatise on the origin of races at a time when even educated circles used scientific sophistry to explain the superiority of the Euro American or white race of people. It was also a time charged by the appearance of Charles Darwin’s scientific work. “The Origin of Species” in 1859 explained the evolution of the human race from lower mammals and life forms driven by the force of natural selection by which the most fit of any species survived while the lesser species perished. Darwin also published closer to the time of Delany’s work “The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex” in 1871.Delany wrote “The Origin of Race and Colour” to counter the implication that could be drawn from Darwin’s work that races of human beings represent different levels of evolution in man. His last published work of any significance, the aging Delany reaffirmed his old principles and informed opinion that the very first human civilisations in Egypt and Ethiopia were created by persons of the black race. He also argues, through scientific argument that contrary to the assertion that the white race of humans evolved from black or other races, seeks to show that human races stem from three basic skin colours with the Indian (red) or Adamic race the first. He uses historical and biblical sources to support this view. He also tries to blunt fears supported by misused or “politicised” scientific conjecture that racial intermixing and procreation could end the white race. Delany argues that the white and black skinned races are too primary as colours and as races for either to ever be eradicated from the face of the earth”.

Students today and in the future will correct the few errors and misinterpretations Delany made taking into consideration the period of history in which he wrote the book, the dominant racist scholarship of the time and new scientific information that has come to light recently such as, for example, the monogenetic theory which states humanity originated from a common ancestor in Africa. I am not calling for the distortion of his views but correction of some of his genuine errors and replace them with the latest theories on the sequence of the emergence of the races.

In his inaugural address to the Trustees of Donations in Boston in 1881 after electing him to the Presidency of Liberia College, Blyden said it was something unique in the history of Christian civilisation for there to be a college in West Africa, for the education of African youth by African instructors, under a Christian government conducted by Negroes. He proposed to take a few departments and, by a system of instruction more suited to the necessities of the country and the race – that is to say, more suited to the development of individuality and manhood of the African – to bring the institution more within the scope of the cooperation and enthusiasm of the people.

Blyden said Africans who were trained on the soil of Africa had the advantage of those trained in foreign countries; but in all, as a rule, the intellectual and moral results thus far have been far from satisfactory. He said there were very few educated men out of many who have the sort of culture which produces self-respect, confidence in one’s self, and efficiency in work. He said this was caused by the evil in the system and method of European training to which Africans are everywhere in Christian lands subjected and which everywhere affects them unfavourably. Because they were of a different race, different susceptibility, different bent of character from that of the European, they have been trained under influences in many respects adapted only to the Caucasian race.

Garvey also spoke of preserving the race and said that in history weak species have been rendered extinct by strong ones.

During an address at Fort Hare University, the twenty-four year old Robert Sobukwe quoted Marcus Garvey as having said, “You cannot grow beyond your thoughts. If your thoughts are those of a slave, you will remain a slave. If your thoughts go skin-deep, your mental development will remain skin-deep”.

While the CPSA or SACP discouraged members of the ANC from associating with Garvey, the founding general secretary of the ANC, Sol Plaatje (9 October 1876 – 19 June 1932) was the guest of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in the early 1920’s after failed deputations to England;  and Plaatje also met W.E.B. Du Bois.

The ANC’s black, green and gold colours of its flag were adopted from Garvey’s UNIA in the 1920’s except that the ANC left out the red colour from its flag. The PAC also kept the black, green and gold colours because the PAC is the legitimate heirs to the 1912 ANC. The mouthpiece of Garvey’s UNIA was The Negro World publication. Sowetan’s predecessor was called The Bantu World modelled on Garvey’s Negro World.

Garvey, born 17 August 1887 and died 10 June 1940 was the most influential leader of African origin on the international scene and was not promoted by the corporate and imperialist media. In fact, the corporate and imperialist media denounced and downplayed him.  He touched the lives of many Africans and people of African descent in a remarkable way. UNIA had over forty branches throughout the world. Garvey was an organisational genius, one of Sobukwe’s strengths. The other attributes of Garvey and Sobukwe were charisma and singleness of purpose, the liberation of the oppressed African people all over the world.

He preached self-reliance and built the Black Star Line company. The first President of Botswana Sir Seretse Khama was one of the African leaders who were influenced by Garvey. After that country’s independence one of the development principles adopted by Khama was self-reliance in order to lessen Botswana’s dependence on the white settler minority governments that surrounded Botswana. One of Garvey’s famous quotes is, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots”. Khama’s quote was, “A nation without a past is a lost nation, and a people without a past is a people without a soul”.

Other African leaders who were influenced by Garvey were Kenya’s first President and the father of the current President, Jomo “Mzee” Kenyatta; Kwame Nkrumah, Nmandi Azikiwe and many other post-independence leaders including African American leader Malcolm X. Garvey influenced a generation of Pan Africanist leaders such as the founding President of the ANCYL Anton Lembede and Zeph Mothopeng. The writings of Lembede echoed the philosophy and ideology of Garvey. The PAC exhibits some Garveyite organizational philosophy and ideology such as rejecting the 1955 ANC integrationist approach to the African people’s struggle for liberation lest it diluted the objectives of the liberation. The PAC also believed in African nationalism and Pan Africanism. Some of the ideas of the Black Consciousness Movement are Garveyite -ideas such as uniting first as the oppressed blacks.

Some Africans in the Black Consciousness Movement are failing to notice the common thread that exists between the PAC and the Black Consciousness Movement. How do they explain the fact that newcomers can perform better than both of them combined? I am not assessing the strength of the PAC and BCM on the basis of manipulated electoral politics. But it begs the question why the PAC and BCM have splintered into so many groups. Don’t they have singleness of purpose like Sobukwe and Steve Biko – the liberation of the oppressed African people? Or are they perhaps under the illusion that Mandela and the ANC brought them liberation like one of the newcomers whose leader recently tried to rehabilitate the battered image of Mandela at a rally? The PAC must be applauded for the Unity Conference they held in Kimberley during the weekend of 9 August 2018.

We are witnessing what Garvey revealed between 1916 and before he died that those blacks who died for whites and served the interests of the imperialist and white world were elevated. He exposed the white media and publishing companies for emphasising issues that promoted their interests and said they deemphasised or ignored those issues that show Africans in a positive light. The white and imperialist world canonise Africans who “died for white people” that is why the white world like them so much. They are in history text books, in the media, everything and anything is named after them. The imperialists and white world is interpreting our reality for us and we have accepted it.

Garvey also taught us that the oppressors can’t rely on their oppressors to free them. But the ANC thought the oppressor can free us. They abandoned unity with the PAC and BCM and joined forces with the Nationalist Party which came to power in 1948 on a ticket of Apartheid and white supremacy. They spent most of their lives fighting to destroy the PAC. Like many great African leaders Garvey was destroyed, he was deported in 1928 from the United Stated following trumped up charges. However, as far back as 1919, the FBI’s Edgar Hoover wrote a secret memorandum discussing the deportation of Garvey on the grounds that he was associating with radical African America groups in New York. 

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