Pamphlet by Marcus Garvey
[Kingston, Jamaica, ca. July-August 1914]1
A TALK WITH AFRO-WEST INDIANS.
THE NEGRO RACE AND ITS PROBLEMS.
BY MARCUS GARVEY, JNR.,
PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSAL NEGRO
CONSERVATION ASSOCIATION AND AFRICAN
Dear Friend and Brother:
I am moved to address you through the great spirit of love and the kindred affection that I have for the race Afric; and I am asking you to be good, loyal and racial enough as to take this address in the spirit of goodwill, and lend yourself to the world-wide movement of doing something to promote the intellectual, social, commercial, industrial, and national interest of the down-trodden race of which you are a member.
For the last ten years I have given my time to the study of the condition of the Negro, here, there, and everywhere, and I have come to realize that he is still the object of degradation and pity the world over, in the sense that he has no status socially, nationally, or commercially (with a modicum of exception in the United States of America) hence the entire world is prone to look down on him as an inferior and degraded being, although the people as a whole have done no worse than others to deserve the ignominious snub. The retrograde state of the Negro is characterized as accidental and circumstantial; and the the onus of his condition is attributable to the callous indifference and insincerity of those Negroes who have failed to do their duty by the race in promoting a civilized imperialism that would meet with the approval of established ideals.
Representative and educated negroes have made the mistake of drawing and keeping themselves away from the race, thinking that it is degrading and ignominious to identify themselves with the masses of the people who are still ignorant and backward; but who are crying out for true and conscientious leadership, so that they might advance into a higher state of enlightenment whence they could claim the appreciation and honest comradeship of the more advanced races who are to-day ignoring us simply because we are so lethargic and selfish.
The prejudices of the educated and positioned Negro towards his own people
has- [in the margin: have] done much to create a
marked indifference to the race among those of other races who would have been glad and
willing to help the Negro to a brighter destiny. Yet these very Negro
"gentlemen" who have been shunning their own people do not receive better
treatment from the hands of the other races when they happen to meet away from their own
sphere of influence[.] They are snubbed and laughed at just the same as the most
menial of the race, and only because they are Negroes, belonging to the careless and
characterless race that has been sleeping for so many centuries. In the majority of
cases the "aristocratic" Negroes who have refused to ident[i]fy themselves with
the race are thought less of, and they are secretly "talked" and
"gamed" at, by individuals of the progressive races who are true to themselves,
and who do not believe that environments or position removes one from the the of blood
relationship in race.
In America, Europe, Africa, and Australia the Negro is identified by his colour and his hair, so it is useless for any pompous man of colour to think because his skin is a little paler than that of his brother that he is not also a Negro. Once the African blood courses through the veins you are belong to "the company of Negroes," and there is no getting away from it.
God places us in the world as men, so whether we are of an identical species or not, as far as accidental details are concerned, does not matter, what matters is, that we are all human, and according to the philosophy of human relationship, all of us have one destiny, hence there should be no estrangement between the people who form the groups of mortals scattered in the different parts of the world.
It is true, that by accident and unfavourable circumstances, the Negro
last- [in the margin: lost] hold of the glorious
civilization that he once dispensed, and in process of time reverted into savagery, and
subsequently became a slave, and even to those whom he once enslaved, yet it does not
follow that the Negro must always remain backward. There is no chance for the Negro
to-day in securing a comfortable place with the PROGRESSIVES of mankind, as far as racial
exclusiveness protects the achievements of the particular race; but there is a great
chance for the Negro to do something for himself on the same standard of established
customs among the ADVANCED; and the ADVANCED are eagerly waiting to stretch out the hand
of compliment to the Negro as soon as he shall have done the THING to merit recognition.
The Negro is ignored to-day simply because he has kept himself backward; but if he were to try to raise himself to a higher state in the civilized cosmos, all the other races would be glad to meet him on the plane of equality and comradeship. It is indeed unfair to demand equality when one of himself has done nothing to establish the right to equality.
But how can the Negro ever hope to rise when the very men who should have been our props and leaders draw themselves away and try to create an impossible and foolish atmosphere of their own, which is untenable and never recognised.
The appeal I now make is: "For God's sake, you men and women who have been keeping yourselves away from the people of your own African race, cease the ignorance; unite your hands and hearts with the people Afric, and let us reach out to the highest idealism that there is in living, thereby demonstrating to others, not of our race, that we are ambitious, virtuous, noble, and proud of the classification of race.
"Sons and daughters of Africa, I say to you arise, take on the toga of race pride, and throw off the brand of ignominy which has kept you back for so many centuries. Dash asunder the petty prejudices within your own fold; set at defiance the scornful designation of "nigger" uttered even by ourselves, and be a Negro in the light of the Pharaohs of Egypt, Simons of Cyrene,2 Hannibals of Carthage,3 L'O[u]ve[r]tutes Dessalines4 of Hayti, Blydens, Barclays5 and Johnsons6 of Liberia, Lewises7 of Sierra Leone, and Douglas's8 and Du Bois's9 of America, who have made, and are making history for the race, though depreciated and in many cases unwritten.
To study the history of the Negro is to go back into a primitive civilization that teems with the brightest and the best in art and the sciences.
You who do not know anything of your ancestry will do well to read the works of Blyden, one of our historians and chroniclers, who have done so much to retrive the lost prestige of the race, and to undo the selfishness of alien historians and their history which has said so little and painted us so unfairly. Dr. Blyden is such an interesting character to study that I take pleasure in reproducing the following passages from his "Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race":10
There was, for a long time, in the christian world considerable difference of opinion as to the portion of the earth and the precise region to which the term Ethiopia must be understood as applying. It is pretty well established now, however, that by Ethiopia is meant the continent of Africa, and by Ethiopians, the great race who inhabit that continent. The etymology of the word points to the most prominent physical characteristics of this people.
To anyone who has travelled in Africa, especially in the portion north of the equator, extending from the West Coast to Abyssinia, Nubia and Egypt, and embracing what is known as the Nigritian and Soudanic countries there cannot be the slightest doubt as to the country and people to whom the terms Ethiopia and Ethiopian, as used in the Bible and the classical writers were applied. One of the latest and most accurate authorities says: "The country which the Greeks and the Romans described as Ethiopia and the Hebrews as Cush, lay to the South of Egypt, and embraced, in the most extended sense, the modern Nubia, Senaar, Kordofan, etc., and in its more definate sense, the kingdom of Meroe, [f]from the junction of the Blue and White branches of the Nile to the border of Egypt.["]
Herodotus the father of history, speaks of two divisions of Ethiopians who did not differ at all from each other in appearance except in their language and hair; "for the Eastern Ethiopians", he says, "are straight haired, but those of Libya [(]or Africa) have hair more curly than that of any other people." "As far as we know," says Mr. Gladstone,11 "Homer recognized the African Coast by placing the Lotophagi upon it, and the Ethiopians inland, from the east, all the way to the extreme w[e]st." There has been an unbroken line of communication between the West Coast of Africa, through the Soudan, and through the so called Great Desert and Asia, from the time when portions of the descendants of Ham, in remote ages, began their migrations westward, and first saw the Atlantic Ocean.
Africa is no vast island, separated by an immense ocean from other portions of the globe, and cut off through the ages from the men who have made and influenced the destiny of mankind. She has been closely connected, both as source and nourisher, with some of the most potent influences which have affected for good the history of the world. The people of Asia and the people of Africa have been in constant intercourse. No violent social or political disruption has ever broken through this communication. No chasm caused by war has suspended intercourse. On the contrary, the greatest religious reforms the world has ever seen - Jewish[,] Christian, Mohammedan - originating in Asia, have obtained consolidation in Africa. And as in the days of Abraham and Moses, of Herodotus and Homer, so to-day, there is a constantly accessible highway from Asia to the heart of the Soudan. Africans are continually going to and fro between the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea. I have met in Liberia and along its eastern frontier, Mohammedan Negroes, born in Mecca, the Holy city of Arabia, who thought they were telling of nothing extraordinary when they were detailing the incidents of their journeyings and of those of their friends from the banks of the Niger, - from the neighbourhood of Sierra Leone and Liberia - across the continent of Egypt, Arabia and Jerusalem. I saw in Ca[iro] and Jerusalem, some years ago, West Africans who had come on business, or on religious pilgrimage, from their distant homes in Senegambia.
Africans were not unknown, therefore, to the writers of the Bible. Their peculiarities of complexion and hair were as well known to the Ancient Greeks and Hebrews, as they are to the American people to-day. And when they spoke of the Ethiopians, they meant the ancestors of the black-skinned and woolly-haired people, who, for two hundred and fifty years[,] have been known as labourers on the plantations of the South (America). It is to these people, and to their country, that the Psalmist refers, when he says, "Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God." The word in the original which has been translated "soon" is now understood to refer not so much to the time as to the "manner" of the action. Ethiopia shall "suddenly" stretch our her hands unto God, is the most recent rendering. But even if we take the phraseology as it has been generally understood, it will not by any one acquainted with the facts, be held to have been altogether unfulfilled. There is not a tribe on the continent of Africa, in spite of the fetishes and greegees which many of them are supposed to worship - there is not one who does not recognize the Supreme Being, though imperfectly understanding His character - and who does perfectly understand his character? They believe that the heaven and the earth, the sun, moon, and stars, which they behold, were created by an Almighty personal Agent, who is also their own Maker and Sovereign, and they render to him such worship as their untutored intellec[t]s can conceive.12 ... And if the belief in a common creator and Father of mankind is illustrated in the bearing we maintain towards our neighbour, if our faith is seen in our works, if we prove that we love God, whom we have not seen, by loving our neighbour whom we have seen, by respecting his rights, even though he may not belong to our clan, tribe, or race, then I must say, and it will not be generally disputed that more proofs are furnished among the natives of interior Africa of their belief in the common Fatherhood of a personal God by their hospitable and considerate treatment of foreigners and strangers than are to be seen in many civilized christian community. Mungo Park13 "a hundred years ago" put on record in poetry and in prose - and he wished it never to be forgotten - that he was Africa, among a people he had never seen before and whom he never could requite. The long sojourn of Livingstone14 in that land in contentment and happiness, without money to pay his way, is another proof of the excellent qualities of the people, and of their practical belief in a universal Father. And, in all history, where is there anything more touching than the ever memorable conveyance, by "faithful ha[n]ds" of the remains of the missionary-traveller from the land of strangers over thousands of miles, to the country of the deceased, to be [d]eposited with deserved honour in the "Great Temple of Silence."
And this peculiarity of Africans is not a thing known only in modern times. The Ancients recognised these qualities, and loved to descant upon them. They seemed to regard the fear and love of God as the peculiar gift of the darker races. In the version of the Chaldean Genesis, as given by George Smith,15 the following passage occurs[:] ["]The word of the Lord will never fail in the mouth of the dark races whom he has made." Homer and Herodotus have written immortal eulogies of the race. Homer speaks of them as the "blameless Ethiopians" and tells us that it was the Ethiopians alone among mortals whom the Gods selected as a people fit to be lifted to the social level of the Olympian divinities. Every year, the poet says, the whole Celestial Circle left the summits of Olympus and betook themselves for their holidays to Ethiopia, where, in the enjoyment of Ethiopian hospitality, they sojourned twelve days.
The sire of gods and all the ethereal train
On the warm limits of the farthest main
Now mix with mortals, nor disdain to grace
The feasts of Ethiopia's bla[m]eless race;
Twelve days the Powers ind[u]lge the genial rite,
Returning with the twelfth revolving night.
["]Luscian represents a sceptic, or
freet[h]inker of his day, as saying, in his irreverence towards the gods, that on certain
o[c]casions they do not hear t[h]e prayers of mortals in Europe because they are away
across the ocean, perhaps among the Ethiopi[a]ns, with whom they dine frequently on their
It shows the estimate in which the Ancients held the Africans, that they selected them as the only fit associates for their gods. And in modern times, in all the countries of their exile, they have [n]ot ceased to commend themselves to those who have held rule over them. The testimonies are numerous and striking to the fidelity of the Africans. The newspapers of the land are constantly bearing testimony to his unswerving faithfulness, notwithstanding the indignities heaped upon him.16 But there is another quality in the Ethiopian or African, closely con[n]ected with the preceding, which proves that he has stretched out his hands unto God. If service rendered to humanity is service rendered to God, then the Negro [an]d his country have [b]een, during the ages, in spite of untoward influences, tending upward to the Divine.
Take the country, - It has been called the cradle of civilization, and so it is. The germs of all the sciences and of the two great religions now professed by the most enlightened races were fostered in Africa. Science, in its latest wonders, has nothing to show equal to some of the wonderful things even now to be seen in Africa. In Africa stands that marvelous architectural pile - the great Pyramid - which has been the admiration and despair of the world for a hundred generations. Scientific men of the present day, mathematicians, astronomers and divines, regard it as a sort of key to the universe - a symbol of the profoundest truths of science, of religion, and of all the past and future history of man. Though apparently closely secluded from all the rest of the world, Africa still lies at the gateway of all the loftiest and noblest traditions of the human race - of India, of Greece, of Rome. She intermingles with all the Divine administrations, and is connected, in one way or another with some of the most famous names and events in the annals of time[.]
The great progenitor of the Hebrew race and the founder of their religion, sought refuge in Africa from the ravages of famine. We read in Gen. XII, 10, "And there was a famine in the land; and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was grevious in the land." Jacob and his sons were subsequently saved from extinction in the same way[.] In Africa, the Hebrew people from three score and ten souls multiplied into millions. In Africa Moses, the greatest lawgiver the world has ever seen, was Greece and Rome, to gaze upon its wonders and gather inspiration from its arts and sciences. Later on a greater than Moses and than all the prophets and born and educated. To this land also resorted the ancient philosophers of philosophers, when in infancy, was preserved from death in Africa. "Arise," was the message conveyed by the Angel to Joseph, "Arise, and take the young child and his mot[h]er and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word; for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.["] When in his final hours, the Saviour of mankind struggled up the heights of Calvary, under the weight of the cross, accused by Asia and condemned by Europe, Africa furnished the man to relieve him of his burden[.] "And as they led him away they laid hold upon one Simon a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus.17 And all through those times, and times anterior to those, whether in sacred or profane matters Africa is never out of view as a helper...."
The glories of the past should tend to inspire us with courage to create a worthy future. The Negro to-day is handicapped by circumstances; but no one is keeping him back. He is keeping back himself, and because of this, the other races refuse to notice or raise him. Let the Negro start out seriously to help himself and ere the fall of many more decades you will see him a "new man," once more fit for the association of the "gods" and the true companionship of those whose respect he lost.
I am pleading, yea, I am begging, all men and women within the reach of the [b]lood Afric to wake up to the responsibility of race pride and do something to help in promoting a higher state of appreciation within the race. Locally, we are suffering from a marked shade prejudice, among ourselves, which is foolish and distructable. The established truism reigns the world over, - that all people with the African blood in their veins are Negroes. The coloured man who refuses to acknowledge himself a Negro has only to step into the outer world of Europe, Australia, or America, and even South Africa, to find his level and "place" whence he will find it even more advantageous, from a moral point of view, to be a "black nigger." It is so disgusting to hear some foolish people talk sometimes about their s[u]perior[i]ty in shade of colour. The Caucasian is privileged to talk about his colour for there is a standard in his breeding, and all of us have to respect him for his prowess and his might and his mastery, over established ideals. The Negro can attain a like position by self-industry and co-operation, and there is no one more willing to help him to attain that position than the genuine MAN of Europe, the lord of our civilization[,] to-day.
The MAN of Europe is longing to see the Negro do something for himself, hence I am imploring one and all to join hands with those million across the seas, and particularly those in the Fatherland Africa, America, Brazil, and the West Indies, and speed up the brighter destiny of race in the civilized idealism18 of the day.
Let us from henceforth recognize one and all of the race as brothers and sisters of one fold. Let us move together for the one common good, so that those who have been our friends and protectors in the past might see the good that there is us us.
The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, edited by Robert A. Hill (University of California Press 1983), vol. 1, pp. 55-64.