In 1914, the messianic Marcus Garvey founded an international organization for the uplift of Black peoples all over the world. He brought a message of self-reliance, self-determination, and racial pride that led to a mass movement unlike anything the world had ever seen.
His organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association, influenced nearly every contemporary Black leader; Malcolm X’s parents met at a UNIA convention in Montreal, Martin Luther King was quoted as saying of Marcus Garvey, “he was the first man of color to lead and develop a mass movement. He was the first man on a mass scale and level to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny. And make the Negro feel he was somebody”, and Louis Farrakhan gave the keynote speech at the 34th Annual UNIA Convention in Chicago, Illinois.
At its peak, the organization had a membership of more than 4 million well organized members and 1800 divisions in dozens of countries.
What made Garvey so successful was his ability to help others understand the perilous condition of the Black race attempting to survive in a system of white supremacy.
If his speeches were delivered today, they would ring as true as they did in the 1920s. Below is one of his most notable speeches, written and delivered in his own words.*
Shall The Negro Be Exterminated?
The Negro now stands at the cross roads of human destiny.
We are at the place where we must either step forward or backward. If we go backward we die; if we go forward it will be with the hope of a greater life.
Those of us who have developed our minds scientifically are compelled, by duty, to step out among the millions of the unthinking masses and convince them of the seriousness of the age in which we live.
We are either On the way to a higher racial existence or racial extermination. This much is known and realized by every thoughtful race and nation; hence, we have the death struggle of the different races of Europe and Asia in the scramble of the survival of the fittest race.
As we look at things we see that the great world in which we live has undergone much change since the time of the creation. When God created the world, and all therein, He handed His authority over to the two beings He created in His own image; namely, Adam and Eve. From the time of Adam and Eve the human race has multiplied by leaps and bounds. Where we once had two persons to exercise authority over the world, we today have one billion five hundred million claiming authority and possession of the same world that was once the property of the two.
When the Colonists of America desired possession of the land they saw that a weak aboriginal race was in their way. What did they do? They got hold of them, killed them,and buried them underground.
This is a fair indication of what will happen to the weaker peoples of the world in another two or three hundred years when the stronger races will have developed themselves to the position of complete mastery of all things material.
They will not then as they have not in the past, allow a weak and defenseless race to stand in their way, especially if in their doing so they will endanger their happiness, their comfort and their pleasures. These are the things that strike the thoughtful Negro as being dangerous, and these are the things that cause us who make up the Universal Negro Improvement Association to be fighting tenaciously for the purpose of building up a strong Negro race, so as to make it impossible for us to be exterminated in the future to make room for the stronger races, even as the North American Indian has been exterminated to make room for the great white man on this North American continent.
The illiterate and shallow-minded Negro who can see no farther than his nose is now the greatest stumbling block in the way of the race. He tells us that we must be satisfied with our condition; that we must not think of building up a nation of our own, that we must not seek to organize ourselves racially, but that we must depend upon the good feeling of the other fellow for the solution of the problem that now confronts us.
This is a dangerous policy and it is my duty to warn the four hundred million Negroes of the world against this kind of a leadership—a leadership that will try to make Negroes believe that all will be well without their taking upon themselves the task of bettering their condition politically, industrially, educationally and otherwise.
The time has come for those of us who have the vision of the future to inspire our people to a closer kinship, to a closer love of self, because it is only through this appreciation of self will we be able to rise to that higher life that will make us not an extinct race in the future, but a race of men fit to survive.
Those of us who are blazing the way in this new propaganda of the Universal Negro Improvement Association to enlighten our people everywhere are at times very much annoyed and discouraged by the acts of our own people in that consciously they do so many things to hurt our deeper feeling of loyalty and love for the race.
- Colin Grant
- Oxford University Press
- Kindle Edition
But what can we do? Can we forsake them because they hurt our feelings? Surely not. Painful though it may be to be interfered with and handicapped in the performance of the higher sense of duty, yet we must, martyr-like, make up our mind sand our hearts to pay the price of leadership.
We must be sympathetic, we must be forgiving, we must really have forbearance, so that when the ignorant and illiterate fellow who happens to be a member of your own race stands up to block the passage of some cause that you believe would be to his benefit and to yours as a people you will be able to overlook him, even though he fosters his opposition with the greatest amount of insult to your intelligence and to your dignity.
The excuse that some of our most brilliant men give for not identifying themselves with race movements is, that they cannot tolerate the interference of the illiterate Negro, who, being a member of the same organization will attempt to dictate what you should do in the interest of the race, when his act is based upon no deeper judgment than his like or dislike for the person he is opposing, or the satisfaction it would give him to embarrass the person he feels like opposing.
Many an able leader is lost to his race because of this fear, and sometimes we must admit the reasonableness of this argument; but as I have said leadership means martyrdom, leadership means sacrifice, leadership means giving up ones personality, giving up of everything for the cause that is worth while.
It is only because of that feeling that I personally continue to lead the Universal Negro Improvement Association, because like every other leader, I have had to encounter the opposition, the jealousy, the plotting of men who take advantage of the situation, simply because they happen to be members of the organization, and that we may have to depend upon their vote one way or the other for the good of the cause.
- Marcus Garvey
- Ravenio Books
- Kindle Edition
Not that some of us care one row of pins about what the other fellow thinks, but when it is considered that we can only achieve success through harmony and unity, then it can be realized how much one has to sacrifice as a leader for getting that harmony that is necessary to bring about the results that are desired.
We desire harmony and unity to-day more than ever, because it is only through the bringing together of the four hundred million Negroes into one mighty bond that we can successfully pilot our way through the avenues of opposition and the oceans of difficulties that seem to confront us.
When it is considered that the great white race is making a herculean struggle to become the only surviving race of the centuries, and when it is further considered that the great yellow race under the leadership of Japan is making a like struggle, then more than ever the seriousness of the situation can be realized as far as our race is concerned.
If we sit supinely by and allow the great white race to lift itself in numbers and in power, it will mean that in another five hundred years this full grown race of white men will in turn exterminate the weaker race of Black men for the purpose of finding enough room on this limited mundane sphere to accommodate that race which will have numerically multiplied itself into many billions.
This is the danger point.
What will become of the Negro in another five hundred years if he does not organize now to develop and to protect himself? The answer is that he will be exterminated for the purpose of making room for the other races that will be strong enough to hold their own against the opposition of all and sundry.
The leadership of the Negro of today must be able to locate the race, and not only for today but for all times. It is in the desire to locate the Negro in a position of prosperity and happiness in the future that the Universal Negro Improvement Association is making this great fight for the races emancipation everywhere and the founding of a great African government.
Every sober-minded Negro will see immediately the reason why we should support a movement of this kind. If we will survive then it must be done through our own effort, through our own energy, No race of weaklings can survive in the days of tomorrow, because they will be hard and strenuous days fraught with many difficulties.
I appeal to the higher intelligence as well as to the illiterate groups of our race. We must work together. Those of us who are better positioned intellectually must exercise forbearance with the illiterate and help them to see the right.
If we happen to be members of the same organization, and the illiterate man tries to embarrass you, do not become disgusted, but remember that he does it because he does not know better, and it is your duty to forbear and forgive because the ends that we serve are not of self, but for the higher development of the entire race.
It is on this score, it is on this belief, that I make the sacrifice of self to help this downtrodden race of mine. Nevertheless, I say there is a limit to human patience, and we should not continue to provoke the other fellow against his human feelings for in doing so we may be but bringing down upon our own heads the pillars of the temple.
*Editors Note: In the speech above, I have replaced the gender he – which Garvey used exclusively – with ‘we’ where appropriate.
What do you think? Was Marcus Garvey right? Should we be “sympathetic” when a member of our own race stands up to block or sabotage our movement? Is it possible that we could share the same fate as the Native Americans or Tasmanian Aborigines? Leave a comment below!