24th Annual GarveyFest to be held on Aug. 17 & 18
Come join Africans on the Move (AOM) for Milwaukee’s own 24th Annual GarveyFest celebration, August 17th and 18th at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society. This year’s theme is “Fight Back! Capitalism’s War Against the Workers and the Poor.”
This is a hallmark year in our celebration. As you know, the youths in inner-city Milwaukee (and throughout major cities of the U.S.) have borne the brunt of the 2008 economic collapse. Moreover, in the recent year, the state’s economy has made it even more arduous for African-American youths. For this reason, AOM has invited the nationally known hip hop artist and activist, Jasiri X, to conduct a workshop on the first day of GarveyFest, August 17th, from 5-6 p.m. Jasiri X was the first Hip Hop artist to receive the August Wilson Center for African- American Culture Fellowship. Some of his songs include the following: “Free the Jena 6”, “A Song for Trayvon” and “Occupy (We the 99)”. From 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., representatives of community organizations will share their “fight back” strategies. From 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., community members have the opportunity to share their strategies. Also, during this time, attendees will have the opportunity to savor the delectable dinners provided by Wildgreens!
On Saturday, August 18th, GarveyFest kicks off with a parade at 1 p.m. followed by cultural performances by JASIRI X, King Kamonzi, the Nefertari Dancers and Drummers, Gat Turner, Muhibb Dyer, Viva Fidel, Firey Phoenix, Young Sisters of YLA, and more. Included also will be a Children’s Tent of Activities, an African Marketplace, and an African history jeopardy. Why don’t we know about the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.)?
Let us answer this question first with a quote from Malcolm X: “By keeping us completely cut off from our past, it is easy for the man who has power over us to make us willing to stay at this level because we will feel that we were always at this level, a low level.” In other words, knowledge of the U.N.I.A. and the Garveys is food for liberation for the masses of people of African descent. For the capitalist ruling class, that is an undesirable reality. What was the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.)?
Enraged at the suffering of his people, on July 14, 1914, Marcus Garvey and a young Jamaican activist, Amy Ashwood, organized the Universal Negro Improvement Association— African Communities League (UNIA-ACL). The UNIA was designed to rebuild a positive social, cultural, psychological, and political life for African people around the world. The ACL was created to establish economic stability and independence in the African communities of the world. Amy Ashwood writes: “Our love for Africa and our concern for the welfare of our race urged us on to immediate action.”
The UNIA-ACL saw land as key to the liberation of an oppressed people and for the organization, the only rightful land base that belonged to African people was Africa. Garvey wrote, “We are determined to solve our own problems by redeeming our Motherland Africa from the hands of alien exploiters and found therein a government, nation of our own, strong enough to lend protection to the members of our race scattered all over the world and to compel the respect of the nations and races of the earth.”
And thus began the effort of the UNIA-ACL to organize for liberation under the leadership of Marcus Garvey. The organization established the Negro World newspaper which was read globally and even smuggled into the apartheid state of South Africa. There were the Black Legionnaires who were the UNIA’s army in training. There was also a medical corps, all women, called the Black Cross Nurses.
The UNIA had members throughout the world numbering in the millions. By the mid-1920s there were over 1100 UNIA branches in more than 40 countries throughout the Caribbean, Europe, South America, North America, and Africa. Included in the group were Elijah Muhammed, who would later become the leader of the Nation of Islam, and the parents of Malcolm X.
Clearly, the UNIA-ACL posed a major threat to the ruling class of the time. The UNIA was organizing and mobilizing a labor force that was being exploited by the capitalist ruling class worldwide. In addition, the organization sought to reclaim Africa as the land base for the liberation of African people. Africa, of course, was and still is the richest land mass and is still being exploited by global capitalist forces. It was because Firestone Rubber Corporation was raping Liberia of its rubber that it demanded that the U.S. government do something about Garvey. From the capitalists’ point of view, the Garvey movement had to be stopped.
The U.S. government assigned the destruction of the UNIA-ACL to a newly formed task force within the Justice Department. This unit was headed by the infamous J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover, using jealous “house negroes” within and outside of the organization, was able to convict, fraudulently, Garvey of mail fraud.
In 1925, Garvey was imprisoned by a U.S. federal court. He was released in 1927 and deported. Although the charges were shown to be phony charges, Garvey’s name has never been cleared in the U.S.
After his deportation, Marcus traveled throughout Europe and the Caribbean continuing to organize around his rallying cry, “AFRICA FOR THE AFRICANS, AT HOME AND ABROAD.” On June 10, 1940, Marcus Mosiah Garvey died in Europe from a stroke.
The Legacy of the Garveys and the U.N.I.A.
The final gift of the Garveys and the U.N.I.A. to their people is clear. They helped to educate their people about their noble identity as African people, challenging them “to rise up you mighty race.” Observing that “The powers opposed to African progress will not be influenced in the slightest by mere verbal protests,” they demonstrated the power and necessity of developing a revolutionary, not a reform, organization for the purpose of mobilizing for liberation. Marcus told his people “that you are a people most favorably suited for getting what you want through organization.”
Most importantly, the Garveys and the U.N.I.A. inspired their people to work to reclaim and to unify their homeland Africa, no matter if they’d never see the day of its redemption: “All of us may not live to see the higher accomplishment of an African Empire—so strong and powerful, as to compel the respect of mankind, but we in our lifetime can so work and act as to make the dream a possibility within another generation.”