Let me just say, this is an impossible assignment to accomplish; to list the 10 best, most powerful quotes by Marcus Mosiah Garvey. First off, Garvey is arguably the most influential and important race leader of the past century, yet is probably the least known and least appreciated as well. And that fact is by no accident.
Beginning in 1917 and stretching into the mid-1920s Garvey led the largest global, pan-African organization in history, the Universal Negro Improvement Association. The UNIA had 996 chapters in 44 countries on six continents and over six million members, and grew to that size in less than seven years. Thus, Garvey had the white global powers (U.S., Great Britain, etc.) shaking in their boots at the potential for the worldwide pan-African alliance that Garvey was both calling for and actually building.
As the presiding bishop of the Shrine of the Black Madonna, D. Kimathi Nelson, recently preached, “No one has left a greater legacy to Black people than Marcus Mosiah Garvey. And although tragically Garvey receives far less attention than he deserves, the seeds of his influence are spread too far and too deep to be ignored.”
As many historians have argued and documented, Kimathi spoke of Garvey’s undeniable impact on the consciousness of Black people when he said, “At a time of hopelessness and despair Garvey touched African people everywhere by inspiring us to dare to dream a dream of restoring ourselves to a place of prominence and power in the world… Garvey has no equal in what he did for Black people everywhere. There is no place on earth where Garvey did not bring pride and upliftment to Black people… Everything Black people have done over the last 100 years is built on the legacy given to us by Marcus Garvey.”
One of my all-time favorite books is The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, compiled by Garvey’s wife Amy Jacques Garvey, and edited for modern eyes by historian Tony Martin. In reading that work and others, I was so taken by Garvey’s “Race First” approach, his views on institutional power and his recognition of the power of the spirit, I wrote my honors thesis when in divinity school (Candler School of Theology) comparing Garvey to one of the persons he influenced, Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr., founder of the Shrine and “Father of Black Liberation Theology.”
I later expanded that thesis into a book: Princes Shall Come Out of Egypt: A Comparative Study of the Theological and Ecclesiological Views of Marcus Garvey and Albert B. Cleage Jr., where I make the case that Garvey was one of the greatest theologians this country ever knew. But that’s a conversation for another day.
Garvey’s influence was so great (some argue there would have been no Harlem Renaissance without Garvey) that after the powers that be conspired to frame him, imprison him and finally deport him (after pardoning him for the “crime” he did not commit), a concerted effort was made to erase Garvey’s story from history. And I’ll be damned if it didn’t work. Because most Blackfolk know zero about Garvey. And the little we do “know” about him, is a grossly exaggerated reduction of his message, movement and mission placed into the very misleading three words “Back to Africa.”
And in teaching various classes in the University of Houston’s African American Studies Department for the past 18 years (though I’m bummed by the fact that I’m not teaching it this semester, for the first time since 2004), I’ve done my best to make sure that my students are well aware of the Garvey legacy.
I say all that to say, for me to reduce all the wise words of Garvey into a Top 10, Top 25 or even Top 50 list is a task I don’t think I can complete. But what I can do is share some of Garvey’s quotes that speak just as loudly today about who we are and what we must do as they did when Garvey first uttered them roughly a century ago. And to keep it simple, I’ll take all these 10-plus quotes from his book Philosophy and Opinions.
So, on this, Garvey’s birthday (August 17, 1887), let’s celebrate and internalize some of Garvey’s words, and then commit to learning more about the brother who inspired Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad, Noble Drew Ali, The Harlem Renaissance (New Negro Movement), Father Divine, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Rastafari Movement, Rev. Albert B. Cleage Jr., the Republic of New Afrika, Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara, the Black Studies Movement of the mid/late 1960s, the African Liberation Movement of the 1960s – 80s and countless more.
[FYI: These quotes aren’t listed in any particular order, though the last two may just be my favorites! Also, Garvey communicated in the language of his era, when the use of “man” and “men” was common for describing men and women, i.e. humanity. And often, when Garvey used the terms “Africa” and “Africans,” he meant all Black people everywhere.]
25: The man or woman who has no confidence in self is an unfortunate being, and is really a misfit in creation. God almighty created each and every one of us for a place in the world, and for the least of us to think that we were created only to be what we are and not what we can make ourselves, is to impute an improper motive to the Creator for creating us. (Philosophy and Opinions, Volume 1, p. 37)
24: God Almighty created all men equal, whether they be white, yellow or Black, and for any race to admit that it cannot do what others have done, is to hurl an insult at the Almighty who created all races equal, in the beginning. The white man has no right of way to this green earth, neither the yellow man. All of us were created lords of the creation, and whether we be white, yellow, brown or Black Nature intended a place for each and every one. (Philosophy and Opinions, Volume 1, p. 32)
23: For man to know himself is for him to feel that for him there is no human master. For him Nature is his servant, and whatsoever he wills in Nature, that shall be his reward. (Philosophy and Opinions, Volume 1, p. 38)
22: Where can we find in this race of ours real men? Men of character, men of purpose, men of confidence, men of faith, men who really know themselves? I have come across so many weaklings who profess to be leaders, and in the test I have found them but the slaves of a nobler class. They perform the will of their masters without question. (Philosophy and Opinions, Volume 1, p. 38)
21: So few of us can understand what it takes to make a man—the man who will never say die; the man who will never give up; the man who will never depend upon others to do for him what he ought to do for himself.; the man who will not blame God, who will not blame Nature, who will not blame Fate for his condition; but the man who will go out and make conditions to suit himself. Oh, how disgusting life becomes when on every hand you hear people (who bear your image, who bear your resemblance) telling you that they cannot make it, that Fate is against them, that they cannot get a chance. If 400,000,000 Negroes can only get to know themselves, to know that in them is a sovereign power, is an authority that is absolute, then in the next 24 hours we would have a new race, we would have a nation, an empire—resurrected, not from the will of others to see us rise, but from our own determination to rise, irrespective of what the world thinks. (Philosophy and Opinions, Volume 1, pp. 38-39)
20: How long do you believe that 400,000,000 Negroes will allow themselves to be exploited by alien races, robbed and murdered? Just so long until the truth is brought home to them, and then when the sleeping giant awakens, even like Sampson, he may bring down the pillars of the temple.” (Philosophy and Opinions, Volume 1, p. 41)
19: If the white man has the idea of a white God, let him worship his God as he desires. If the yellow man’s God is of his race let him worship his God as he sees fit. We, as Negroes, have found a new ideal. Whilst our God has no color, yet it is human to see everything through one’s own spectacles, and since white people have seen their God through white spectacles, we have only now started out (late though it be) to see our God through our own spectacles. The God of Isaac and the God of Jacob let Him exist for the race that believes in the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. We Negroes believe in the God of Ethiopia, the everlasting God—God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, the One God of all ages. That is the God in whom we believe, but we shall worship Him through the spectacles of Ethiopia. (Philosophy and Opinions, Volume 1, p. 44)
18: What you do today that is worthwhile, inspires others to act at some future time. (Philosophy and Opinions, Volume 1, p. 1)
17: Chance has never yet satisfied the hope of a suffering people. Action, self-reliance, the vision of self and the future have been the only means by which the oppressed have seen and realized the light of their own freedom. (Philosophy and Opinions, Volume 1, p. 1)
16: The ends you serve that are selfish will take you no further than yourself; but the ends you serve that are for all, in common, will take you even into eternity. (Philosophy and Opinions, Volume 1, p. 2)
15: A race without authority and power is a race without respect. (Philosophy and Opinions, Volume 1, p. 2)
14: Up ye mighty race; accomplish what you will. (Stated my Garvey countless times)
13: The only protection against injustice in man is power—physical, financial and scientific. (Philosophy and Opinions, Volume 1, p. 5)
12: This is the day of racial activity, when each and every group of this great human family must exercise its own initiative and influence on its own protection. Therefore, Negroes should be more determined today than they have ever been, because the mighty forces of the world are operating against non-organized groups of people, who are not ambitious enough to protect their own interests.” (Philosophy and Opinions, Volume 1, p. 5)
11: How dare anyone tell us that Africa cannot be redeemed when we have 400,000,000 men and women with warm blood coursing through their veins. The power that holds Africa is not Divine. The power that holds Africa is human, and it is recognized that whatsoever man has done, man can do. (Philosophy and Opinions, Volume 1, p. 7)
10: Lagging behind in the van of civilization will not prove our higher abilities. Being subservient to the will and caprice of progressive races will not prove anything superior in us. Being satisfied to drink of the dregs from the cup of human progress will not demonstrate our fitness as a people to exist alongside of others, but when of our own initiative we strike out to build industries, governments and ultimately empires, then and only then will we as a race prove to our Creator and to man in general that we are fit to survive and capable of shaping our own destiny. (Philosophy and Opinions, Volume 1, pp. 8-9)
9: Africa for the Africans, at home and abroad. (Stated my Garvey countless times)
8: No one knows when the hour of Africa’s Redemption cometh. It is in the wind. It is coming. One day, like a storm, it will be here. When that day comes all Africa will stand together. (Philosophy and Opinions, Volume 1, p. 10)
7: I pray God that we shall never use our physical prowess to oppress the human race, but we will use our strength, physically, morally and otherwise to preserve humanity and civilization. (Philosophy and Opinions, Volume 1, p. 11)
6: The greatest weapon used against the Negro is disorganization. (Philosophy and Opinions, Volume 1, p. 11)
5: If you have no confidence in self you are twice defeated in the race of life. With confidence, you have won even before you have started. (Philosophy and Opinions, Volume 1, p. 11)
4: Power is the only argument that satisfies man… Hence, it is advisable for the Negro to get power of every kind. Power in education, science, industry, politics and higher government. That kind of power that will stand out signally, so that other races and nations can see, and if they will not see, then feel. (Philosophy and Opinions, Volume 1, p. 22)
3: When God breathed into the nostrils of man the breath of life, made him a living soul, and bestowed upon him the authority of “Lord of Creation,” He never intended that that individual should descend to the level of a peon, a serf or a slave, but that he should be always man in the fullest possession of his senses and with the truest knowledge of himself. (Philosophy and Opinions, Volume 1, p. 24)
2: We have reached the time when every minute, every second must count for something done, something achieved in the cause of Africa. We need the freedom of Africa now, therefore, we desire the kind of leadership that will give it to us as quickly as possible. You will realize that not only individuals, but governments are using influence against us. But what do we care about the unrighteous influence of any government? Our cause is based upon righteousness. And anything that is not righteous we have no respect for, because God Almighty is our leader and Jesus Christ our standard bearer. We rely on them for that kind of leadership that will make us free, for it is the same God who inspired the Psalmist to write “Princes shall come out of Egypt and Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand unto God.” At this moment methinks I see the Angel of God taking up the standard of the Red, the Black and the Green, and saying “Men of the Negro Race, Men of Ethiopia, follow me.” Tonight we are following. We are following 400,000,000 strong. We are following with a determination that we must be free before the wreck of matter, before the crash of worlds.” (Philosophy and Opinions, Volume 1, pp. 96-97)
1: Let the world know that 400,000,000 Negroes are prepared to die or live as free men. Despise us as much as you care. Ignore us as much as you care. We are coming 400,000,000 strong. We are coming with our woes behind us, with the memory of suffering behind us—woes and suffering of three hundred years of persecution and hardship left behind in this Western Hemisphere. The more I remember the suffering of my fore-fathers, the more I remember the lynchings and burnings in the Southern States of America, the more I will fight on even though the battle seems doubtful. Tell me that I must turn back, and I laugh you to scorn. Go on! Go on! Climb ye the heights of liberty and cease not in well doing until you have planted the banner of the Red, the Black and the Green on the hilltops of Africa. (Philosophy and Opinions, Volume 1, p. 97)