The "Back to Africa" Myth


by S.G.

    The identification of Marcus Garvey with the "Back to Africa" slogan is familiar to all who have heard of Mr. Garvey, irrespective of allegiance.  Let me say at the outset that not all of those who have perpetuated this fallacy have done so with malice in their hearts, but of those of clear conscience many, if not most, fall into one of two categories: those of myopic vision and little faith who can simply could not and can not grasp the depth of Garveyism; and those who accept the teachings of the descendants of the Slavemasters and their Black puppets without challenge; thereby allowing themselves to become victims of the mental bondage that stems from the absence of the compulsory self-education which must be prioritized for those who truly desire liberation.

    How was this universal identification of Marcus Garvey with the words "Back to Africa" able to stick so successfully if this were not in fact his premise?  Because of the singleness of purpose exercised by Marcus Garvey for the redemption of the motherland.  "The U.N.I.A. is reversing the old-time order of things.  We refuse to be followers anymore.  We are leading ourselves.   That means, if any saving is to be done, later on , whether it is saving this one nation or that one government, we are going to seek a method of saving Africa first.   Why?  And why Africa?  Because Africa has become the grand prize of the nations.  Africa has become the big game of the nation hunters.  Today Africa looms as the greatest commercial, industrial and political prize in the world."   These words we uttered in 1923!

    "We are not preaching any doctrine to ask all Negroes to leave for Africa.  The majority of us will remain here, but we must send our scientists, our artisans and let them build railroads, great educational institutions and other buildings necessary."

    The redemption of the motherland was necessarily central to Garveyism because of Mr. Garvey's belief that every people must have a nation and that no nation can exist without land.  He therefore reminded us that we can build a nation because we do have a land.  "Awake!  The day is upon you, go forth in the name of the race and build yourselves a nation, redeem your country Africa, the land from whence you came and prove yourselves men worthy of the recognition of others."

    Garveyism dictates that the Negro can never achieve an independent place of respect in relation to other races and nations until he has proven, beyond doubt, that the beliefs about his innate inferiority and lack of a contribution to Western Civilization are in fact lies; And the Negro needs his own environment, "undisturbed and unmolested", in which to accomplish this.

    "The Negro needs a nation and a country of his own, where he can best show evidence of his own ability and the art of human progress.

    "The Negro will have to build his own government, industry, art, science, literature and culture, before the world will stop to consider him.  Until then, we are but wards of a superior race and civilization, and the outcasts of a standard social system."

    For the reader who is daunted by Mr. Garvey's above referral to the race and civilization of Caucasians as a "superior race and civilization" and other referrals such as the "great white race" please know and understand that these referrals have nothing to do with Divinely appointed superiority but rather with worldly superiority as evidenced by their present domination of most of the modern world.   Mr. Garvey was well aware of the African contributions and origins of Western Civilization.

    It is not our intention or purpose to send all Negroes 'Back to Africa'.  Those Negroes who leave this country (the United States) to settle permanently in Africa will be pioneers - the Pilgrim Fathers - of the new nation.  It is the decision of the Negro to make Africa a nation, to which the Negroes of the world can look for help and support, moral and physical, when ill-treated or abused for being Negroes."  It should now be clear that although Marcus Garvey did want some Negroes to go 'Back to Africa' for the purpose of building up the country, he neither advocated nor intended that all Negroes should go.  "We do not want all the Negroes in Africa.  Some are no good here, and naturally will be no good there."

    Although Mr. Garvey knew that all members of Our Race would not want to go 'Back to Africa', and that indeed some would be undesirable there, he was acutely aware that our failure to appreciate the imperative of the redemption of our motherland would eventually lead to our extermination as a race - just like the American Indian.

    "The thoughtful and industrious of Our Race want to go back to Africa, because we realize it will be our only hope of permanent existence.  If you do not want him to have a country and a nation of his own; if you do not intend to give him equal opportunities in yours, then it is plain to see that you mean that he must die, even as the Indian, to make room for your generations."

    Many of those of our Noble Race have gone 'Back to Africa', heavily influenced by the teachings of Marcus Garvey, and have set up independent governments there; Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya immediately coming to mind.

    We of the Negro race, (Africans, African-Americans, Caribbean's, West Indians, African-Europeans, Melanesians and every breathing soul of African descent), are the custodians and guardians of our noble history and yes, our possible future.  Our history and hope for the future have been and are being continually exploited with a ferocity that has destroyed much of that history and threatens that possible future to such degree as to make it obligatory that some of us go 'Back to Africa' to reclaim and redeem Our Motherland.

    "It falls to our lot to tear off the shackles that bind Mother Africa.  Can you do it?  You did it in the Revolutionary War; You did it in the Civil War; You did it at the Battles of the Marne and Verdun; You did it in Mesopotamia; (Viet Nam, Grenada, Panama, and now Iraq: EDITOR'S NOTE).  You can do it marching up the battle heights of Africa.  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.  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 - they shall be our inspiration.  My bulwark of strength in the conflict for freedom in Africa, will be the three hundred years of persecution and hardship left behind in this Western Hemisphere.  The more I remember the sufferings of my fore-fathers, the more I remember 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 yet 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."



*originally published in the 'Garvey's Voice' March 1992

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