Here's to this flag of mine The Red, Black and Green Hopes in its future bright Africa has seen. Here's to the Red of it, Great nations shall know of it Red blood shall flow of it, Historians shall write of it, Great flag of mine. Here's to the Black of it Four hundred millions back of it, Whose destiny depends on it The RED, BLACK and GREEN of it, Here's to the Green of it Young men shall dream of it, Thank God for giving it Great Flag of Mine.Excerpt from “THIS FLAG OF MINE” composed by Amy Jacques Garvey
The red, black and green flag was adopted by the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) on August 13, 1920 during the organization’s month long convention in New York City. The UNIA-ACL was an organization founded in 1914 in Jamaica by the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. The UNIA-ACL did not enjoy much success in Jamaica and only became a force for change when Garvey moved to the USA (March 24, 1916) where he founded a branch of the organization (May 1917) and incorporated the organization in New York State on June 17, 1919. The Black Star Line Inc., (Garvey’s shipping company) was incorporated in Delaware on June 27, 1919 with a value of $500,000 dollars (half a million dollars.) In 1920 Garvey incorporated the Negro Factories Corporation which owned and operated several businesses that employed African Americans. African Jamaican history professor at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Robert A. Hill in his 1990 published book “The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, Volume 7” has listed the names and locations of the businesses that were owned by the UNIA-ACL. The organization owned several grocery stores, a fleet of trucks, a millinery store (making hats,) a bakery, a steam laundry, tailoring and dressmaking store, office buildings, restaurants, hotels, a printing company, publishing company, Liberty Hall and Lafayette Hall. Garvey was a man before his time who organized successful and thriving businesses owned by a group of united African Americans. The organization he founded had within 4 years of operation (1916-1920) an international membership of millions on every continent, in every country where Africans lived.Garvey’s philosophies included the intent of unifying all Africans as expressed in Bob Marley’s popular “Africa Unite” released in 1979 on the “Survival” album. Garvey is considered the father of the modern Pan-African movement. His philosophy has greatly influenced Kwanzaa the 7 day celebration of African culture and history from December 26 to January 1 which is 48 years old in 2014. Garvey was a visionary, a man before his time and such people are mostly vilified during their lifetime because they espouse ideas and views which are too advanced for that period in history.
During the Kwanzaa celebration the 7 principles (Nguzo Saba) reflect Garvey’s expressed and documented philosophies. The first Kwanzaa principle is Umoja which is observed by lighting of the black candle which represents Africans everywhere of every religion and belief. Garvey’s vision of unity (Umoja) was expressed as article 1 of the “Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World” on August 13, 1920 at the first convention of the UNIA: “Be it known to all men that whereas, all men are created equal and entitled to the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and because of this we, the duly elected representatives of the Negro peoples of the world, invoking the aid of the just and Almighty God do declare all men, women and children of our blood throughout the world free citizens, and do claim them as free citizens of Africa, the Motherland of all Negroes.”The second Kwanzaa principle is Kujichagulia which is observed by lighting the first red candle placed to the left of the black candle. Garvey’s vision of Self-determination (Kujichagulia) was expressed when he urged Africans to see their God through African “spectacles.” In “The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers” Hill has documented several of Garvey’s speeches including a speech he made urging his followers to worship the “God of Ethiopia” from which this quote is taken: “Since the white people have seen their God through white spectacles, we 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. 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.” Garvey also encouraged his followers to give their children dolls that looked like them instead of White dolls.
Garvey’s efforts to build sustainable businesses to provide employment for African Americans brilliantly expressed Ujima and Ujamaa the third and fourth Kwanzaa principles. Collective work and responsibility (Ujima) and Cooperatvie Economics (Ujamaa) were at the heart of Garvey’s establishment of the “Negro Factories Corporation.”Garvey’s entire life was lived with Nia the fifth Kwanzaa principle. Garvey’s life was one of purpose (Nia) and it was purposeful that he used propaganda to strategically move his people towards self awareness. His messages urging African Americans and other Africans to be proud of the colour of their skin, to learn their history, to see themselves as the equal of all other human beings were purpose driven. From “The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey: Africa for the Africans” edited by Amy Jacques Garvey in 1977 come these purposeful words of warning from Garvey: “Propaganda has done more to defeat the good intentions of races and nations than even open warfare. Propaganda is a method or medium used by organized peoples to convert others against their will. We of the Negro race are suffering more than any other race in the world from propaganda - Propaganda to destroy our hopes, our ambitions and our confidence in self.” Garvey therefore advised his followers to “emancipate” themselves from “mental slavery” in a speech he made in Sydney, Nova Scotia in Menelik Hall during his visit on October 1, 1937. Quoted from “The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers” Garvey told his followers: “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. Mind is your only ruler, sovereign.”
Garvey’s Kuumba has given us one of the Kwanzaa symbols that has even been used by several African nations when they gained independence from their colonizers. Using his creativity (Kuumba) Garvey designed the “red, black and green” flag “bendera” that is used during the Kwanzaa celebrations and the colours are also used in the Mishuuma saba (7 candles) that are lit as part of the observances. The now recognized Pan-African flag was formally adopted on August 13, 1920 in Article 39 of the Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World during the first convention in New York City. Article 39 states: “That the colors, Red Black and Green, be the colors of the Negro race.” In her 2012 published book “Literary and Sociopolitical Writings of the Black Diaspora in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries” Haitian born African American professor Kersuze Simeon-Jones has written about the importance of the flag: “The U.N.I.A’s most significant emblem of nationhood was its flag. The Declaration of Rights of 1920 proclaimed the adoption of the red, black and green flag, as the official colors of this race. Such proclamation was also of paramount importance, for a flag is the ultimate symbol of nationhood.”The 7th and final Kwanzaa principle is Imani and Garvey had to have much faith (Imani) in himself, in his people in the God that he worshipped to step out on faith and achieve so much that his name, his words, his ideas and philosophies live on 74 years (June 10, 1940) after he joined the ancestors.
As we look forward to the celebration of Kwanzaa within the next few days the principles which are based on the philosophies of Garvey should guide us throughout the 365 days of every year. This is especially relevant as we read about or experience the daily oppression of living in a culture where we are suspected of wrongdoing based on the colour of our skin. The stories are myriad including the recent story of an African Canadian man who was arrested when he attempted to deposit a cheque for 9,000 dollars into his Bank of Nova Scotia account. The Haitian born Canadian was handcuffed and marched through the crowded with Christmas shoppers Scarborough Town Centre. Ironically the Bank of Nova Scotia which has branded and renamed our festival which we named “Caribana” has also made a fortune on the backs of African Caribbean people beginning with their establishment of a branch in Jamaica in 1889, almost a decade before opening a branch in Toronto. In his 24 pages long poem “The Tragedy of White Injustice” Garvey includes this bit about banks: “The bankers employ men to shoot and kill, When we interfere with their august will; They take the savings of deaf, dumb and poor, Gamble with it here and on foreign shore: In oil, gold, rum, rubber they speculate, Then bring their foreign troubles upon the State: Friends in Government they control at will; War they make, for others, our sons to kill.”As we celebrate Kwanzaa in our homes and at community events and light the “red, black and green” candles we also remember those who went before us. We remember those ancestors on whose shoulders we stand on whose backs we have crossed over! Heri za Kwanzaa! Kwanzaa yenu iwe na heri! Happy Kwanzaa!