We must canonize our own saints, create our own martyrs, and elevate to positions of fame and honor black women and men who have made their distinct contributions to our history." (Garvey1, 1)
Taken in itself and absent the implications to African repatriation that we will address hereafter, this is a statement which seems to project itself upon both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, mutually driven as they would be by a belief that African men had been deprived of a humanity which it was their duty to see restored. But it is here that we can also begin to observe the elements of Garvey's rather poetic and frequently biblical rhetoric as producing multifarious responses in its future champions. Certainly, the greatest and most daunting common ground between King and Malcolm X in this instance is in their mutual 'creation' of 'martyrs.' They would both sacrifice themselves to the cause. In both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, Garvey's core philosophical ideals are on clear display, though channeled through markedly different moral postures. The inchoate qualities of the Civil Rights movement at most points in its history would be indicative of the approach taken by Garvey, which may almost be described as a speculative investigation of the potential resolutions to the problems of black Americans.
To the point, one of the greatest advantages afforded to the activists of the Civil Rights era was the set of missteps, failures and proposed ambitions that had been Garvey's. In his widely visible, often revered and commonly criticized life's work, he left us with significant evidence of his ingenuity and yet of his failure. Indeed, Pan-Africanism may be seen as one of the loftiest and most highly desirable of ideas to stem from his philosophy. And yet, its service to the Civil Rights era could be almost entirely viewed as symbolic rather than practical. Such is well captured in a consideration of the African nation of Liberia, which to the view of Garvey and of its founders before him was representative of this dream of a return from the Diaspora.
Accordingly, "Liberia, 'founded' by returnees from the African Diaspora in the early nineteenth century, seemed to meet all the desiderata of a national home, a land of 'strong bronze men, or regal black.' However, sadly, it was in the Black Republic that the poesy of trans-Atlantic longing ran headlong into African sociopolitical reality -- including slavery. Garvey's plan to merge the image and the reality of African foundered in a sea of disillusionment." (Sundiata, 2) With Liberia falling into poverty and internal despair, and eventually into Civil War by the end of the 20th century, one of the most practically applied of the principles of Garveyism could be deemed a failure. But given that this movement would ultimately translate into the principles of black nationalism that formulated the militant sects of the Civil Rights movement, it is important to note that the theoretical aspects of this mission would be the elements most fundamentally preserved and passed on to future generations of leaders. Though Garvey clearly had intended to leave for his successors a truly self-ruled and unified African continent, in retrospect, we must settle for the theory induced and the symbolic connection to a homeland which he emphasized.
During the Civil Rights movement, the embrace of African roots would be significant to the identity forged by many in the Black Power, Black Panther and Nation of Islam camps typically affiliated with more radical action. This would rarely be defined as an actual, physical return to or propagation of a black-ruled Africa, but would instead be reflected in style of dress, choice of cultural identification and, as Garvey would stress, adoption of heroes and historical figures with which to identify. Essentially, Garvey's concrete attempts and realizing this connection would be manifested thereafter in a distinct attempt by many African-American nationalists or separatists to be visibly and organizationally identified with something separate that American culture and its white, European heritage.
Therefore, it is with due credit that we recognize Garvey to have been better reflected in the ideas which would be assimilated by his successors than in his own successes. According to Gillian (2005), "it is on the shoulders of Garvey that tenets of political, social and economic self-determination for Africans and the creation of a global African nation were built. In fact the widespread influence of Garveyism as a Pan-Africanist and liberation ideology far outstripped his actual achievements in his lifetime." (Gillian, 1) Most distinctly, Garvey would not live to see the evolution of the two successors most prominently identified here and, further, would not live to see their mutual contributions to the achievement of Civil Rights advancements in the United States. But in the boldness of his activities and the sheer controversy surrounding some of his tactics, we can deduce that Garvey anticipated that his influence would live past him to see some such graduation of opportunity.
Of course, in spite of this self-awareness, Garvey would make himself an individual of extreme intrigue, to say the least. It takes little imagination to understand how we must credit Garvey for the unification of purpose and the perception of feasibility which helped to drive forward the progress of Civil Rights. To understand the splintering of this Civil Rights era as a function of Garvey's influence though, is to consider that some aspects of Garveyism may have carried with them lasting problems within black intelligentsia and betwixt black and white culture in the United States.
Certainly, the oft-debated figure which was Garvey commanded no small degree of controversy during his lifetime and not alone because of the fear which he stimulated in the whites who opposed desegregation. Quite in fact, to many segregationists and white supremacists, Garvey would be seen as an ally for his staunch support both of African repatriation and of black nationalism. Its implications to black separatist activities would not only appeal to the interests of the Ku Klux Klan but would even make UNIA and the KKK unlikely bedfellows in the shared ambition of returning blacks to Africa. Quite certainly driven by opposite ambitions, UNIA and the Klan would nonetheless find common cause in interrupting the conditions by which African-Americans and white Americans persisted.
To Garvey, the presumption of black inferiority was clearly untenable but the KKK represented an honest political party to his presumption. Its position in favor of a pure white nation would in some regards correspond with Garvey's Pan-African ideals, which provided the blueprint for a pure black nation. That these nations would be separated by the vastness of the Atlantic would seem as very appealing to the Klan, which viewed African-Americans as a burden on the United States in the generations following abolition. For Garvey, of course, the interests trended toward self-determination, self-governance and self-preservation, with the return to Africa and the pursuit of unified governance representing an empowered black state.
This would in the large sense that Garvey anticipated, never truly occur. The conditions precipitating repatriation to Liberia denote the degree of influence which the Jamaican civil activist would levy on his time and place. However, it would not be until the emergence of the Nation of the Islam and the Black Power movement that this aspect of Garvey's influence would be applied to the legal structures within the United States. With Malcolm X serving as the most identifiable figure in this movement, the Black Power movement would adopt the militancy and separatism that were part and parcel to Garvey's ideology, even if they would reject the political tactics that would bring Garvey into contact with such abhorrent would-be partners.
To Garvey, their common ground in desiring separate black and white nations would make the KKK a motivated partner in resolving the issue of unwanted and clearly unequal integration. And moreover, Garvey viewed that with respect to the clarity and explicitness of its position, the KKK represented a more honest organization on the subject of race than most within the United States government. This would invoke one of Garvey's more inflammatory initiatives and set of statements. He denoted in defense of a 1923 meeting with KKK Imperial Wizard Edward Y. Clarke on the subject of repatriating blacks to the African continent and to Liberia in particular "that all white men in America feel like the Ku Klux Klan, but the only difference is that the Klan is honest enough to give expression to its opinion and carry out its attitude in defiance of any other opposition whilst others are not honest enough to give expression but feel the same way." (Garvey3, 1)
Not at all a defense of the Klan, but more a rationalization of the value in…