“We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind.”
Those words are widely associated with the lyrics in “Redemption Song” by Robert Nesta (Bob) Marley:
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; None but ourselves can free our minds
Few know that phrase and thereby the song’s true meaning can be traced to Marcus Garvey. In fact though Garvey’s movement was disparaged as being a “Back to Africa” movement, Garvey and his supporters refer to it as a movement for “African Redemption,” which has a reference in the song’s title. The earliest known reference to the concept of “African Redemption” can be found in a letter written by Benjamin Lundy on May 28th, 1833. The letter addressed to the Annual Convention of Free People of Color Convention due to meet in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Lundy’s words to that effect are as follows:
A new era has opened upon the world! The “dark age” of African oppression is drawing to its close; and the happy “millennium” of African redemption is near at hand! Let the inhabitants of that ill-fated continent rejoice, and her children wherever scattered, sing praises to the Most High, on the “banks of deliverance.”
In Garvey’s only work that can be considered an actual book “The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey” Volume 1 is “Dedicated to the true and loyal members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association in the cause of African redemption.”
Thereby it can be claimed Bob Marley paraphrased Marcus Garvey’s speech “The Work That Has Been Done” for not only that key lyric, but the song’s title as well. The speech is presented in its entirety below.
Marcus Garvey with quote on emancipation from mental slavery, the next stage of human development.
MARCUS GARVEY SPEAKING IN MENELIK HALL, SYDNEY, NOVA SCOTIA.
THE WORK THAT HAS BEEN DONE.
Printed in Black Man 3 Number 10, July 1938
The meeting started with a musical programme. Among those present on the platform were the Mayor of Sydney, the Rev. Ford the Chairman, the Hon. Mr. Morrison, M.L.C., Officers of the Divisions and the Choir.
the Rev. ford said: your Hon. President-General, Your Worship, Ladies and Gentlemen: At this meeting, the first of a series that the hon. Marcus Garvey is going to deliver, I stand before you expressing a peculiar and personal greeting to him this evening. We extend greeting to you from this City of Sydney and Cape Breton. In the person of the Hon. Marcus Garvey we have a man of the race who is conscious of his task. In him we have a captain at the helm. He has been called to administer to the people of African descent. He is a tried and true captain. We send our sons and daughters to college because they must cope with conditions. You must answer whether this race is ready for true leadership. We must hope for that time when every man of the race can say, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
There was a musical programme, after which the Chairman called upon His Worship, Mayor Mather, to say a few words.
Mayor Mather: Rev. Mr. Chairman, Hon. Mr. Garvey, Ladies and Gentlemen: I think that this is the second time that it has been my pleasure and privilege to meet you in this hall. I was present at the opening of this hall and I was pleased to have been here. It was a pleasure just as it is now to be with you again. When the committee asked me to be here tonight to say a few words to your President-General I was glad in the first place because I have the opportunity of welcoming him and in the second because I would be allowed to be present to hear the stirring message which I am sure he will deliver to you tonight. On behalf of the citizens of the city of Sydney I extend to you a very cordial welcome to our city of Sydney and hope your stay will be a pleasant one and the message will be of such a nature as will induce you to gird your loins about you and accomplish greater things than they have done so far. The coloured colony in this city is one of which may well be proud. All you have to do is to look around and see this hall that they have built themselves, and it is theirs and theirs alone. This is a hall which any group of citizens in any community in Canada may well be proud. It shows what can be done with united effort on the part of any group. There is one great thing about your colony here. It is a minority colony. The object lesson to be drawn, therefore, is that while granting to the community the same rights, you should stick together in forwarding your own race. If you do that there is no limit to which you will not reach. If you bicker and are jealous of each other you cannot accomplish much. One of the first principles you must have is unity among yourselves because you are a minority group among other large groups. I am glad Mr. Garvey has come to this part of the country, and I am glad to be here to welcome him and to listen to his message. I thank you very much.
Mr. Ford: Your message has been a stimulant to each and every one of us this evening. (A piano solo was rendered.) I will now call on him who by guidance of god will say much that will be uplifting and inspiring.
Mr. Garvey: citizens of Sydney, Ladies and Gentlemen: this is the first time I have had the opportunity of visiting Nova Scotia. In my administrative capacity as President-General of the U.N.I.A. I have had to deal with communications and business matters going through the many Divisions or Branches of the Association in this section. Not having the privilige of knowing some of you by correspondence. I was very pleased at the hearty reception you gave me this morning, but tonight I am flattered with the genuine and spontaneous hospitality extended to me, evidenced by your large and truly representative gathering. I understand that the group of you who live in this section of Canada asked your Mayor to extend to me your goodwill, not only yours but those who could not find it possible to get here. Indeed I am flattered, indeed I am pleased, and I wnt to assure you i shall never forget this myfirst appearance in Sydney and in Nova Scotia.
I have come here to you from the Parent Organization with Headquarters in London as part of a tour I am making in the interest of the Organization. i came to Canada about six weeks ago direct to Toronto to preside over a regional Conference of the Organization of the American and Canadian Branches. I can only spend a short time in your midst. I am visiting two other Divisions — Glace Bay and New Waterford. On the 7th I sail for the West Indies to speak to those islands of the Leeward and Windward group and British Guiana. The U.N.I.A. is engaged in presenting its programme for the next twenty years. We have just passed the first twenty years with glorious achievements. The first twenty years reveal that this Organization did more in this twenty years than any movement since we lost our imperial power in Africa. We brought a consciousness to the race that never existed before. We organized our race throughout the world without the exception of one spot. Africa, the West Indies, the United States, South and Central America, whereever the Negro was to be found the U.N.I.A. reached him and took to him a consciousness of his race and of his responsibility. In the past twenty years we have given consciousness to the race professionally and otherwise. There are people who would not think of their success but for the inspiration they receive from the U.N.I.A. Thousands in the professions, in the Civil Service of the Colonial powers, who never would have had a chance but for the advocacy of the U.N.I.A. which we call the first epoch of the U.N.I.A.
I come to you with the best of fellowship, with the best of spirit, with the desire that you maintain that good relationship with the good Canadians with whom you live.
Mr. Mayor, I thank you very much, sir, for your welcome and for the way you have plainly stated the case of our group here. Indeed, are a minority and a small minority at that. I hope we will all realize it. Minorities wherever they happen to find themselves should unite because they are in the midst of a majority. The temper of the majority cannot always be guaranteed even with the best Government. We have had evidence of that in Germany and in other continental countries. Minorities must be very thoughtful in living in the midst of majorities. Your conduct must be of such as to leave no loophole to constitute you an annoyance to the majority, as to give the majority the idea that you are not a people to be in their midst. Alien minorities are always at a disadvantage because they are not in their homeland. We have our homes and we have one principal home, and that home is Africa. that home is disturbed today — the peace of it — the intrusion of others. Our respective homes have been intruded upon. The result is that a large number of us are abroad because of those circumstances and conditions. But wherever we go as a race we have always maintained the peace, we have always assumed and carried the peace. We have never been the aggressors in any society or any form of government. We have always been a peaceful people, sir, and I feel sure you will never find fault with those who live in Sydney. We are not Communists, we are not Reds of any kind. We are just working in co-operation with others. We are radicals though in connection with our country. We want to restore our country to its ancient glory. We are seeking to restore the land of our fathers. We came here not by our will — we were pulled here. We had a terrible time in those early days. We did our bit under difficult circumstances here to build up the glory of the race that enslaved us at the time. We contributed a lot to that civilization. If for nothing else that race owes us a lot. We think there is no country more able to help us than Canada. Canada has always played a fair game. Canada is conscious of the wrong that was imposed upon us to help build up the civilization of which Canada is a part. We were brought to lay the prop of the present civilization. We toiled for it. We bore on our shoulders the heavy burden of this civilization. Cane, sugar, rum, cotton, were the industries on which the present civilization was built. We carried the load upon our shoulders. If a picture were to be shown as to how the present civilization was built you will find the Negro building it up. We are glad that you are giving the Negro a chance in Sydney. The U.N.I.A. realizes that it has a responsibility not only to the group but to the world at large to place the Negro in his proper place. You, sir, and all, do realize that our world is undergoing changes now — very important changes — changes that are affecting all groups. The changes in the world today are affecting all groups of men. This has led to the particular group seeking its way out. The Jews are seeking the way out; the Japanese, the Chinese, the Hindu, the black man, is seeking his way out, but we are seeking our way out in a different way to other people. We believe in the law of reason and not in the law of the gun. We believe the gunsman is a dangerous man to society anywhere. We believe that nature never intended man to be a gunsman or the Creator would have given him a pistol in the Garden of Eden. The use of the pistol is contrary to the laws of nature. We believe nature is a mighty power. She acts carefully and slowly but she grinds positively. We believe nature is on our side. If we keep within the laws of nature, that first cause and the Almighty Power will in time take care of the human situation. We are not using any pistols where we are. I do not know if in the whole of Sydney you will find more than five pistols among Negroes. I believe you will find more Bibles and Prayer Books than pistols. Whether with or without pistols, the Negro is looking up for his place in the world and i feel sure no self-respecting white man will blame him. We have been the most faithful servants, whether in the stable or in the mines. We have never been disagreeable workers anywhere. We have worked in this Western world to help others, and we feel that the conscience of others will cause them to help us. So long as Canada is Canada and the Negro lives here, he will be a good citizen. But like the Irish in Canada, he has to be thinking of that homeland across the seas. Not that he will think of going there, but he is helping to restore the land of his fathers. The Irish Canadian has helped to restore Ireland, although he has not disturbed Canada. He thinks he should bestow some rights on Ireland. Although we have been away for three hundred years, yet we still have a feeling for the homeland.
In 1928, when I was at the League of Nations, among the many statesmen who gave encouragement to us was the then Prime Minister, the Hon. McKenzie King. He then assured me of his goodwill toward our cause, and he has ever been a good friend of our cause. (A voice: He has to be elected next election.) So long as you have good men like the Hon. McKenzie King you will get your rights as citizens.
Scientists said once that the Negro was the missing link, but now they realize that the Negro is the oldest man in creation. He is so old that he is black, and everything darkens by age, therefore he could not be the missing link. Something must be missing from his link. That the Negro is old and that accounts for his colour there is a lot behind it. Because once upon a time we were a great people. We built the Pyramids and the Sphinx. When history is written in truth you will find that the first civilization was projected from the Nile on the Congo Basin. In the earliest dawn of civilization you found the Negro in Benin, in Timbuktoo, in Alexandria. Anthropologists will tell you that the Pharoahs were black men. When they dug up the mummy of Tutankamen and saw he was a black man they would not tell you the truth. Civilization went across the north to Europe to India, to China, all the way down and proved that the black man had circumnavigated the world. The North American Indian, the Australian Aboriginal, the Aztecs of South America were all people who became what they were through the contact of Africans who had travelled across the continents when they were carrying their civilization, just as how the great white man is travelling around the world to-day and planting the evidence of his race, but before modern history was written and produced in the different continents there were different shades of colour, each had their original civilization. Like all great people we fell. The present civilization is not the only one that existed, but before this we had Roman civilization, Greek Civilization, Persian civilization, Babylonian civilization, and even medieval Egyptian civilization, but the Negro civilization anti-dated that. The African went down with his blundering civilization, the Persian, the Greek, the Roman all went down and we do not know how long this civilization will stand with its Mussolinis and its Hitlers. Civilization is a cycle. It changes. I should like to see black and white get on so well toghether that the black man will remember how kind he was. It is the only way we are going to get along because man is man for that. The white man is no missing link, nor the black man, nor the yellow man either. Surely no animal could achieve what Marconi did, what Edison did, what the great engineers did, what the great scientists did. Surely no man could do what the Japanese are doing, no missing link could do what Carver is doing at Tuskegee. He is the greatest chemist to-day, who can bring out of one product so many chemicals. No monkey could do what the brown bomber did to the Welshman. If man will let a monkey beat him then he is lower than a monkey. We are men whether we are white, yellow or black, because we have one origin. We came from the same place and we are going back to the same place. The Negro went to sleep for a long while, resting from his labours, but he slept too long, so everybody stole a march on him and therefore he is the only man without a country; and so the U.N.I.A. seeks to restore the Negro to his own vine and fig tree. Economically, for his own interest, the white man will not like it, but deep down in his heart he will say that the Negro is right. I would like to see Canada for the Canadians, England for the English, America for the Americans and in the same way I want to see Africa for the Africans, those at home and those abroad, so that when we are sick and tired and weary we may lay our heads in the lap of our mother and ask her to comfort us, bless us before we die. Every people should have a flag, a land of their own, and the U.N.I.A. points you to achieve something. A large number of you were and are members and I bring you the greetings of those in the other parts of the world.
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. The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind, because man is related to man under all circumstances for good or for ill. If man is not able to protect himself from the other man he should use his mind to good advantage. The fool will always carry the heavy burden. The fool will always be crushed without a tear from God or man because God Almight never made a fool. God is all wise. When God Almight made man in His own image and likeness, it wasn’t the physical, it was the mind that was like God. Every man represents God in his unitary intelligence. When man abuses that intelligence he lowers himself. God has given you intelligence to take care of you. He hasn’t repeated Himself yet. God was so thoughtful of man and his progeny that he made a variety of things so as to pander to the taste of the Adams that would come after the first. When God made you He made you the masters of the world, not serfs and slaves, but your mind must be developed intelligently. It is your mind that rules the body. You cannot go further than that mind to seek truth and to know truth and to re-act to truth. That is the only way you will be able to protect your group. The white man is still doing research work with his mind. It has taken him to the bowels of the earth to extract what nature placed there for him. On that same intelligence he has gone into Heaven. What you see in Sydney, in Nova Scotia is only the fringe of the white man’s intelligence. Everything that you see that is methodical is the product of the white man’s mind. He visualizes nations and kingdoms and he has them. There is nothing spiritual around his materialism. They are all objective things realized, dreamt and thought out. Sydney is only what men have visualized to a greater extent. The British Empire was the visualization of men like Raleigh, and Drake, who seeing things of value, attached them to the mother country. If places are not well protected then men take them and add them to their Empires. The U.N.I.A. is dreaming of a day when the Negro will possess himself of a homeland, when he will build for himself. The man who cannot build for himself is not only a poor fish in the sea, but ultimately will be a dead fish, plodding for himself. Nobody wants to die except the fool, because life is a worth-while thing. It is only people who are together can survive now-a-days. It is only by organising that we can get anywhere, as the Mayor told you. We are looking for the redemption and the freedom of our homeland. (We hope, sir, to invite you to Sydney, in Africa, because there we shall have different things than you have in Canada.)
Our obsession is like that of the Jews. They are working for Palestine. We are working for Africa, like the Irishman, he is working for Ireland, and the Canadian is working for a grand and noble Canada. We are helping to send on the great force of power of Canadian industry when the Canadians will realize that they too can help us to do some good as we have been helping them to do some good. We have been helping to build and up to now we are not dead, we have not fallen. The Negro has the power of resistance. He can do the job. I feel sure, as you have done in the past, you will continue in the future, whether I come here or not. Remember the primary purpose that has brought me here — goodwill, co-operation, unity from the rest of your fellows in the United States, Africa and the West Indies. We have celebrated the happiness, the glory of our Organization’s accomplishments. We have had our ups and downs and failures, but that was only a drop in the bucket. If the Mayor were to tell you of the failures of his race, you would wonder at their patience. When the Liberals fail they go out of office and let the Conservatives go in, and the Government goes on. If you Negroes have a penny bank and it fails, you swear that you will never put another penny in it again. You should kick out the first dishonest man and put in an honest one. That is why you will have to it swim to Barbados, Trinidad and Demerara. You know how many times the Canadian Pacific failed until they now have their wonderful system? The only way you can be happy is to lay the foundation in one generation for the succeeding generation. If you do not build ships for the next generation you will always be walking. Take the white race, sometimes you see an old man president of the bank, knowing well that their grandchildren are coming after them and they are storing up for their generations to come after. Our disposition is to eat everything and let the boy work for his. We cannot treat our children as our fathers treated us, so do not eat up everything you get, for God’s sake. Remember that the boy who is coming up is to carry on until God comes. Do not be here as serfs and slaves because God never made you anything else but men. Whatever that has happened to the man it is his own mind that puts him there. He has abused the force of power of that mind. Men can create the environment to suit himself. When you do not use your intelligence you fall and will be submerged. It is because we do not live up to the state of our intelligence why we suffer so much. Before I close, I want to appeal to you to use your intelligence to work out the real things of life. You have to apply that intelligence to the management of your own individual and collective racial affairs. Every race has to lok after its own affairs. You have formulated no legal or moral claim. That is why people are taking away Africa today, just how Mussolini took away Ethiopia because he thought the Ethiopians had no use for it. One man used his intelligence and knocked out while the other tried to pray.
The time you waste in levity, in non-essentials, if you use it properly you will be able to guarantee to your posterity a condition better than you inherited from your forefathers. The U.N.I.A. is carrying throughout the world the message of goodwill. The message is going on. It has reached you. It will go to others, so that we may have one outlook, one purpose in life. I do hope the friendship will continue, sir, economically, politically and that you will never have cause to believe that we are not what we seem. (Cheers.)
The Chairman, Rev. Ford: Speaking on behalf of the peoples of this community permit me to say that hey have enjoyed this message of goodwill immensely. Please take back for us the message that we, in Cape Breton, shall stretch out the curtains of our habitation with this in view — one God, one aim, one destiny. I have spent over six years in college learning the various ologies, but to-night you have taught me one ology and that is Negro ology. The hon. Marcus Garvey told you to-night that the man who doesn’t love his people cannot love his God. This is an epoch-making event. Let us bind ourselves together, not only when he is here, but when he is gone, so that we may be lifted up with wings as he goes.
(At this stage Mr. Pat Comeo rendered a violin solo.)
Hon. Mr. Morrison, M.L.C.: As the hour is growing late and your distinguished guest must need rest, I will not take up much of your time. My first impulse is to break out into politics. I have been wondering if this is a proper place for me to be — a clergyman on my right and a choir on the other. I begin to think that a sinner like me is out of place here. The splendid manner in which they rendered their numbers must be work indeed on the part of themselves and their choir master. I was telling His Worship the other day how a solicitor feels when he is examining his witness. No doubt His worship and myself have found ourselves in worse places. I am a bachelor, and so is he. We will be glad to go to the Kingdom of Africa, but I will be satisfied to eat apples. I think Mr. Garvey made a mistake in not mentioning Eve. I met a gentleman who said that Canada was dis-united As far as the City of Sydney is concerned we are a happy community of various sects, colours, and religion and we get along admirably together. To-day, we welcomed to Sydney the Governor-General, who is over all Canadians, no matter what race, colour or creed. The fact that we welcomed him and your leader shows that we can all be faithful to the one sovereign and adore that which is best in our particular races.
(After an anthem by the choir, Mr. Garvey said he thought is was time for the Sydney Division to commence moving on, as it used to do. It should be resurrected. I should like to meet those who are not at work on Monday.)