Though the phrase “emancipate yourself from mental slavery” is commonly associated with “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley, few know the concept originated with Marcus Garvey. During a speech given in October 1937 at Nova Scotia’s Menelik Hall entitled “The Work That Has Been Done,” Garvey stated:
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 …Marcus Garvey
Sydney, Nova Scotia
October 31, 1937
From the speech
“The Work That Has Been Done.”
Marcus Garvey’s memory has been kept alive worldwide. Schools, colleges, highways, and buildings in Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and the United States have been named in his honor. Garvey has also been immortalized in song and literary works both fiction and non. What follows is an attempt to delve into the influence Marcus Garvey continues to hold despite the fact he joined the ancestors more than seventy years ago. Efforts to render him something “other” than influential by those who oppose the redemption of Africa continue to the present.
Of primary significance is the Red, Black and Green flag. which was presented to the world nearly one-hundred years ago on August 13, 1920. Since then it has been adopted as the Black Liberation Flag. The Red, Black and Green is not just a pop culture symbol referencing Garvey. It is also the flag of the Sovereign United States of Africa. Garvey, in his words, works and deeds mentioned the United States of Africa numerous times. Most notably was its first appearance in his poem “Hail United States of Africa. “The United States of Africa first saw light in a 1924 poem by Garvey and is still discussed to this day.
In 1980, a bust of Garvey was placed in the Organization of American States’ Hall of Heroes in Washington, D.C.
Malcolm X’s father Earl Little met Malcolm’s mother Louise at a convention of the Universal Negro Improvement Association in Montreal, Canada. Little also was the president of the UNIA division in Omaha, Nebraska and sold the UNIA’s Negro World newspaper while his wife Louise was a contributor to the Negro World.
Kwame Nkrumah named the national shipping line of Ghana the Black Star Line in honor of Garvey and the UNIA. Established on 10 September 1957, the state shipping line was 60 percent owned by Ghana and 40 percent owned by Israel. The first ship it purchased was named the “Volta River.” Nkrumah also named the national soccer team the Black Stars as well. The black star at the center of Ghana’s flag is also inspired by the Black Star Line. The company’s assets were sold in 1982 by the Provisional National Defense Council.
During a trip to Jamaica, Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta Scott King visited the shrine of Marcus Garvey on June 20, 1965 and laid a wreath. In a speech he told the audience that Garvey “was the first man of color to lead and develop a mass movement. He was the first man on a mass scale and level to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny. And make the Negro feel he was somebody.” Earlier that day at the National Arena, Dr. King was given the Keys to the City of Kingston after delivering another 40-plus-minute address. In his introductory remarks he was quoted as saying that “In Jamaica I feel like a human being.”
King was also the posthumous recipient of the first Marcus Garvey Prize for Human Rights on December 10, 1968 issued by the Jamaican Government and presented to King’s widow.
Garvey and Rastafari
Rastafarians consider Garvey a religious prophet, saint and sometimes even the reincarnation of John the Baptist. This is partly because of statements renowned to have been uttered by him in speeches throughout the 1920s, usually along the lines of “Look to Africa, when a black king shall be crowned for the day of deliverance is at hand!”
His beliefs deeply influenced the Rastafari, who took his statements as a prophecy of the crowning of Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. Early Rastas were associated with the African Redemption movement in Jamaica. This early Rastafari movement was also influenced by a separate, proto-Rasta movement known as the Afro-Athlican Church that was outlined in a religious text known as the Holy Piby — where Garvey was proclaimed to be a prophet as well. Thus, the Rastafari movement can be seen as an offshoot of Garveyite philosophy. As his beliefs have greatly influenced Rastafari, he is often mentioned in reggae music, including that of Burning Spear and Dubwize (New Zealand).
Pop culture references
There have been pop culture references to Marcus Garvey since he first came on the international scene. Garvey is cited repeatedly in a diverse variety of books, songs and films as a legend worthy of emulation. As such, he stands out among leaders, historical and contemporary, for having continuously sustained a broad cultural relevance.
One of the first such instances was probably the tune “West Indies Blues” composed and written by New Orleans musicians J. Edgar Dowell with Spencer and Clarence Williams in 1923. The tune contains the lyrics relating to Garvey:
Some time soon or later,
When I come back to this great land,
You better watch me, Harvey,
‘Cause I’m gonna be a great big man
Like my friend Marcus Garvey!
The team was also responsible for another Garvey related tune “The Black Star Line”, first recorded by jazz singer Rosa Henderson in 1924 for Vocalion’s Aeolian label. It’s chorus lays out the plan:
Get on board country man,
I say, get on board, leave this land,
Gwine back on be Black Star Line.
A-get on board, country man,
Other songs in the blues genre include “Africa land of mine, we are sailing on the Black star line” written by Edward Wills and Stand by the Black Star Line / words and music by Charles Thomas ; arranged by W. H. Banks.
The reggae genre stands out for continuing to pay homage to Garvey as a great man worthy of recognition. Bob Marley, one of the most famous Rastafarians, coincidentally had his first hit song “Simmer Down” during early 1964. At the time negotiations had commenced on the disinterment and enshrinement of Garvey as the first National Hero of Jamaica. The song has a theme similar to that of Garvey’s own “Keep Cool”.
Marley refers to Marcus Garvey in his song “So much things to say”, saying, “I’ll never forget no way: they sold Marcus Garvey for rice.” The song criticizes anyone willing to betray independent African leadership and the pittance the traitors receive (hence the phrase “for rice”).
Marley’s, “Redemption Song” and “Africa Unite” echo the basic tenets of Garvey’s philosophy. ‘Redemption Song’ is significant in this instance in that a key phrase “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our mind‘ is a paraphrase from a speech given by Garvey in 1937 while touring Nova Scotia. The entire speech was published in Garvey’s ‘Black Man’ magazine.
Burning Spear, a well-known Jamaican reggae artist, has repeatedly mentioned Garvey, in albums including Garvey’s Ghost and Marcus Garvey. He released “Marcus Garvey ” in 1975, with two of the songs mentioning Garvey. Throughout Burning Spear’s career, Garvey has been a major influence on nearly every song.
Sinead O’Connor’s reggae-influenced 2005 album Throw Down Your Arms opens with a cover of Burning Spear’s song “Marcus Garvey”. O’Connor performed the song that year on The Late Late Show sporting a Garvey t-shirt. Erstwhile reggae producers Sly and Robbie joined her along with the Jamaican All-Star Band.
The group Culture wrote a song about Marcus Garvey’s “prophecy” on leaving the Spanish Town prison entitled “Two Sevens Clash.” The 1976 album of the same name also had the song “Black Star Liner Must Come”. In 1975 Big Youth recorded a song entitled “Marcus Garvey Dread” on his album “Dreadlocks Dread”. The Gladiators, a reggae band, often sing of Marcus Garvey, for example, their song “Marcus Garvey Time.” Jamaican harmony trio The Mighty Diamonds wrote a reggae song called “Them Never Love Poor Marcus”, referring to Garvey. They also refer to him in their song “I Need A Roof”.
In the intro to The Orb’s song Towers of Dub a prank caller, Victor Lewis-Smith, phones the London Weekend Television security desk and leaves a message for Haile Selassie saying that he should meet Marcus Garvey in Babylon. The ska band Hepcat has a song entitled “Marcus Garvey” on their album “Scientific”. The band Piebald has a song entitled “If Marcus Garvey Dies, Then Marcus Garvey Lives” on their album “If It Weren’t For Venetian Blinds, It Would Be Curtains For All Of Us.”
Zacheous Jackson Conscious message reggae music singer/songwriter refers to Marcus Garvey in his songs “Garvey Garvey” and “The Conspiracy” , which highlight the work of Marcus Mosiah Garvey and the conspiracy against him, and Zacheous also mentions Garvey in another of his songs called “Too Much A Wi”.
In the 1987 song “The Spirit Lives” on the album “Hold On To Love” by “Third World” the following verse appears:
Oh, the spirit lives
It’s living in the people and it can never die
Marcus Garvey, he lives on
He told his people they’ve got to be strong
One God, one aim, one destiny
Let Marcus Garvey live in you and me – well
Hip hop groups also stand out for having included references in their songs to Marcus Garvey. Progressive hip hop group Arrested Development, in their epic song “Revolution” (from the soundtrack to the 1992 Spike Lee directed film Malcolm X) mentions Garvey near the beginning and end of the song. Hip Hop duo Black Star (consisting of rappers Mos Def and Talib Kweli) took the name of their debut album from the Black Star Line. The group Brand Nubian on their 1993 album “In God We Trust” had a song ‘Black Star Line’ with Redd Foxx. The cut was redolent with themes reminiscent of the 1924 song of the same name but with Garveyism in every verse.
Rapper Nasir Jones (AKA. Nas) made reference to Marcus Garvey in his debut album from 1995 Illmatic. In “Halftime” ( a song originally issued as a single and part of the 1992 Zebrahead soundtrack) he raps,
“And in the darkness
like when the narcs hit
word to Marcus Garvey”.
Nas also appears on the Wu-Tang Clan album The W in the song “Let My Niggas Live” with the following lyrics:
I scream at the mirror, curse, askin God, “Why me?”
Run in the black church, gun in my hand, y’all try me
I’m God-son, son of man, son of Marcus Garvey
Rastafari irie, Ha-ile Selassie
On another Wu-Tang Clan track ‘I Can’t Go To Sleep’ featuring Isaac Hayes, the RZA states the following:
‘They… Exported Marcus
Garvey ’cause he tried to spark us
With the knowledge of ourselves, and our forefathers’.
The video has images of Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy.
In the song “Ah Yeah” from the album KRS-One a verse is as follows:
They tried to burn me, lynch me and starve me
So I had to come back as Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley
They tried to harm me, I used to be Malcolm X
They thought they had me
By puttin holes in my chest
Nowadays through hip-hop I manifest
Now I’m on the planet as the one KRS.
Kickin the metaphysical…spiritual…
tryin to like get with you showin you
you are invincible
Whether you know it or not
you’re in a race against time
the finish line
is control of your mind…Ah yeah
Ludacris, in his popular video replete with numerous African elements “Pimpin’ All Over the World”, is wearing a T-Shirt with Garvey’s image and the legend: “A people without the knowledge of their past, history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots,” a quote attributed to Marcus Garvey. The Haitian-American rapper Wyclef Jean, in his appearance on Chappelle’s Show, performed his song “If I Was President”, that references Garvey:
“Tell the children the truth, the truth …
tell em about Marcus Garvey …”
Dead Prez refers to Marcus Garvey in most of their songs and live by his Red, Black and Green philosophy.
Daz Dillinger refers to Garvey in the song “Our Daily Bread”, in his album “Retaliation, Revenge and get Back” on Deathrow Records.
The perennially sampled funk group Funkadelic has the Red, Black and Green flag on the Pedro Bell drawn cover of their 1978 album “One Nation Under a Groove”. The image portrays a group of people planting the flag on the planet earth in a manner reminiscent of the Iwo Jima flag raising. The flag has the letters “R&B” emblazoned across it in white.
Other References to Garvey
Jazz Musicians Roy Ayers, Pharoah Sanders and Gil Scott-Heron each have completely different songs with the title “Red, Black and Green”. The Red, Black and Green flag originated with the organization Garvey founded, the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League on August 13th during their 1920 convention.
Fictional books also have made mention of Garvey, although to a lesser degree than in the musical realm. He is referenced in African-American novelist Ralph Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man’ on page 272 of the Vintage printing, while the Random House edition of 2002 has him mentioned in passages on pages 206 and 277. Ellison may have used Garvey as the basis for the book’s character Ras the Exhorter. He is a West Indian black nationalist “demagogue” who eventually leads to the book’s protagonist having an epiphany about his membership in a white-controlled group known as “the brotherhood”.
In William Gibson’s dystopian cyberpunk novel ‘Neuromancer’, Marcus Garvey is the name of the space tug which delivers the protagonists to the scene of the climax.
Garvey appeared on the AP United States History exam on May 11th, 2007 on the multiple choice section. The question incorrectly labeled Garvey as the leader of the Black Power movement to help Blacks economically.
In The Autobiography of Malcolm X, his name is stated as “Marcus Aurelius Garvey,” referencing Roman Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius. Malcolm’s father, Earl Little was both a UNIA Division President and distributor of the Negro World newspaper. The first chapter of the book is essentially about three topics: Marcus Garvey, Malcolm’s father the Rev. Earl Little, and the organization of which they were both members, the U.N.U.A.
The HBO television drama, The Wire, has an episode where African American mayoral candidate Clarence Royce uses Marcus Garvey posters in his campaign to win votes in majority Black Baltimore, Maryland. Royce is then accused by State Delegate Watkins of hiding behind the posters to win votes.
Garvey is mentioned in three episodes of the HBO’s Boardwalk Empire series: “The North Star,” ‘White Horse Pike,” and “Farewell Daddy Blues.” Actor Jeffrey Wright portrayed Dr. Valentine Narcisse in the series. Narcisse came to be involved in efforts by J. Edgar Hoover to provide intelligence on the UNIA.
The 2003 film and directorial debut of Denzel Washington, “Antwone Fisher” features the Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey. Main character Antwone Fisher (played by Derek Luke) receives a copy of The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey from Dr. Jerome Davenport (played by Washington) as a gift.
1. The Black 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential African-Americans, Past and Present By Columbus Salley, Page 82, 1999, Citadel Press.
2. Daily Gleaner June 20, 1965: Martin Luther King Jr. visits Jamaica
3. M.G. Smith, Roy Augier and Rex Nettleford, “The Rastafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica,” Kingston 1960, p.5
4. The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, Vol. V: September 1922-August 1924 (Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers), University of California Press, Page 801.
5. Damian Marley – Confrontation, Welcome To Jamrock Album,
6. Sinead O’Connor – Marcus Garvey on youtube
7. Third World The Spirit Lives Lyrics
8. Arrested Development Videos on VH1
9. YouTube – Nas – Halftime
10. TRUE Shit – Wu-Tang’s Let My Niggas Live/I Can’t Go To Sleep
11. Wu Tang Clan – I Can’t Go To Sleep Ft. Issac Hayes
12. Ludacris – Pimpin’ All Over The World: Golden Palace Version
13. “Antwone Fisher” 1:12 at Caption Swap, last accessed on October 31, 2007
14. Denzel Washington’s First Film as Director Features The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey