While I was writing my Solidarity pieces on Marcus Garvey, I heard of a short Radio 4 programme Black Star Line: The Story of Marcus Garvey. Produced in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, the programme, narrated by 1Xtra DJ Seani B, sought in less than 30 minutes to tell us about Garvey and examine the influence Garvey and Garveyism has had today.
Even as a potted history it has some holes. We are told that Garvey faced opposition from other black leaders in the US like Du Bois and A Philip Randolph, but never why. It suggests Garvey was an ambitious entrepreneur who believed in black pride and wanted to get black people across the world to buy shares in the Black Star Line so they would become self reliant.
The programme mentions the fact the Black Star Line aimed to take black people to Africa, but it doesn’t tell us about Garvey’s plans for repatriation or pan-Africanism.
On Garvey’s influence today the programme is far worse. It praises the early Nation of Islam as like Garvey’s UNIA, but with religion. The example of Jay-Z, the first billionaire musician, who is a more successful businessman than Garvey ever was, is cited as another positive.
Garvey is said to have been both a revolutionary and a fighter for equality, and the man who wanted more black billionaires!
Garvey deserves attention because of the movement he built, not as a role-model for the message (rather than the musicality) of lyrics like:
“Serial entrepreneur, we on our own
Stop sittin’ around waitin’ for folks to throw you a bone
If you can’t buy the building, at least stock the shelf (word),
Then keep on stacking ‘til you stocking for yourself...
Black nation, Black builder, Black entrepreneur,
You in the presence of Black excellence and I’m on the board, Lord”
(Entrepreneur, by Pharrell Williams, featuring Jay-Z)