This is an excerpt from an article originally published in Dr. Ron Daniels’ Vantage Point.
August 17 will mark the 128th birthday of the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the visionary Jamaican-born leader who built the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) into the largest mass movement for liberation in the history of Africans in America and perhaps the world! As such, I have long advocated that August 17th, his birthday, be celebrated as Universal African Flag Day.
An unapologetic Pan-Africanist, Garvey believed that Black people everywhere should unite and fight to liberate Africa, the motherland, from the brutal clutches of European colonialism – Africa should be the base for global Black Power! Hence, he said, “I know no national boundary where the Negro is concerned. The whole world is my province until Africa is free.”
At a time when people of African descent were besieged, belittled, marginalized, exploited and oppressed everywhere, Garvey sought to instill a sense of pride in the history and heritage of a great people, noting that: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” He declared that “God and Nature first made us what we are, and then out of our own created genius we make ourselves what we want to be… Let the sky and God be our limit and Eternity our measurement.”
Garvey was determined to rally a beleaguered people and mold them into a formidable force committed to self-reliance, self-determination, and nationhood. The UNIA was organized like a nation in-waiting with military, economic/commercial, educational, health, religious and administrative divisions. He also created literature, music, images and symbols, designed to promote pride and unity. For example, the Universal Ethiopian Anthem was adopted as the official song of the organization.
But the most powerful and lasting symbol of unity that Garvey presented and bequeathed to African people was a Flag, the Red, Black and Green. Garvey was keenly aware of the psycho-cultural value of symbols to an oppressed/battered people. The impetus to put forth a flag became even more urgent because of the white supremacist song that became very popular in the early part of the 20th century – “Every Race Has a Flag but the Coon.” The Red, Black and Green was officially ratified as the Flag for African people at the 1920 UNIA Convention – which led Garvey to proclaim: “Show me the race or the nation without a flag, and I will show you a race of people without any pride. Aye! In song and mimicry, they have said, ‘Every race has a flag but the coon.’ How true! Aye! But that was said of us four years ago. They can’t say it now….”
The colors of the Flag were meant to have significance for Black/African people globally. In the ceremonies of IBW’s public events, the Flag is saluted by reciting words that embody the essence of what we believe Garvey intended to be the meaning of the colors: Red, for the blood and suffering of African people; Black for the color and culture of our people; Green, for the land stolen from us which we will reclaim to build our nation. The Red, Black and Green Flag was meant to be a symbol of Pan African Unity! Indeed, the influence of Garvey was such that the colors appear in the Flags of Malawi, Kenya and Ghana in Africa and St. Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean.