August 17 will mark the 125th Birthday of the most formidable Pan Africanist leader the world has ever known, the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. And, 2012 is the 50th Anniversary of Jamaica’s independence. What better time to renew the call for Marcus Garvey’s birthday to be proclaimed Universal African Flag Day as an act of Kujichagulia/Self-Determination. This is not a new call. For years I have attempted to make the case that people of African descent should take at least one day to proudly and massively display the Flag Marcus Garvey bequeathed to African people as one of his greatest gifts.
Speaking of “audacity of hope,” Marcus Garvey burst upon the global scene at a time when the vast majority of Africans suffered under the boot of white supremacy either through ruthless, exploitative and humiliating forms of European colonialism or segregation/apartheid in the Diaspora. As his life’s commitment, the Jamaican-born national was determined to use his extraordinary gifts as a visionary, orator and organizer to uplift the African race and propel Black people to their rightful place in the forefront of civilization. To achieve his goal, however, he had to find a way to “keep hope alive.” One of Garvey’s greatest gifts was his keen appreciation of the role that symbols play in inspiring, uplifting and motivating disadvantaged and oppressed people. There was hardly a more daunting challenge than finding a way to give hope to the ethnically disparate and virtually universally despised sons and daughters of Africa. Never one to be discouraged by the difficulty of the task, Garvey boldly declared that he would give Black people a vision of a “government,” men of “big affairs and a “Flag!”
The master organizer built the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) into the largest mass organization of Africans in history, with hundreds of chapters in the U.S., Canada, Central and South America, Europe and Africa. The genius of the UNIA was that Garvey organized it as a virtual government in waiting with social, economic, political and military structures and a chain of command of officials with the President General at the top. But, Garvey did more than conceive of structures for an African government, he created a National Hymn, rituals and ceremonies and most importantly a Flag as critical ingredients in his formula for inspiring, uplifting and unifying the African peoples of the world! Indeed, in part Garvey was responding to a popular white Supremacist song of the era "Every Race Has a Flag but the Coon." This was no laughing matter for Garvey who said: “Show me the race or the nation without a flag, and I will show you a race of people without any pride.” The Red, Black and Green Flag was not only an answer to the white supremacists, it was intended to be a meaningful cultural-historical symbol encapsulating the pain of the past, the struggle for freedom and the promise of the future of African people.
Though there are varying interpretations of the colors, at Institute of the Black World 21st Century forums and celebrations we describe the Red for the blood and suffering of African people, the Black for the Color and Culture of African people and Green for the land we will reclaim to build our nation. We believe this interpretation captures the essence of Garvey’s definition of the meaning of the Flag. Over time, particularly during the rise of Black consciousness, Black Power and Black Nationalism in the 60s, the Flag became closely associated with the Black Liberation Movement in the U.S. But, Garvey never intended the Flag to be for Africans in America exclusively. His goal was to create a substantive unifying symbol for Africans everywhere, an overarching symbol of the power, potential and possibilities of Pan Africanism!
In the Red, Black and Green African people have a universal Flag and Africans everywhere should understand its origins, meaning and significance and display it or the colors with cultural, political pride and conviction. At a time when Africans in America are in the throes of a State of Emergency and our sisters and brothers on the Continent are still afflicted by neo-colonialism, intensified exploitation and internal divisions, there is an urgent need for a cultural offensive to inspire Black people, particularly young people to understand the vision of Marcus Garvey and utilize it to rise above the crises we face to achieve our rightful place as the torchbearers of civilization. What better way to affirm the legacy of Garvey, launch and sustain such a cultural revolution than to proclaim his birthday Universal African Flag Day. We should always carry the message and meaning of the colors and the Flag in our hearts but at least one day a year, the whole world should know that African people are striving for and on course to achieve principled unity and global empowerment with the African motherland at the foundation.
This is the proposition which I have promoted for years. Now, as we approach State of the Black World Conference III in November at Howard University in Washington, D.C., it is my fervent hope that there will be a veritable sea of Red, Black and Green Flags in evidence during the proceeding – and, that the Declaration of Intent to Heal Black Families and Communities [the Call to Action] will embrace the concept of August 17th, the birthday of Marcus Garvey, as Universal African Flag Day and encourage the participants to return to their communities to make this Proclamation a reality. It can be done, it must be done. In the words of Marcus Garvey, “up you mighty race, you can accomplish what you will!”
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com.