When Marcus Garvey said, “Africa for the Africans, at home and abroad!” in the early 20th century, only Ethiopia and Liberia had been independent, though Italy would antagonize the former in the 1930s.
In a repeated display of deceit and violent ethnocentrism, other European nations colonized and divided the rest of Africa among themselves, as agreed upon at the Berlin Conference decades earlier.
Noted historian C.R. Gibbs recently explained the “Scramble for Africa,” a period of colonial takeover between 1881 to 1914, from the perspective of notable African women and men who valiantly fought their European invaders. His more-than-an-hour presentation on Sunday evening also explored the horrors of colonialism, exposing the complicity of widely revered white historical figures in African subjugation.
“European conquest was temporary. African civilization has been preeminent,” Gibbs told an audience of more than 30 women and men at the Thurgood Marshall Center in Northwest during an annual Garvey Day celebration, hosted by the Woodson Banneker Jackson-Bey Division of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), based in D.C.
During his lecture, Gibbs decried European propaganda that painted colonialism as a series of individual crimes, rather than a deliberate conspiracy rooted in a belief in African inferiority. He showed documentation, photos, and articles that contextualized the acts of well-known colonizers and liberation fighters.
Guests learned about Shaka Zulu of the Zulu empire in present-day South Africa, Yaa Asantewaa of the Ashanti empire in present-day Ghana, King Jaja, founder of the Opobo nation-state in present-day Nigeria, and the female warriors of Benin who Gibbs likened to the Wakandan army in the “Black Panther” film, among several others.
Gibbs also taught the audience about Henry McNeal Turner, onetime bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church who repatriated to Africa in the late 19th century.
“We believed in communalism instead of capitalism,” he told audience members, “The African response to [the scramble for Africa] was resistance, accommodation, and assimilation.”
However, as Gibbs acknowledged many times throughout the evening, that process would’ve been quicker had it not been for the untold number of Africans who shed blood to protect their families and communities.
“We don’t have to talk about King Arthur and Camelot,” he said. “There are actual descriptions of battle [involving] the Ashanti, magnanimous in battle and regal in deed. The battles continued [and] we knew these things happened. There were African Americans who were concerned about the scramble.”
Gibbs headlined an annual Marcus Garvey celebrated that included a selection by songstress Foluke, words of wisdom from former UNIA president-general Senghor Baye, a bevy of African cultural traditions, vendors of jewelry, fragrances, fabrics and cultural memorabilia, and vegan cuisine from Senbeb Cafe in Northwest.
UNIA leaders also made an appeal for new members, touting the association as the Black people’s global government throughout the evening.
Upon entering the Thurgood Marshall Center’s main auditorium, guests saw the flags of Jamaica, Liberia, the Solomonic Dynasty of Ethiopia and the Pan-African world hanging from the ceiling. An altar in the right corner of the room had candles, wooden carvings and photos of UNIA members and deceased historical figures, among other materials.
Various photos and drawings of Garvey stood on easels throughout the space, along with a large poster of former Rep. Charles Rangel’s image asking for support of legislation for Garvey’s pardon.
The Aug. 26 gathering, which celebrated the 131st anniversary of Garvey’s birth nine days earlier, took place days after three Woodson Banneker Jackson-Bey Division members returned from the UNIA’s annual convention in Jamaica, a gathering of association members from around the world.
The Marcus Garvey celebration was among a host of UNIA events this year, including a book fair at Roots Public Charter School in Northwest.
Laureen Butler, a local UNIA official, tied Sunday’s event to the current collective condition of Black people.
“We’re still dealing with the same issues,” said Butler, lady president-general of the Woodson Banneker Jackson-Bey division of the UNIA and key event organizer. “Studying it and going to Jamaica helped me see that it’s happening [all over] in D.C., Chicago, Detroit, and Jamaica. [Senghor Baye] was on point when he said we need to unify and improve. We’re not doing something right. One [thing] is believing the hype of what they have.”
Butler, a former educator, lauded Gibbs for his contribution to Pan-African culture as a historian and bearer of much good news.
“C.R. Gibbs knows African-American and African history better than most people I’ve met, not to take anything away from Dr. Ben and the other greats,” Butler said. “We need to start looking to Africa more. That’s what Garvey was saying.”