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Marcus Garvey: Look For Me in the Whirlwind

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Online Forum: Methods of Teaching Garveyism
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As a teacher, I sometimes feel at a loss when trying to explain the significance of Garvey's ideas and legacy to my students, both black, but especially, white. Have any of you who teach felt this, and how did/do you handle the situation?
Richard E. Cooper,

Answered by Robin Kelley:
This is a very good question because Garvey's ideas were never static. They changed over time, and sometimes the ideas of grassroots activists inside the UNIA differed from Garvey (i.e., when he envisioned the Klan as the leader of the white race and set about to negotiate with them, this drew trememdous opposition within the movement). Furthermore, I believe it is a mistake to place too much emphasis on the "back to Africa" component of Garveyism--its one part of a broader ideology, and one not so emphasized until later in the movement.

The best thing I found for students is to have them read the UNIA's "Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World" as well as some of the songs written by Garveyite Rabbi J. Arnold Ford. The "Declaration" is an incredibly sweeping, radical document, and most of my students are blown away because the common sense about Garveyism is that its an escape to Africa.

Answered by Barbara Bair:
You do not mention what grade level and context in which you teach, but in some ways, whether it be high school or college, your approach can be much the same. I often start off in discussing Garveyism not in the 1920s, but in the 1880s and '90s, with the supposed "nadir" of African American experience and the denial of hopes and opportunities following emancipation, the growth of the Booker T. Washington response (economic advance, social separatism), and the violence and lynching associated with the enforcement of Jim Crow practices.

I then tell about World War I, the service of black soldiers in the war, and the repression and race riots that greeted them and their families upon their return. Garvey I then introduce as a kind of phoenix rising from the ashes of this denial and dismay. I think all young adult students, black and white (and other!) can identify with the issues of pride, of overcoming horrible obstacles, of developing a sense of will and worth in the face of being told you have no worth and your will is of no consequence.

It is difficult, however, in this day and age when individualism and individual success are lauded above collective forms of activism, to inspire enthusiasm in the kinds of unity and hope that Garveyism represents. But those messages about individual development and success are also, maybe somewhat ironically, a large part of the Garvey message. Maybe you can tap into that as well, and let your students relate ways in which various parts of Garvey's philosophy do or do not now resonate for them in their own lives, and looking toward their own futures.

Garveyism is also an extremely useful way to work into larger topics of race and racism, including students' own attitudes about race and their personal identifications. I've found it a useful discussion device to compare Garveyism and the Civil Rights movement as two different mass movements for change, including comparing and contrasting the leadership styles and messages of Garvey and Martin Luther King, Jr. Students are by and large more familiar with King, and these discussions can often lead to interesting nuances regarding students' viewpoints about separatism and coalition building as avenues to meaningful social change.

It also provides a chance to discuss the directions the Civil Rights movement went in its later years (including crucial economic justice issues) and the emergence of the Black Power movement--which was, in many ways, Garveyism "coming out the other side" in time.

Answered by Lani Guinier:
There are numerous documentaries that are available to show students what racism looks like today. I would urge you to contact NIGHTLINE for example and get a tape of the shows they did about three or four years ago interviewing black and white students int he 4th grade at a school in Ohio. The other suggestion is to collect the stories from the New York Times series on "How Race is Lived in America" -- these stories ran throughout the spring of 2000.

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