A recent conversation with a client inspired this month’s blog. She was a bit upset that there were persons who credited Marcus Garvey for the quote, “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds.” She was adamant that it was Bob Marley who had said those exact words. She contended that Garvey said something completely different. Truth be told, there has been a long standing debate as to who should be credited for the words. This debate has often thrusted “Garveyites” against “Marleyites”, with both sides claiming the win.
The fact is, both men expressed the thought. However, it was Marcus Garvey who had expressed the original thought. In a speech given in Nova Scotia, Sydney in 1937, Garvey said, “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind.” Now Marley, who was born some eight (8) years after Garvey made that speech, made the thought a popular adage, through his song, Redemption Song. In the song, he said, “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds.” Now, the scholars who will read this will tell you that that Marley paraphrased what Garvey said. For the rest of us, this simply means that he reworded or summarized what Garvey said. So, if credit is to be given, in my opinion, it should be that Garvey should be credited for the original thought, and Marley should be credited for popularizing it.
Marley was influenced by Garvey. He himself, in an interview with Gil Noble, said that Garvey was his greatest influence. So it is no surprise that he would convey Garvey’s philosophies and opinions through his songs. Therefore, time spent on debating who should be credited for this popular quote would be better spent looking at why these two visionaries felt the need to express such a thought. It is evident that both men saw that members of the Black race were being self-debilitating. They were being hampered by society’s ideals and status quo, thereby hindering their development and progress in life. So, Garvey and Marley were simply saying that Black people should free themselves from the things that bind them, mentally. Whether it is depression, racism, financial issues, inferiority complexes, relationship struggles, job dissatisfaction, etc, we should let it go. When things like those weigh on our minds, it prevents us from having breakthrough ideas which could help us develop ourselves, individually, and as a race.
So, let’s take up the charge given by these two great philosophers. Let us free our minds from whatever bondage they have been held captive by.