Written by Serie McDougal III
“The dark hour is the hour when you apparently seem to be losing out, yet you have courage enough to fight on until victory comes your way” (Garvey, 1921).
Both Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey shared messages of critique and encouragement for Black leadership. They seem to center around the notion of courage. The language of leadership is in high use at the present moment. The midterm elections are upon us and the voices of our ancestors echo in our ears, or… perhaps they should be echoing. Talk of African American/Black voters holding the balance of power has shaped the current narrative. Not only as voters, but African American candidates have the potential of gaining seats across the country. African Americans are encouraged to be aware of and vote for Black candidates. In light of this current momentum, this short article is meant to recall the voices of Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X, on the pitfalls of Black leadership. Why be reflective now?
We are 50 years past the Kerner Commission Report, the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and the founding of Africana Studies. Now is the time to reflect. Garvey and X’s critiques of Black leadership during their own times inform what Black people should be wary of in the present. Marcus Garvey argued persistently that Black leaders must unapologetically represent the true sentiments of Black people (Garvey, 1921). One of his ongoing critiques of Black leadership was what he identified as a tendency to abandon the interests of Black people when the hour is dark or under pressure from White people. According to Garvey most great victories are won at the turning point of the darkest hour. This turning point for Garvey is when the hour is dark and you seem to be losing out, yet you fight on until victory is won. It is at this point that Garvey warns that Black leadership too often abandons the goals of Black populations and begin to follow the paths being paved by those in positions of relatively greater power and privilege. The conditions of the masses of Black people in the U.S., for Garvey, was more the fault of false Black leaders than it was the masses of Black people themselves. Outside of electoral domestic politics, Garvey encouraged Black people to form organizations that look out for the interests of the masses of Black people.
Like Garvey, Malcolm X also critiqued Black people who have been granted privilege in society and are groomed, publicized and promoted as spokespersons for the Black community as a whole. These Black people are then used against Black people who are struggling for liberation or revolution. More, specifically, he argues that Whites with resources use their money to influence Negro leaders to alter their agendas and compromise the ambitions of Black people. In fact, Malcolm X challenged the notion that they were African American or Black leaders at all, which is why he called them “Negro” leaders. Another one of his critiques was that Negro leaders had the tendency to create a narrative that depicts Black people as satisfied while they are suffering from oppression. It is their job to make everyone else feel that things for Black people are not as bad as they seem and that Black people are willing to be patient and long-suffering. Instead, Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X advocated for true Black leaders emerge from the masses to form organizations that represent the true interests of Black people, be courageous and uncompromising in their advocacy, and future-oriented in their thinking about Black liberation. Their ideas should continue to be criteria by which we evaluate Black leadership, and principles to ground the development of emerging Black leadership.
Garvey, M. (1921). Leadership. In B. Blaisdell, Selected writings and speeches of Marcus Garvey. Courier Corporation, (p. 37-44).
Garvey, M. (1921). Unemployment. In B. Blaisdell, Selected writings and speeches of Marcus Garvey. Courier Corporation, (p. 24-37).
Malcolm, X. (1963). Message to the grassroots. In G. Breitman, Malcolm X speaks: Selected speeches and statements. Grove Press, (p. 3-17).
Malcolm, X. (1963). At the audubon. In G. Breitman, Malcolm X speaks: Selected speeches and statements. Grove Press, (p. 88-104).