Howard Gayle, 58, was born in Toxteth and made his Reds debut in 1977.
He said he had to decline the nomination, for his Show Racism the Red Card campaign work, as his ancestors would be “turning in their graves”.
The Cabinet Office said it did not comment on individual cases.
The former footballer wrote on Facebook: “Most of you who are on my FB page are aware of the work that I do tackling racism and the work I do for Show Racism A Red Card. And for that work yesterday I was nominated for a MBE.”
He added: “Which unfortunately I had to decline the nomination for the reason that my ancestors would be turning in their graves after how Empire and Colonialism had enslaved them.
“This is a decision that I have had to make and there will be others who may feel different and would enjoy the attraction of being a Member of the British Empire and those 3 letters after their name, but I feel that It would be a betrayal to all of the Africans who have lost their lives, or who have suffered as a result of Empire.”
As well as representing England at Under-21 level, Gayle played for Blackburn Rovers, Fulham, Birmingham City, Halifax Town, Sunderland, Newcastle United and Stoke City.
Other honours snubs
- LS Lowry – the painter turned down a total of five honours, including an OBE in 1955, a CBE in 1961 and a knighthood in 1968
- Benjamin Zephaniah – the poet spurned an OBE in 2003 saying it stood for colonial brutality and slavery
- David Bowie – the music legend turned down a CBE in 2000
- Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders – the comedy duo refused OBEs in 2001
- John Lennon – the Beatles legend returned his MBE four years after accepting it in 1965 in protest against the Vietnam and Biafran wars
- JG Ballard – the writer rejected a CBE saying he was opposed to the “preposterous charade” of the honours system
Facebook users reacted to the post, saying “respect” and calling the former Liverpool star a man of principle.
Paul Al-Naqib wrote: “So sad that a history of oppression can still have a negative effect today… years after.
“You are a good honest man… many crumble and forget their morals when presented with their pieces of silver. You’ll always be Sir Howard Gayle of Tocky to me.”
Kenny Norton added: “You don’t need an MBE to be the person you are. Well done Howard.”
Kevin Edgar wrote: “Takes a lot of mental strength and self belief that Howard. Standing up for what you believe has real dignity too.”
The UK honours system is overseen by the Cabinet Office Honours and Appointments Secretariat.-BBC