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Marcus Garvey (21958 hits)

Marcus Garvey


Background and Early Years

Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr., was born August 17, 1887, was a publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, Black nationalist, orator and founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, and he is the National Hero of Jamaica.

Prior to the 20th century, leaders such as Prince Hall, Martin Delaney, Edward Wilmot Blyden and Henry Highland Garnet advocated the involvement of the African diaspora in African affairs. Garvey was unique in advancing a Pan-African philosophy to inspire a global mass movement focusing on Africa, commonly known as Garveyism. Promoted by the UNIA as a movement of African Redemption, Garveyism would eventually inspire others, ranging from the Nation of Islam, to the Rastafari movement, which proclaims Garvey to be a prophet. The intention of the movement was for those of African ancestry to "redeem" Africa and for the European colonial powers to relinquish the continent. His essential ideas about Africa were stated in an editorial in the Negro World entitled "African Fundamentalism" where he wrote: “Our union must know no clime boundary or nationality...let us hold together under all climes and in every country.”

Garvey was born in St. Ann's Bay of St. Ann’s Parish, Jamaica to Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Sr., a mason, and Sarah Jane Richards, a domestic worker and farmer. Of 11 siblings, only Garvey and his sister, Indiana, survived childhood. Garvey's father was known to have a large library, and it was from his father that he gained his love for reading. Sometime in the year 1900, Garvey entered into an apprenticeship with his uncle Alfred Burrowes. Like Garvery’s father, Burrowes had an extensive library of which Garvey made good use.

Around the age of 14, Garvey left St. Ann's Bay for Kingston where he found employment as a compositor at the printer of P.A. Benjamin Limited. He was a master printer and foreman at Benjamin when, in November of 1907, he was elected vice president of the Kingston Union. However, he was fired when he joined a strike by printers in late 1908. Having been blacklisted for his stance in the strike, he later found work at the Government Printing Office. In 1909, Garvey’s newspaper The Watchman was published, but it only lasted for three issues.

In 1910, Garvey left Jamaica and began traveling throughout the Central American region. He lived in Costa Rica for several months, where he worked as a time-keeper on a banana plantation. He began work as editor for a daily newspaper there entitled La Nacionale in 1911. Later that year, he moved to Colón, Panama where he edited a tri-weekly paper before returning to Jamaica in 1912.

After years of working in the Caribbean, Garvey left Jamaica to live in London from 1912 to 1914. There he attended Birkbeck College, worked for the African Times and Orient Review and sometimes spoke at Hyde Park's Speakers' Corner.

Born to Lead

During his travels, Garvey became convinced that uniting Blacks was the only way to improve conditions. In that respect, he departed England on June 14, 1914, aboard the S.S. Trent, reaching Jamaica on July 15, 1914. The Universal Negro Improvement Association was founded in August of 1914 as a means of uniting all of Africa and its diaspora into "one grand racial hierarchy." Amy Ashwood, who would later be Garvey's first wife, was among the founders. As the group's first president, Garvey’s goal was "to unite all people of African ancestry of the world to one great body to establish a country and absolute government of their own."

According to Garvey, while he was traveling in the La Habra, the title of the organization was the result of a conversation he had with a West Indian and his Basuto wife. During the discussion he "further learned of the horrors of native life in Africa." Following much reflection the following day and night about what he learned, "the vision and thought came" to "name the organization the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities (Imperial) League."

After corresponding with Booker T. Washington, Garvey arrived in the U.S. on March 23, 1916, to give a lecture tour and to raise funds for the establishment of a school in Jamaica modeled after Washington's Tuskegee Institute. Garvey visited Tuskegee, and afterward, paid visits to a number of Black leaders. After moving to New York he found work as a printer by day. He was influenced by Hubert Harrison, and at night he would speak on street corners, much like he did in London's Hyde Park. It was then that Garvey perceived a leadership vacuum among people of African ancestry, and so on May 9, 1916, he held his first public lecture in New York City at St Mark's Church  and underwent a 38-state speaking tour.

Forming the UNIA

In May of 1917, Garvey and 13 others formed the first UNIA division outside Jamaica and began advancing ideas that promoted social, political and economic freedom for Blacks. On July 2, the East St. Louis riots broke out, and on July 8, Garvey delivered an address, entitled "The Conspiracy of the East St. Louis Riots," at Lafayette Hall in Harlem, N.Y. During the speech he declared the riot was "one of the bloodiest outrages against mankind." By October, rancor within the UNIA set in. A split occurred in the Harlem division with Garvey enlisted to become the head of the division, although he still technically held the same position in Jamaica.

Garvey next focused on developing a program to improve the conditions of those of African ancestry "at home and abroad" under UNIA auspices. On August 17, 1918, publication of the widely distributed Negro World newspaper began where Garvey worked as an editor up until November of 1920. By June of 1919, the membership of the organization had grown to over two million.

On June 27, 1919, the Black Star Line of Delaware was incorporated by the members of the UNIA, with Garvey as president. By September, the organization obtained its first ship. Much fanfare surrounded the inspection of the S.S. Yarmouth and its rechristening as the S.S. Frederick Douglass on September 14, 1919. Such a rapid accomplishment garnered attention from many. One person who noticed was Edwin P. Kilroe, assistant district attorney for the county of New York. Kilroe began an investigation into the activities of the UNIA without finding any evidence of wrongdoing or mismanagement. After being called to Kilroe's office numerous times without any resolution, Garvey wrote an editorial on Kilroe's activities for the Negro World. Garvey was arrested and indicted for criminal libel in relation to the article, but charges were dismissed after Garvey published a retraction.

While in his Harlem office in October of 1919, Garvey received a visit from a man by the name of George Tyler. Tyler told him that Kilroe "had sent him" to kill Garvey. Tyler then pulled a .38-calibre revolver and fired four shots, wounding Garvey in the right leg and on his scalp. Garvey was taken to the hospital and Tyler arrested. The next day Tyler apparently committed suicide by jumping from the third floor of the Harlem jail while he was being taken to his arraignment.

By August of 1920, the UNIA claimed four million members. That month the International Convention of the UNIA was held. With delegates from all over the world in attendance, over 25,000 people filled Madison Square Garden on August 1 to hear Garvey speak.

A Man of Many Movements

Another of Garvey's ventures was the Negro Factories Corporation. His plan called for creating the infrastructure to manufacture every marketable commodity in every big U.S. industrial center, as well as in Central America, the West Indies and Africa by Black labor for Blacks. Related endeavors included a grocery chain, restaurant and publishing house, among other businesses. Convinced that Blacks should have a permanent homeland in Africa, Garvey sought to develop Liberia. "Our success educationally, industrially and politically is based upon the protection of a nation founded by ourselves. And the nation can be nowhere else but in Africa."

The Liberia program, launched in 1920, was intended to build colleges, universities, industrial plants and railroads as part of an industrial base. However, the idea was abandoned in the mid-1920s after much opposition from European powers that had interests in Liberia. In response to suggestions that he wanted to take all Americans of African ancestry back to Africa, he wrote, "we do not want all the Negroes in Africa. Some are no good here, and naturally will be no good there."

Garvey has been credited with creating the biggest movement of people of African descent called the Pan-African Movement. At its zenith, the UNIA claimed over a million members. This movement that took place in the 1920s is said to have had more participation from people of African descent than the Civil Rights Movement. In essence, the UNIA was the largest organization in the Pan-African movement in history.

Mail Scandal

In a memorandum dated October 11, 1919, J. Edgar Hoover, head of the General Intelligence Division of The Bureau of Investigation  wrote a memorandum to Special Agent Ridgley regarding Garvey. In the memo, Hoover lamented the fact that, “he (Garvey) has not as yet violated any federal law whereby he could be proceeded against on the grounds of being an undesirable alien, from the point of view of deportation.”

Sometime around November of 1919, an investigation by the BOI was conducted on the activities of Garvey and the UNIA. The BOI hired James Amos, Arthur Brent, Thomas Jefferson, James Jones and Earl E. Titus as its first five Black agents. Although initial efforts by the BOI were to find grounds upon which to deport Garvey as "an undesirable alien," a charge of mail fraud was brought against Garvey in connection with stock sales of the Black Star Line after the U.S. Post Office and the attorney general joined the investigation.

The accusation centered on the fact that the corporation had not yet purchased a ship with the name "Phyllis Wheatley." Although one was pictured with that name emblazoned on its bow on one of the company's stock brochures it had not actually been purchased by the Black Star Line and was still registered with had the name Orion. The prosecution produced as evidence a single empty envelope that it claimed contained the brochure. During the trial, a man by the name of Benny Dancy testified that he didn't remember what was in the envelope, although he regularly received brochures from the Black Star Line. Another witness for the prosecution, Schuyler Cargill, perjured himself after admitting to having been told to mention certain dates in his testimony by Chief Prosecutor Maxwell S. Mattuck. Furthermore, he admitted that he could not remember the names of any coworkers in the office, including the timekeeper who punched employees time cards. Ultimately, he acknowledged being told to lie by Postal Inspector F.E. Shea. He said Shea told him to state that he mailed letters containing the purportedly fraudulent brochures. The BSL did own and operate several ships over the course of its history and was in the process of negotiating for the disputed ship at the time the charges were brought.

Of the four BSL officers charged in connection with the enterprise, only Garvey was found guilty of using the mail service to defraud. His supporters called the trial fraudulent. While there were serious accounting irregularities within the Black Star Line and the claims he used to sell Black Star Line stock could be considered misleading, the prosecution was a politically motivated miscarriage of justice.

When the trial ended on June 23, 1923, Garvey had been sentenced to five years in prison. He initially spent three months in the Tombs Jail awaiting approval of bail. While on bail he continued to maintain his innocence, travel, speak and organize the UNIA. After numerous attempts at appeal were unsuccessful, he was taken into custody and began serving his sentence at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary on February 8, 1925. Two days later, he penned his well known "First Message to the Negroes of the World From Atlanta Prison" wherein he makes his famous proclamation: “Look for me in the whirlwind or the storm, look for me all around you, for, with God's grace, I shall come and bring with me countless millions of black slaves who have died in America and the West Indies and the millions in Africa to aid you in the fight for Liberty, Freedom and Life.”

In the end, as professor Judith Stein has stated, "his politics were on trial.” Garvey's sentence was eventually commuted by U.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Since Garvey had been convicted of a felony and was not a U.S. citizen, federal law required his immediate deportation. Upon his release in November of 1927, Garvey was deported via New Orleans to Jamaica, where a large crowd met him at Orrett's Wharf in Kingston. A huge procession and band converged on UNIA headquarters.


While fellow Black leader W. E. B. Du Bois expressed that the BSL was "original and promising," he said Garvey was "a lunatic or a traitor." Garvey suspected Du Bois was prejudiced against him because he was also a Caribbean native but with darker skin. Garvey called Du Bois "purely and simply a White man's n***r" and "a little Dutch, a little French, a little Negro ... a mulatto ... a monstrosity." This led to an acrimonious relationship between Garvey and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Garvey accused Du Bois of paying conspirators to sabotage the Black Star Line to destroy his reputation. Du Bois was, nevertheless, a strong supporter of Pan-Africanism.

Garvey recognized the influence of the Ku Klux Klan, and in early 1922, he went to Atlanta for a conference with KKK imperial giant Edward Young Clarke. According to Garvey, "I regard the Klan, the Anglo-Saxon clubs and White American societies, as far as the Negro is concerned, as better friends of the race than all other groups of hypocritical whites put together. I like honesty and fair play. You may call me a Klansman if you will, but, potentially, every white man is a Klansman, as far as the Negro in competition with whites socially, economically and politically is concerned, and there is no use lying."

After Garvey's entente with the KKK, a number of Black leaders appealed to U.S. Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty to have Garvey incarcerated. Garvey travelled to Geneva in 1928 to present the Petition of the Negro Race, which outlined the worldwide abuse of Africans, to the League of Nations. In September of 1929, he founded the People's Political Party, Jamaica's first modern political party, which focused on workers' rights, education and aid to the poor.

Losing Momentum

Also in 1929, Garvey was elected councilor for the Allman Town Division of the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation. He lost his seat, however, when he had to serve a prison sentence for contempt of court. In 1930, he was re-elected, unopposed, along with two other PPP candidates.

In April of 1931, Garvey launched the Edelweiss Amusement Company, which he set up to help artists earn their livelihood from their craft. Several Jamaican entertainers, such as Kidd Harold, Ernest Cupidon, Bim & Bam and Ranny Williams, went on to become popular after receiving initial exposure that the company gave them.

In 1935, Garvey for London again, where he lived and worked until his death in 1940. During these last five years, he remained active and in-touch with events in war-torn Ethiopia and the West Indies. In 1938, he gave evidence before the West Indian Royal Commission on conditions there. Also in 1938, he set up the School of African Philosophy in Toronto to train future UNIA leaders. He continued to work on the magazine The Black Man.

In 1937, a group of his American supporters, called the Peace Movement of Ethiopia, openly collaborated with Sen. Theodore Bilbo (D-MS) in the promotion of a repatriation plan introduced in the U.S. Congress as the Greater Liberia Act.

On June 10, 1940, Garvey died after suffering from two strokes. Due to travel conditions during World War II, he was interred not in Jamaica, but at Kensal Green Cemetery in London.

In 1964, his remains were later exhumed though taken to his home country. On November 15, 1964, the government of Jamaica, having proclaimed him Jamaica's first national hero, ceremoniously re-interred him at a shrine in National Heroes Park.

Garvey and Rastafari

Rastafarians consider Garvey a religious prophet, saint and sometimes even the reincarnation of John the Baptist. This is partly because of his frequent statements uttered in speeches throughout the 1920s, usually along the lines of "Look to Africa, when a Black king shall be crowned for the day of deliverance is at hand!"

His beliefs deeply influenced the Rastafari, who took his statements as a prophecy of the crowning of Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. Early Rastas were associated with his back-to-Africa movement in Jamaica. This early Rastafari movement was also influenced by a separate, proto-Rasta movement known as the Afro-Athlican Church that was outlined in a religious text known as the Holy Piby — where Garvey was proclaimed to be a prophet as well.

Thus, the Rastafari movement can be seen as an offshoot of Garveyism philosophy. As his beliefs have greatly influenced Rastafari, he is often mentioned in reggae music. Critical of King Haile Selassie I in the wake of the invasion of Ethiopia before WWII, Garvey himself never identified with the Rastafari movement, and was, in fact, raised as a Methodist Christian who went on to become a Roman Catholic.


Awards, Honors and Accomplishments

  • Schools, colleges, highways, and buildings in Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and the U.S. have been named in his honor.

  • The UNIA’s red, black, and green flag has been adopted as the Black Liberation Flag.

  • Since 1980, Garvey's bust has been housed in the Organization of American States' Hall of Heroes in Washington, D.C.

  • Malcolm X's father Earl Little met Malcolm's mother Louise at a UNIA convention in Montreal, Canada. He was also the president of the UNIA division in Omaha, Neb., and sold the Negro World newspaper while his wife Louise was a contributor.

  • Kwame Nkrumah named the national shipping line of Ghana the Black Star Line in honor of Garvey and the UNIA. Nkrumah also named the national soccer team the Black Stars. The black star at the center of Ghana's flag is also inspired by the Black Star Line.

  • During a trip to Jamaica in June of 1965, Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta Scott King visited the shrine of Garvey and laid a wreath.

  • In a speech, King told the audience that Garvey "was the first man of color to lead and develop a mass movement. He was the first man on a mass scale and level to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny. And make the Negro feel he was somebody."

  • King was also the posthumous recipient of the first Marcus Garvey Prize for Human Rights on December 10, 1968, issued by the Jamaican Government and presented to King's widow.

  • The creation of a “United States of Africa” idea first saw light in a 1924 poem by Garvey and is still discussed as a possibility.



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Tuesday, May 13th 2008 at 5:13PM
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there are no words,that comes to mind' other then' fearless,and pass-outstanding,a man before Dr.King time...'!
Friday, August 14th 2009 at 1:51AM
many years ago i did some study on the man' which i was speechless...and still are!
Friday, August 14th 2009 at 2:03AM
my Mentor
Friday, May 14th 2010 at 11:10AM
Beka Shakur
i agree to a certain point with the late marcus garvey
Wednesday, July 28th 2010 at 1:24PM
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Wednesday, November 3rd 2010 at 5:51AM
Wednesday, November 3rd 2010 at 5:51AM
these was a great man and i am proud
Thursday, January 26th 2012 at 1:28PM
i love you man

Thursday, January 26th 2012 at 1:29PM
there is no other man that has the power to do what this man did
Monday, January 30th 2012 at 12:15PM
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