Marcus Mosiah Garvey (August 17, 1887 - June 10, 1940) was a publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, and international crusader for black nationalism. Garvey led the largest organized mass movement of people of African ancestry ever. Garvey has come to be best remembered as a champion of the (so-called) "back-to-Africa" movement. In reality he built what was actually a movement seeking to inspire all people of African ancestry to "redeem" Africa, and for the European colonial powers to leave Africa. In his own words, "I have no desire to take all black people back to Africa, there are blacks who are no good here and will likewise be no good there".
He was elected Provisional President of Africa during a convention of the organization he founded, the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. The convention of 1920 was a watershed event for both Garvey and the UNIA-ACL. Garvey was unanimously elected by the conventioneers as "Provisional President of Africa" on August 18th. It was primarily a ceremonial position. It was so mainly because of the fact that his could only be a "government-in-exile" for several reasons. One reason was that the colonial powers of Africa didn't recognise him as the Provi. A second reason was, although a citizen of Jamaica, which was a British colony at the time, he was not granted a visa to go to any part of Africa, not even the other British colonies. Three, even after embarking upon the Liberia Program, the colonial governments saw his presence in Liberia as a threat to colonial rule. The France, Britain, and the other participants of the Berlin Conference pressured Liberia to sever all ties to the efforts of Garvey in that country.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born in St. Ann's Bay, the capital of St. Ann, Jamaica. He was the youngest of his father's 11 children, nine of whom died in childhood. Garvey attended infant and elementary schools in St. Ann's Bay and was a bright student. He also received private tuition from his godfather Mr. Alfred Burrowes, who ran a printery. At 14, Garvey was apprenticed to Mr. Burrowes to learn the printing trade.
Young Garvey inherited a love of books from his father, a skilled mason, who was widely read and had a private library. This love was further encouraged during his apprenticeship as Mr. Burrowes also had an extensive book collection of which Marcus, by now an avid reader, made full use. He also came into contact with the many persons who stopped at the printery to discuss politics and social affairs with Mr. Burrowes. Thus began his lifelong interest in politics and social affairs.
Although born in Jamaica, he lived for years in New York City, the Caribbean and London. Around 1906 Garvey left St. Ann's Bay for Kingston in search of brighter prospects. He worked at first with a maternal uncle, then moved on to P.A. Benjamin Limited where he worked as a compositor in the printing section. By the age of 20, in 1907, he had become a master printer and foreman at this company. His first experience in labour organization came with a strike in late 1908 when printers, represented by the Typographical Union, went on strike for better wages. Garvey joined the strike in spite of his being offered increased wages. The strike was unsuccessful and Garvey lost his job. As he was blacklisted he was unable to find a job in a private printery but found employment at the Government Printing Office.
Garvey left Jamaica to work in Costa Rica as a time-keeper on a banana plantation, in about 1910. As he observed the conditions under which his fellow blacks worked, Garvey became determined to change the lives of his people. He left Costa Rica and travelled throughout Central America, working and observing the working conditions of blacks throughout the region.
He visited the Panama Canal Zone and saw the conditions under which the West Indians lived and worked. He went to Ecuador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Colombia and Venezuela. Everywhere, blacks were experiencing great hardships.
Garvey returned to Jamaica, distressed at the situation in Central America, and appealed to Jamaica's colonial government to help improve the plight of West Indian workers in Central America. His appeal fell on deaf ears.
In 1912, Garvey went to London, again working and observing the conditions of blacks in other parts of the British Empire. There, he learnt a lot about African culture and also became interested in the conditions of blacks in the United States.
Garvey's journalistic experience began with a newspaper called The Watchman which he started in 1910 while still employed at P.A. Benjamin Limited. This newspaper was short-lived and was succeeded by others, also of short life spans, which Garvey published during his early Central American travels:
La Nación, Costa Rica;
La Prensa, Colón, Panama; and
The Bluefields Messenger, Costa Rica.
The most successful and important paper was the weekly Negro World, which ran from 1918 to 1933, in Harlem. The paper promoted Garvey's nationalist ideals and was an avenue of expression for blacks during the years of the Harlem Renaissance. French and Spanish language sections were included in the paper which in August 1920, claimed a circulation of 50,000. It may have been the world's most widely distributed newspaper of its time as copies were known to have reached black people across every continent.
Garvey was also associated with other publications: The Daily Negro Times, Harlem, 1922-1924; The Blackman, Kingston, Jamaica, 1929-1931; The New Jamaican, Kingston, 1932-33; The Black Man Magazine, which was started in Kingston in 1933 and continued in England until 1939.
Garvey returned to Jamaica in 1914, stirred and ready for action. Convinced that Unity was the only way to improvement for blacks, Garvey launched, on August 1, 1914, the Universal Negro Improvement and Conservation Association and African Communities League. He was President of the association . With the motto "One God! One Aim! One Destiny!", the association sought to unite "all the people of African ancestry of the world into one great body to establish a country and Government absolutely their own."
Among the objectives of the association, which became known as the UNIA, were:
to promote the spirit of race, pride and love;
to administer to and assist the needy;
to reclaim the fallen of the race;
to establish universities, colleges and secondary schools for the further
education and culture of the boys and girls of the race;
to conduct a worldwide commercial and industrial intercourse.
The first headquarters of the association was located at 30 Charles Street in Kingston. Later, the association operated from the St. Mark's School, West Street until premises at 76 King Street were brought to house Kingston's Liberty Hall. UNIA offices worldwide were known as Liberty Hall.
After corresponding with Booker T. Washington during 1915, Garvey left for the United States in 1916. Unfortunately when he eventually reached the U.S., Washington had passed on. Nevertheless, Garvey went on to undertake a lecture tour of that country. However, as it turned out he resided there until 1927 when he was deported. During this period, he worked assiduously to build and consolidate the UNIA into a truly international organization.
His efforts were successful, and by 1920, the association boasted over 1,100 branches in more than 40 countries. Most of these branches were located in the United States, which had become the UNIA's base of operations. There were, however, offices in several Caribbean countries, Cuba having the most. Branches also existed in places such as Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Venezuela, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Namibia and Azania/South Africa.
UNIA Auxiliary Groups
To further unite people of African ancestry and prepare them for self-reliance and mass action if necessary, auxiliary groups were formed within the UNIA. The African Legion, the Black Cross Nurses, The Universal Motor Corps, all uniformed groups, helped to foster dignity and self-worth in adults. A juvenile auxiliary served the same purpose for black youth.
The black nationalist ideals of the UNIA were executed through the organization's economic programme. Real political freedom, Garvey felt, would be facilitated by an independent economic base. thus, the independence suggested by race first, self-reliance and nationhood, would first have to be an economic independence. By linking the millions of blacks in Africa, the Americas and elsewhere into one vast network of production, trade and political co-operation and eventual independence for the black race.
In an attempt to achieve this goal, the Black Star Line Steamship Corporation was launched in 1919. Between 1919 and 1925, the Black Star Line and its successor company the Black Cross Navigation and Trading Company, operated four ships which carried passengers and cargo between the USA and Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Costa Rica and Panama. This was the most ambitious venture undertaken by the UNIA.
Another venture of the UNIA -- also started in 1919 -- was the Negro Factories Corporation, which sought to, "build and operate factories in the big industrial centres of the United States, Central America, the West Indies and Africa to manufacture every marketable commodity."
A chain of grocery stores, a restaurant, a steam laundry, a tailor and dressmaking shop, a millinery store and a publishing house, were started. The UNIA identified good business opportunities and tried to interest blacks in developing them, providing executive and technical expertise where necessary.
The first convention of the UNIA, held in Harlem in 1920, significantly altered the course of the association. A programme based on The Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World was adopted, marking the evolution of the movement into a black nationalist one, seeking to uplift the black race, encouraging self-reliance and nationhood and emphasizing that blacks should put themselves first as other races do. The declaration detailed the injustices meted out to blacks, especially in the United States, and condemned discrimination and the deprivation of the rights which were due to all people. These rights were set out in a series of 54 Articles.
The document protested against the practice in the education system whereby black children were taught white superiority and demanded that the word "Negro" be spelled with a capital "N" in keeping with the dignity and self-respect of the race. This particular campaign achieved success over the next 10 years.
The official colours of the movement, red, black, and green were also endorsed.
Convinced that blacks should have a permanent homeland in Africa, Garvey's movement sought to accomplish this by colonizing and assisting with the development of Liberia. In Garvey's words, "our success educationally, industrially and politically is based upon the protection of a nation founded by ourselves. And the nation can be nowwhere else but in Africa".
The Liberia programme, launched in 1920, was intended to build colleges, universities, industrial plants and railroad tracks as part of an industrial base from which to operate, but the project was abandoned in the mid 1920's after much opposition from European powers with interests in Liberia.
After much effort by the then Bureau of Investigation (later the FBI), Garvey was falsely charged with mail fraud in connection with the affairs of the Black Star Line Steamship Corporation, in the United States. In what can only be characterized as a travesty of justice, Garvey was tried, sentenced and imprisoned in the Atlanta Federal Prison in 1925. To this day, efforts to exonerate]] him from the charges continue. Presently the effort is focused upon whether or not a person who is deceased can be exonerated. Previous exoneration efforts have established that there is no question that he was not and could not have been guilty of the charges. The trumped up charges that lead to Garvey's imprisonment are frequently cited as the beginnings of what would become the infamous Cointelpro program. On his release in November 1927, Garvey was deported to his homeland where a large crowd met him at Orrett's wharf in Kingston. A huge procession and band marched to the UNIA headquarters at Liberty Hall, where Garvey impressed the crowd with his usual impassioned oratory.
He then worked to rebuild the membership of the UNIA in Jamaica and visited branches in the other West Indian territories and in Central America. Going on to London, he established a European headquarters and soon after opened a Paris branch.
He travelled to Geneva in 1928 where he presented the Petition of the Negro Race, on behalf of the blacks around the world, to the League of Nations. The petition outlines the abuse of blacks around the world and sought redress through this Organization. One important aspect of the petition was its expose' of the barbarities of the South African regime and its unfitness to administer Namibia.
In September 1929, Garvey founded the People's Political Party (PPP), Jamaica's first modern political party. A 14 point manifesto -- the first of its kind in the island's electoral history -- was put forward by Garvey. The points contained in the PPP's manifesto were far-reaching and perceptive as illustrated by a few of them, such as:
an eight-hour work day;
a minimum wage;
a larger share of self-government;
protection for native industries;
a legal aid department for the poor;
technical schools for each parish;
libraries and civic improvement for parish capitals;
city status for Montego Bay and Port Antonio;
a National Park at the Kingston Race Course;
Some of Garvey's visions as expressed in his manifesto have been fulfilled. Others are yet to be realized.
Garvey was elected Councillor for the Allman Town division of the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC) in 1929. He lost his seat, however, because of his absence from council meetings while serving a prison sentence for contempt of court. In 1930 he was re-elected , unopposed, along with two other PPP candidates and he agitated for the adoption of some of the points outlined in the PPP's manifesto.
In April 1931, Garvey launched the Edelweiss Amusement Company at 67 Slipe Road. This was an important cultural project as through it Garvey sanctioned the necessity for artists to make a living from their work. In addition to this, much of the entertainment was based on traditional church, school, and folk entertainment.
A varied cultural programme was pursued at Edelweiss Park. Dramatic productions, elocution contests, vaudeville shows, dance contests, musical presentations, and boxing were all part of the fare at Edelweiss Park. Garveyites also composed poems in dialect and Standard English for recitation at Edelweiss Park. On Sundays, Garvey conducted a non-denominational, religious service.
Garvey himself wrote plays and poems for presentation at Edelweiss Park. Among his plays were, Slavery -- from Hut to Mansion; Coronation of an African King and Roaming Jamaicans.
Several Jamaican entertainers who went on to become popular locally, received their initial exposure there. These included Kidd Harold, Ernest Cupidon, Bim & Bam and Ranny Williams.
Garvey left Jamaica for London in 1935. He lived and worked there until his death in 1940.
During these last five years in London, Garvey remained active, keeping in touch with events in Ethiopia (then Abyssinia) where war was being waged, and also with events in the West Indies. In 1938, he gave evidence before the West Indian Royal Commission on conditions in the West Indies.
In that year also, he set up a School of African Philosophy to train the leadership of the UNIA. He also continued to work on the magazine The Black Man.
However, Garvey's health was failing. He suffered two strokes and in June 1940, he died. His body was embalmed and interred in the Kendal Green Cemetery, London. In November 1964, his remains were returned to Jamaica and reinterred in the National Heroes Park, Garvey having been proclaimed Jamaica's first National Hero.
Worldwide, Garvey's memory has been kept alive in many ways, including schools and colleges, highways and buildings in Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and the United States have been named for Garvey; the UNIA's red, black and green flag has been adopted as the Black Liberation Flag; a bust of Garvey was unveiled at the Organization of American States' Hall of Heroes, located in Washington, DC in 1980.
In Jamaica there are:
a statue of Garvey has been erected on the grounds of the St. Ann's Bay Parish Library;
a Secondary School in St. Ann has been named for him;
a major highway in Kingston bears his name;
a bust of Garvey was unveiled at Apex Park, Kingston in 1978;
his likeness appears on the Jamaican 50 cent coin and 20 dollar coin;
the building housing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (New Kingston) bears his name.
Marcus Garvey was an international crusader for black nationalism. He awakened the consciousness of black people, advocating pride and dignity among blacks around the world. In a fitting tribute to him, someone said, "Marcus Garvey was the Negro's best hope of finding dignity."