Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr., ONH (17 August 1887 – 10 June 1940), was a Jamaican political leader, publisher,journalist, entrepreneur, and orator who was a staunch proponent of the Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism movements, to which end he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League(UNIA-ACL).He founded the Black Star Line, which promoted the return of the African diaspora to their ancestral lands.
Prior to the 20th century, leaders such as Prince Hall, Martin Delany, 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 and economic empowerment focusing on Africa 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 (some sects of which proclaim Garvey as a prophet). Others influenced by Garvey, included Asegyfo Kwame Nkrumah, the first leader of post colonial, Afrikan independence, Egypt’s first post colonial leader Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein and the architect of Vietnam independence Ho Chi Minh, who all were influenced by Marcus Garvey’s vision of independent self ruler from under white supremacy!
Garveyism intended persons of African ancestry in the diaspora to “redeem” the nations of Africa and for the European colonial powers to leave 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… to let us hold together under all climes and in every country.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr. was born as the youngest of eleven children in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, to Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Sr., a mason, and Sarah Jane Richards, a domestic worker. Only his sister Indiana along with Marcus survived to adulthood. His family was financially stable given the circumstances of this time period. Garvey’s father had a large library, and it was from his father that Marcus gained his love for reading. He also attended elementary schools in St. Ann’s Bay during his youth. While attending these schools, Garvey first began to experience racism: for example, his white neighbors, childhood friends with whom he played with constantly, began to shun him upon reaching their teenage years. Sometime in 1900, Garvey entered into an apprenticeship with his uncle, Alfred Burrowes, who also had an extensive library, of which Garvey made good use.
In 1910 Garvey left Jamaica and began traveling throughout the Central American region. His first stop was Costa Rica, where he had a maternal uncle. He lived in Costa Rica for several months and worked as a time keeper on a banana plantation. He began work as editor for a daily newspaper called La Nacionale in 1911. Later that year, he moved to Colón, Panama, where he edited a biweekly newspaper, before returning to Jamaica in 1912.
After years of working in the Caribbean, Garvey left Jamaica to live in London from 1912 to 1914, where he attended Birkbeck College, taking classes in law and philosophy. He also worked for the African Times and Orient Review, published by Dusé Mohamed Ali, who was a considerable influence on the young man. Garvey sometimes spoke at Hyde Park’s Speakers’ Corner. Garvey’s philosophy was also influenced by African-American leaders such as Booker T. Washington, Martin Delany, and Henry McNeal Turner.Garvey is said to have been influenced by the ideas of Dusé Mohamed Ali in his speeches, and his later organizing of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Jamaica in 1914 (Vincent, 1971).
Organization of UNIA
In 1914, Garvey returned to Jamaica, where he organized the UNIA. In an article titled “The Negro’s Greatest Enemy”, published in Current History (September 1923), Garvey explained the origin of the organization’s name:
Where did the name of the organization come from? It was while speaking to a West Indian Negro who was a passenger with me from Southampton, who was returning home to the East Indies from Basutoland with his Basuto wife, I further learned of the horrors of native life in Africa. He related to me in conversation such horrible and pitiable tales that my heart bled within me. Retiring from the conversation to my cabin, all day and the following night I pondered over the subject matter of that conversation, and at midnight, lying flat on my back, the vision and thought came to me that I should name the organization the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities (Imperial) League. Such a name I thought would embrace the purpose of all black humanity. Thus to the world a name was born, a movement created, and a man became known.
The UNIA held an international convention in 1921 at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Also represented at the convention were organizations such as the Universal Black Cross Nurses, the Black Eagle Flying Corps, and the Universal African Legion. Garvey attracted more than 50,000 people to the event and in his cause. The UNIA had 65,000 to 75,000 members paying dues to his support and funding. The national level of support in Jamaica helped Garvey to become one of the most influential leaders of the 20th century on the island.
After corresponding with Booker T. Washington, head of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and a national African-American leader in the United States, Garvey traveled by ship to the U.S., arriving on 23 March 1916 aboard the SS Tallac. He intended to make a lecture tour and to raise funds to establish a school in Jamaica modeled after Washington’s Institute. Garvey visited Tuskegee, and afterward, visited with a number of black leaders.
After moving to New York, he found work as a printer by day. He was influenced by Hubert Harrison. At night he would speak on street corners, much as he did in London’s Hyde Park. Garvey thought there was a leadership vacuum among African Americans. On 9 May 1916, he held his first public lecture in New York City at St Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery and undertook a 38-state speaking tour.
The next year in May 1917, Garvey and thirteen others formed the first UNIA division outside Jamaica. They began advancing ideas to promote social, political, and economic freedom for black people. On 2 July, the East St. Louis riots broke out. On 8 July, Garvey delivered an address, entitled “The Conspiracy of the East St. Louis Riots”, at Lafayette Hall in Harlem. During the speech, he declared the riot was “one of the bloodiest outrages against mankind”, condemning America’s claims to represent democracy when black people were victimized “for no other reason than they are black people seeking an industrial chance in a country that they have laboured for three hundred years to make great”. It is “a time to lift one’s voice against the savagery of a people who claim to be the dispensers of democracy”.By October, rancor within the UNIA had begun to set in. A split occurred in the Harlem division, with Garvey enlisted to become its leader; although he technically held the same position in Jamaica.
Garvey worked to develop a program to improve the conditions of ethnic Africans “at home and abroad” under UNIA auspices. On 17 August 1918, he began publishing the Negro World newspaper in New York, which was widely distributed. Garvey worked as an editor without pay until November 1920. He used Negro World as a platform for his views to encourage growth of the UNIA. By June 1919, the membership of the organization had grown to over two million, according to its records.
On 27 June 1919, the UNIA set up its first business, incorporating the Black Star Line of Delaware, with Garvey as President. By September, it acquired its first ship. Much fanfare surrounded the inspection of the S.S. Yarmouth and its rechristening as the S.S. Frederick Douglass on 14 September 1919. Such a rapid accomplishment garnered attention from many. During the first year, the Black Star Line’s stock sales brought in $600,000. This caused it to be successful during that year. It had numerous problems during the next two years: mechanical breakdowns on its ships, what it said were incompetent workers, and poor record keeping. The officers were eventually accused of mail fraud.
Edwin P. Kilroe, Assistant District Attorney in the District Attorney’s office of the County of New York, began an investigation into the activities of the UNIA. He never filed charges against Garvey or other officers. After being called to Kilroe’s office numerous times for questioning, Garvey wrote an editorial on the assistant DA’s activities for the Negro World. Kilroe had Garvey arrested and indicted for criminal libel but dismissed the charges after Garvey published a retraction.
On 14 October 1919, Garvey received a visit in his Harlem office from George Tyler, who claimed Kilroe “had sent him” to get the leader.Tyler pulled a .38-caliber revolver and fired four shots, wounding Garvey in the right leg and scalp. Garvey’s secretary Amy quickly arranged to get Garvey taken to the hospital for treatment, and Tyler was arrested. The next day, Tyler committed “suicide” by leaping from the third tier of the Harlem jail as he was being taken to his arraignment.
By August 1920, the UNIA claimed four million members. That month, the International Convention of the UNIA was held. With delegates from all over the world attending, 25,000 people filled Madison Square Garden on 1 August 1920 to hear Garvey speak.Over the next couple of years, Garvey’s movement was able to attract an enormous number of followers. Reasons for this included the cultural revolution of the Harlem Renaissance, the large number of West Indians who immigrated to New York, and the appeal of the slogan “One Aim, One God, One Destiny,” to black veterans of the first World War.
Garvey also established the business, the Negro Factories Corporation. He planned to develop the businesses to manufacture every marketable commodity in every big U.S. industrial center, as well as in Central America, the West Indies, and Africa. Related endeavors included a grocery chain, restaurant, publishing house, and other businesses. Convinced that black people should have a permanent homeland in Africa, Garvey sought to develop Liberia. It had been founded by the American Colonization Society in the 19th century as a colony for free blacks from the United States. Garvey launched the Liberia program in 1920, intended to build colleges, industrial plants, and railroads as part of an industrial base from which to operate. He abandoned the program in the mid-1920s after much opposition from European powers with interests in Liberia. In response to American suggestions that he wanted to take all ethnic Africans of the Diaspora 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.”
Marriage and family
At the age of 32 in 1919, Garvey married his first wife, Amy Ashwood Garvey. Amy Ashwood Garvey was also a founder of The UNIA-ACL. She had saved Garvey in the Tyler assassination by quickly getting medical help. After four months of marriage, Garvey separated from her. In 1922, he married again, to Amy Jacques Garvey, who was working as his secretary general. They had two sons together: Marcus Mosiah Garvey, III (born 17 September 1930) and Julius Winston (born 1933). Amy Jacques Garvey played an important role in his career, and would become a lead worker in Garvey’s movement.
Conflicts with Du Bois and others
On 4 October 1916, the Daily Gleaner newspaper in Kingston published a letter written by Raphael Morgan, a Jamaican-American priest of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, together with over a dozen other like-minded Jamaican Americans, who wrote in to protest against Garvey’s lectures. Garvey’s views on Jamaica, they felt, were damaging to both the reputation of their homeland and its people, enumerating several objections to Garvey’s stated preference for the prejudice of the American whites over that of English whites. Garvey’s response was published a month later, in which he called the letter a conspiratorial fabrication meant to undermine the success and favour he had gained while in Jamaica and in the United States.
While W. E. B. Du Bois felt that the Black Star Line was “original and promising”, he added that “Marcus Garvey is, without doubt, the most dangerous enemy of the Negro race in America and in the world. He is either a lunatic or a traitor.” Du Bois feared that Garvey’s activities would undermine his own efforts toward black rights.
Garvey suspected that Du Bois was prejudiced against him because he was a Caribbean native with darker skin. Du Bois once described Garvey as “a little, fat black man; ugly, but with intelligent eyes and a big head”. Garvey called Du Bois “purely and simply a white man’s nigger” and “a little Dutch, a little French, a little Negro … a mulatto … a monstrosity”. This led to an acrimonious relationship between Garvey and the NAACP. Garvey accused Du Bois of paying conspirators to sabotage the Black Star Line in order to destroy his reputation.
Garvey recognized the influence of the Ku Klux Klan, and in early 1922, he went to Atlanta, Georgia, 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.” Leo H. Healy publicly accused Garvey of being a member of the Ku Klux Klan in his testimony during the mail fraud trial.
After Garvey’s entente with the Klan, a number of African-American leaders appealed to U.S. Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty to have Garvey incarcerated. It is interesting to note that (a) members of the UNIA had long ongoing and actual gun battles with members of the Klu Klux Klan, during Marcus Garvy’s time in amurdikkka. And (b) the only evidence of mail fraud that was presented in court, was an empty envelope, with no letter inside it (which is what empty means).
Died: June 10, 1940, London, United Kingdom
Education: Birkbeck, University of London