Marcus Mosiah Garvey
August 17, 1887-June 10, 1940
Founder, Universal Negro Improvement Association
Marcus Moziah Garvey was born August 17, 1887 in St. Ann=s Bay, Jamaica, to Marcus and Sarah Garvey. His father was a stonemason and the family did some subsistence farming. After leaving school at 14, he served as a printer=s apprentice in his godfather=s business. When he was 16 he moved to Kingston, where his political interests were sparked in the Jamaican anticolonial and nationalist movement. He then moved to Costa Rica in search of work, and traveled through Central America and Europe until he settled in England in 1913. There he worked for Dusé Mohammed Ali on the successful Pan-African journal Africa Times and Orient Review.
In 1914, Garvey returned to Jamaica. On July 20, he began the UNIA in Kingston. Admittedly influenced by Booker T. Washington and his autobiographical Up From Slavery, Garvey wanted to create an industrial training school, much like Tuskegee. Garvey envisioned an organization dedicated to racial upliftment, one that would Aembrace the purpose of all black humanity.@ Disappointed with his limited success, Garvey went to New York on March 23, 1916, planning to raise funds and lecture throughout the country. After delivering speeches around Canada and the United States, he came to Harlem in 1917, where he became known for his street speeches. The UNIA was incorporated in July 1918 and based its new headquarters, Liberty Hall, in Harlem.
The massive migration of black southerners to northern cities, triggered by the industrial demands of World War I, energized black urban life and stimulated racial consciousness, providing a vital outlet for the growth of Garvey=s organization. At the same time, black participation in World War I, the war Ato make the world safe for democracy@ enticed black political aspirations. Wartime hopes, however, were quickly eclipsed by the racial violence and lynchings that followed in the summer of 1919, underscoring the incongruity of America=s democratic ideals and the determination of whites to maintain white supremacy.
Garvey=s ideas particularly resonated with African-Americans during the postwar period. At the core of Garvey=s program was an emphasis on black economic self-reliance, black people=s rights to political self-determination, and the founding of a black nation on the continent of Africa. Garvey=s charismatic style, and the magnificent UNIA parades of uniformed corps of UNIA Black Cross nurses, legions, and other divisions, celebrated blackness and racial pride. Garvey urged black people to take control of their destiny: AThere shall be no solution to this race problem until you yourselves strike the blow for liberty.@
The UNIA movement won broad support in New York=s black community, and Garvey quickly gained national and international prominence. Within a year, UNIA chapters were created throughout the United States, and in Central and South America, the West Indies, West Africa, England, and Canada. The UNIA created the Negro Factories Corporation in 1918, which supported the development of black-owned businesses, including a black doll factory, which employed more than a thousand African Americans. The UNIA also began publishing the Negro World Weekly, which became the most widely distributed African diasporic publication.
Perhaps the largest endeavor of the UNIA was the Black Star Line, a steamship enterprise intended to provide a means for African-Americans to return to Africa while also enabling black people around the Atlantic to exchange goods and services. The company=s three ships (one called the SS Frederick Douglass) were owned and operated by black people and made travel and trade possible between their United States, Caribbean, Central American, and African stops. The economically independent Black Star Line was a symbol of pride for blacks and seemed to attract more members to the UNIA.
In August 1920, 25,000 people attended the first UNIA convention in New York=s Madison Square Garden. There, Garvey was elected president-general of the organization, and the Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World was written. Members of the convention outlined the formal organization and leadership, calling for a commissioner of each chapter area. The document demanded that black schoolchildren should be taught African history. The convention produced an anthemCthe Universal Ethiopian AnthemCand red, black, and green became the colors of African peoples. Around this time, a UNIA leader was sent to Liberia to develop further Garvey=s idea for a colony there.
As a result of large financial obligations and managerial errors, the Black Star Line failed in 1921 and ended operations. Constant criticism from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) (most visibly from member W. E. B. DuBois) and U.S. government opposition took its toll on the UNIA. Early in 1922, Garvey was indicted on mail fraud charges regarding the Black Star Line=s stock sale. He was convicted and given a maximum prison sentence of five years by Judge Julian Mack, also an NAACP member. In 1925, Garvey lost his appeal and entered the Atlanta federal penitentiary.
Garvey=s second wife, Amy Jacques Garvey, led a national campaign for Garvey=s release. During this time, she also edited and published two volumes of his speeches and writings titled Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey (1923 and 1925). The petition drive succeeded in winning Garvey=s release in 1927. He was immediately deported to Jamaica and barred from entering the United States again. In Jamaica, Garvey held two more UNIA conventions. He also started two publications: Black Man, a monthly magazine, and the New Jamaican. But controlling and leading the different international branches from Jamaica proved difficult. A core group in the United States, continued to support Garvey; they published the Negro World into the 1930s. Garvey, however, turned to Jamaican politics. He lost a race for a colonial legislative council seat in 1930. He did, however, sit on the municipal council of Jamaica=s capital.
Garvey moved to London in 1935. For the next few years, he held annual conventions in Canada and continued to publish Black Man.
After suffering a second stroke on June 10, 1940, Garvey died, having fathered two sons with Amy Jacques Garvey, Marcus Jr., and Julius. Since his death, his leadership and significance continued to be influential and was recognized around the world. In the United States, Garveyism was central to the development of black consciousness and pride at the core of the 20th-century freedom movement. The Jamaican Rastafarian movement and the United States Nation of Islam both grew out of and have been influenced by the UNIA. Jamaica named Garvey its first national hero.
Marcus Garvey was only 53 years old when he died. At its peak, the UNIA had a membership of upwards of 4 million people.