Garvey, Marcus Moziah

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Garvey, Marcus Moziah

Marcus Garvey was a charismatic leader who preached black pride and economic self-sufficiency. He is internationally recognized as the organizer of the first significant movement of black nationalism in the United States.

Marcus Moziah Garvey was born on August 17, 1887, in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica, to Marcus Moziah Garvey, a stonemason, and Sarah Jane Richards, a domestic and farmer. He and his sister Indiana were the only two of the eleven Garvey offspring to reach adulthood. As a child, he used his father's extensive library to educate himself. When Garvey was 14, he went to work as a printer's apprentice. In 1908, he participated in the country's first Printers Union strike; when the strike failed, the union disbanded. Because he had been one of the strike leaders, Garvey found himself blacklisted. He began working at the Government Printing Office and briefly published his own small journal, Garvey's Watchman. Garvey then traveled through Central America and lived in London from 1912 to 1914, where he attended Birkbeck College. During this period he was exposed to the problems engendered by racial discrimination and first began to think about ways to help black persons become economically self-sufficient.

Garvey returned to Jamaica in 1914 and established the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). He cofounded the UNIA with Amy Ashwood, who was the association's first secretary, and who would later become Garvey's first wife. At the time, most of Africa's countries were colonies under the domination of European nations. The purpose of the UNIA, whose motto was "One God, One Aim, One Destiny," was to promote black nationalism throughout the world by establishing an African country where blacks would run their own government.

In 1916, Garvey moved to the United States and toured the country, espousing the Back-to-Africa movement. In 1917, he started a chapter of UNIA in New York City, setting up headquarters in Harlem. To build economic self-reliance, the UNIA started several businesses including the Negro Factories Corporation (NFC) and a steamship company called the Black Star Line. Garvey also began publishing the Negro World, in 1918, a journal that advocated his ideas for African nationalism and served as the voice of the UNIA.

Around this same time, the UNIA achieved one of its most ambitious goals—it reached an agreement with the African nation of Liberia to make land available for black people who would come to that country from the United States and the Caribbean, as well as from countries in Central and South America. In Garvey's view, Liberia would be a beacon of hope drawing new groups of settlers who would create their own culture and civilization.

In 1920, the UNIA held its first international convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City, during which Garvey laid out his plans for an African nation-state. The association adopted a constitution, a Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World, as well as a national flag. The UNIA also elected officials for its provisional government, with Garvey serving as Provisional President of Africa.

By the early 1920s, the UNIA developed an ardent following, with 700 branches in 38 states and more than 2 million members. The association drew adherents not only from the United States, but also from Canada, Caribbean countries, and throughout the African continent. A consummate showman, Garvey loved to put on parades and street celebrations in Harlem where he and other members of the UNIA "nobility" appeared in elaborate military uniforms, along with banners and vividly decorated automobiles. From the outset, however, Garvey ran into opposition from both whites who were frightened at the idea of black solidarity and blacks who viewed Integration into the American mainstream as the key to progress.

"Day by day we hear the cry of AFRICA FOR THE AFRICANS. This cry has become a positive, determined one. It is a cry that is raised simultaneously the world over because of the universal oppression that affects the Negro."
—Marcus Garvey

Before the UNIA could move forward with its resettlement plans, problems began to mount. The Liberian government withdrew its approval for repatriating the new settlers. In 1922, Garvey was convicted for Mail Fraud concerning the Black Star Line and, in 1925, he was jailed in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1927, President Calvin Coolidge commuted Garvey's five-year sentence. Garvey was labeled an undesirable alien and deported to Jamaica.

In 1929, Garvey toured Canada and Europe giving lectures. In 1930, he ran in the general election for a seat in Jamaica's legislature, but was defeated. Further attempts to launch a newspaper and a magazine met with failure as did his creation of an organization that was supposed to provide job opportunities for the poverty-stricken rural inhabitants of Jamaica.

In 1935, Garvey moved to England. He continued to hold UNIA conventions and to make speeches to dwindling numbers of people. Garvey died in London on June 10, 1940. Although Garvey was mostly ignored toward the end of his life, his dedication to black pride and self-sufficiency made him a national hero in Jamaica. Garvey and his movement were celebrated in the music of such reggae stars as Bob Marley and Burning Spear. Adherents of the Black Power Movement of the 1960s acknowledged their debt to Garvey's nationalist crusade as did blacks fighting for independence from colonial rule in Africa. As of 2002, the UNIA still functioned with Garvey's son, Marcus Garvey Jr., as president.

Further readings

Cronon, Edmund, and John Hope Franklin. 1969. Black Moses: The Story of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association. 2d ed. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press.

Jacques-Garvey, Amy, ed. 1992. Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey. New York: Atheneum.

Marcus Garvey Library. Available online at <> (accessed July 3, 2003).