Marcus Mosiah Garvey Trial: 1923

views updated May 23 2018

Marcus Mosiah Garvey Trial: 1923

Defendants: Elie Garcia, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Orlando Thompson, and George Tobias
Crime Charged: Using the U.S. mail to defraud
Chief Defense Lawyers: Armin Kohn, William C. Mathews, Cornelius W. McDougald, and Vernal Williams (Garvey also represented himself)
Chief Prosecutor: Maxwell S. Mattuck
Judge: Julian W. Mack
Place: New York, New York
Dates of Trial: May 18-June 19, 1923
Verdicts: Guilty (Garvey); not guilty (Garcia, Thompson, Tobias)
Sentence: 5 years' imprisonment and $1,000 fine

SIGNIFICANCE: The trial of Marcus Garvey for defrauding his followers destroyed the "Back to Africa" movement. Garvey's conviction resulted more from his unpopular concepts than from the evidence, which was slight.

Marcus Mosiah Garvey, born in Jamaica in 1887, emerged as the leader of black Americans at the end of World War I. He organized the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), a mass movement of people of African descent larger than any seen before or since. By 1922, its several million members in the United States, the West Indies, Latin America, and Africa were considered a significant threat by the European powers that controlled Africa. Garvey not only pioneered the idea that "Black is beautiful!" He set Africa's liberation from white domination as his goal.

To implement his plan to redeem Africa, Garvey established his own newspaper, The Negro World. Preaching the absolute separation of blacks from all forms of white domination, his eloquent speeches and articles promised hope and prosperity to black people. When he proposed a practical stepthat the Black Star Steamship Line move passengers and cargo to and from African wharvesstock in the corporation was sold only to blacks. As money poured into UNIA divisions nationwide, the line bought several old freighters, none of which was entirely seaworthy (at least one sank), and paid for costly repairs.

Super Salesman in Fancy Dress

Next, Garvey organized the Negro Factories Corporation, to "build and operate factories in the big industrial cities of the United States, Central America, the West Indies, and Africa to manufacture every marketable commodity."

While Garvey succeeded as a super salesman and no one questioned his honesty and dedication, his shortcomings included a penchant for fancy dress uniforms, an ego that required he be surrounded by yes-men, and an abysmal lack of business skillsall of which made him vulnerable to enemies. By 1921, while the Black Star Line was supposedly negotiating to buy two more ships, the editor of an opposing paper revealed that the Department of Commerce said its Navigation Bureau had no record of either vessel.

Stockholders complained. Postal authorities arrested Garvey and the Black Star Line's treasurer, George Tobias, its secretary, Elie Garcia, and its vice president, Orlando M. Thompson, on charges of using the mails to defraud by selling passages on a nonexistent boat. Headlines screamed, "U.S. AGENTS SEARCH FOR 'MYTH' SHIP" and "GARVEY BUNK EXPOSED."

As the trial opened on May 18, 1923, prosecutor Maxwell S. Mattuck charged:

While there center around Garvey other associations or corporations having for their object the uplift and advancement of the Negro race, the entire scheme of uplift was used to persuade Negroes for the most part to buy shares of stock in the Black Star Line when the defendants well knew that said shares were not and in all human probability never could be worth $5 each or any other sum of money.

Within two days, Garvey's lawyer, UNIA Counsel General William C. Matthews, advised the defendant to plead guilty on a technical charge and make a deal in closed chambers. Garvey fired Matthews and defended himself, making countless errors in procedure and frequently, as Judge Julian W. Mack condescendingly corrected him, producing gales of courtroom laughter.

"A Loss in Money but a Gain in Soul"

Prosecution witnesses, all ex-Garveyites, testified to the defendants' wide variety of haphazard financial practices. Defense witnesses were bent on proving the value of the movement. "The Black Star Line was a loss in money but it was a gain in soul," one declared. The key prosecution witness, Benny Dancy, said he had bought 53 shares of Black Star stock, but the only evidence of mail fraud he could produce was an empty envelope from the line; he could not remember what came in the envelope.

Legal experts noted that Dancy had not been named in the indictments of the defendants as one of the persons they intended to defraud. No evidence showed when Dancy bought the stock. He did not testify that he actually received the envelope, but only that he recognized it. The envelope was offered in evidence with no other supportive testimony.

Garvey's cross-examination of some witnesses showed that the prosecution had rigged their testimony. One, who testified to working for Black Star as a mail clerk and delivering mail to the College Station post office in 1919, admitted he had not worked for the line then and didn't know where the post office was. Indeed, he conceded that the prosecutor had schooled him on dates and a postal inspector had told him the name of the post office.

Garvey was found guilty. Garcia, Thompson, and Tobias were found not guilty, on the jury's conclusion that they had merely complied with instructions from the head man. Sentenced to five years' imprisonment and a $1,000 fine, Garvey appealed. While the execution of his sentence was stayed, he organized a new shipping line.

His appeal rejected by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Garvey was immediately imprisoned in Atlanta, Georgia. President Calvin Coolidge rejected his petition for a pardon, but later, after two years and nine months, commuted his sentence to time served. Garvey then worked unsuccessfully to revive the UNIA until his death in London in 1940.

Bernard Ryan, Jr.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Clarke, John Henrik. Marcus Garvey and the Union of Africa. New York: Random House, 1974.

Cronon, Edmund David. Black Moses. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969.

-Marcas Garvey. New York: Prentice Hall, 1973.

Fax, Elton C. Garvey. New York: Dodd, Mead, & Co., 1972.

Foner, Eric. America's Black Past. New York: Harper & Row, 1970.

Garvey, Amy Jacques. Gamrey and Garvevism. New York: Collier Books, 1970.

Stein, Judith. The World of Marcus Garvey. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986.

Vincent, Theodore G. Black Power and the Garvey Movement. New York: Ramparts, 1971.

Marcus Mosiah Garvey

views updated Jun 08 2018

Marcus Mosiah Garvey

Marcus Mosiah Garvey (1887-1940), a black man from the West Indies, was the first to forcefully articulate the concept of African nationalism—of black people returning to Africa, the continent of their forefathers, to build a great nation of their own.

Marcus Garvey was born in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica, on Aug. 17, 1887. He went to elementary school there and at the age of 14 became an apprentice in the printing trade. In 1903 he went to the capital, Kingston, to work as a printer. He soon became involved in public activities and helped form the Printers Union, the first trade union in Jamaica. He subsequently published a periodical called the Watchman.

In 1910 began a series of travels that transformed Garvey from an average person concerned about the problems of the underprivileged to an African nationalist determined to lift an entire race from bondage and debasement. He visited Costa Rica, Panama, and Ecuador. After briefly returning home, he proceeded to England, where contacts with African nationalists stimulated in him a keen interest in Africa and in black history. In each country he visited, he noted that the black man was in an inferior position, subject to the whim, caprice, and fancy of stronger races. His reading of Booker T. Washington's Up from Slavery at this time also had great effect upon him.

On his return in 1914 from England, where he had done further study, Garvey formed the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and the African Communities League. These organizations were intended "to work for the general uplift of the Negro peoples of the world."

In 1916 Garvey went to the United States to raise funds to carry on the work of his Jamaican organizations. He was immediately caught up in the agitation of the times, and his voice thundered in the evenings on the streets of Harlem in New York City. A New York branch of the UNIA was established, soon followed by branches in other cities in the United States, in Central and South America, and in the Caribbean. The expansion of the UNIA was fostered by its official organ Negro World, a newspaper published in English, Spanish, and French. Published in New York City from 1918 to 1933, it was succeeded by the monthly Black Man, which ran through the 1930s, published after 1934 in London.

The Negro World reached out to black communities all over the world. It even penetrated into the interior of Africa, although it had been banned there by the white rulers. Garvey stressed the need for blacks to return to Africa for the building of a great nation, but he realized that until this was accomplished Africans needed to make themselves economically independent wherever they were. He encouraged blacks to start their own businesses, taking the commerce of their ghettos into their own hands.

Together with the American clergyman Archbishop George A. McGuire, Garvey formed the African Orthodox Church. This was in accordance with one of his basic principles, for he believed that each race must see God through its own racial spectacles. The Black Christ and the Black Madonna were proclaimed at the UNIA convention of 1924.

The Black Star Line shipping company and the Negro Factories Corporation were to be the commercial arms of the Garvey movement. It was the failure of the shipping venture that gave Garvey's enemies their chance to destroy him. Investments in the line were lost, and Garvey was imprisoned in 1925 in the United States. After serving 2 years 10 months of a 5-year sentence, he was deported to Jamaica. Previously, his plans for colonization in Liberia had been sabotaged by the colonial powers who brought pressure to bear on the Liberian government. As a result, the land which had been granted to the Garvey organization for the settlement of overseas Africans was given to the white American industrialist Harvey Firestone, and the expensive equipment shipped to Liberia for the use of Garvey's colonists was seized.

In Jamaica, Garvey attempted to enter local politics, but the restricted franchise of the time did not allow the vote to the black masses. He went to England and continued his work of social protest and his call for the liberation of Africa. He died in London on June 10, 1940.

Marcus Garvey was married twice. His second wife, Amy Jacques, whom he married in 1922, bore him two sons.

The Garvey movement was the greatest international movement of African peoples in modern times. At its peak, in 1922-1924, the movement counted over 8 million followers. The youngest cadres were taken in at 5 years of age and, as they grew older, they graduated to the sections for older children.

Garvey emphasized the belief in the One God, the God of Africa, who should be visualized through black eyes. He told black people to become familiar with their ancient history and their rich cultural heritage. He called for pride in the black race—for example, he made black dolls for black children. His was the first voice clearly to demand black power. It was he who said, "A race without authority and power is a race without respect."

In emphasizing the need to have separate black institutions under black leadership, Garvey anticipated the mood and thinking of the future black nationalists by nearly 50 years. He died, as he lived, an unbending apostle of African nationalism. The symbols which he made famous, the black star of Africa and the red, black, and green flag of African liberation, continued to inspire younger generations of African nationalists.

Further Reading

For Garvey's views the definitive work is edited by his widow, Amy Jacques Garvey, Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey (2 vols., 1923-1925). Her Garvey and Garveyism (1963) is a biography. E. David Cronon, Black Moses: The Story of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (1955), is a well-documented work which, however, fails to assess accurately Garvey's impact. A biographical sketch of Garvey is in Wilhelmena S. Robinson, Historical Negro Biographies (1967). See also E. Franklin Frazier, "The Garvey Movement" in August Meier and Elliott Rudwick, eds., The Making of Black America: Essays in Negro Life and History (1969), and C. L. R. James, A History of Pan-African Revolt (1969). □

Garvey, Marcus Moziah

views updated May 29 2018


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).

Garvey, Marcus Mosiah

views updated May 11 2018

Garvey, Marcus Mosiah (1887–1940). Leading advocate of black advancement, and a central figure in Rastafarianism. He was opposed by the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, but pursued his own line, culminating (1920) in the ‘Declaration of the Human Rights of the Negro People of the World’. After a two-year gaol sentence for fraud, he was deported to Canada in 1924. Taking literally the prophecy in Psalm 68. 31, he affirmed Ethiopia and Africa as the source of civilization.

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