Garvey, Marcus 1887-1940

views updated May 21 2018

Marcus Garvey 1887-1940

Political leader

At a Glance

Success in New York City Prompted A Move

Some Blacks Rejected Separatist Ideals

Charges of Mail Fraud Led to Incarceration

Regarded as Pioneer of Black Pride


Marcus Garvey was one of the twentieth centurys most influential leaders of black nationalism. In establishing the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), Garvey hoped to build-through enterprise and mass educationa unified nation of people of African blood. A powerful orator, organizer, and writer, Garvey recruited nearly one million UNIA members worldwide. In 1919 he charted the Black Star Shipping Line (B.S.L.), which promoted black cross-continental trade. Under his red, black, and green banner of Pan-Africanisma commitment to the solidarity of all black peoplesGarvey encouraged the worship of a black deity and the study of black history. Devoted to the separation of the black and white races, a position that he believed was vital to racial prosperity and cultural development, Garvey warned black workers to avoid the possible manipulation of white trade unions and Communist organizations. Although his success was shortlived, Garvey continues to symbolize racial pride and destiny for blacks around the world.

Born in St. Anns Bay, Jamaica, in August of 1887, Garvey was the youngest of 11 children. A bright student, he acquired a passion for books at an early age.

Family financial problems led to his apprenticeship in the printing trade, where he developed journalist skills. In 1907, participation in a failed printers strike influenced Garvey to enter politics. Roughly four years later he joined the mass migration of Jamaicans seeking employment in Central and South America. In Costa Rica he contributed to publications that presented the oppressive conditions of black workers. While abroad, Garveys futile attempts to gain British colonial protection for West Indians promoted his growing racial awareness.

Returning to Jamaica in 1912, Garvey realized that the island offered little opportunity for a young black politician. Traveling to London that same year, he met with black laborers, intellectuals, and businessmen whose descriptions of the injustices suffered under European colonial rule contributed to his gradual path toward racial militancy. The most influential of these acquaintances was a Sudanese-Egyptian actor, journalist, and nationalist named Duse Mohammed Ali. Working for Alis publication African Times and Oriental Review exposed Garvey to the role of African business and the triumphs of Africas ancestral past. While in London he read Booker

At a Glance

Born Marcus Moziah Garvey, August 17, 1887; died from complications of a stroke, June, 1940; son of Sarah Jane Richards and Marcus Garvey, Sr.; married Amy Ashwood (playwright and lecturer), December, 1919 (divorced, 1921); married Amy Jaques (editor), July, 1922.

T. Washingtons autobiography Up From Slavery. The books vivid account of racial conditions in America inspired the young Jamaican to become a race leader.

On the voyage back to his homeland in 1914, Garvey conceived of the plan to create the UNIA and its coordinating body, the African Communities League. On August 1, with the assistance of a few colleagues, he officially launched his organization. Adopting the motto One God! One Aim! One Destiny!, the UNIA offered opportunity to all blacks. The organizations plan of African redemption centered upon the establishment of black educational institutions. Following Booker T. Washingtons Tuskegee model, Garvey sought to build Jamaican trade schools that would provide missionaries for Mother Africa. Black middle-class Jamaicans, however, remained indifferent to his vision. In need of funds and support, Garvey wrote to Washington, who in turn invited him to come to America. Tragically, Washington died in 1915, before the two could meet.

Success in New York City Prompted A Move

The following year Garvey arrivedat the age of 28 in New York City. Penniless and unknown, he struggled to raise support for his Jamaican educational program. At first, residents of New York Citys Harlem were unresponsive to his speeches. Garvey became aware that to gain black support in the U.S. he would have to alter his Jamaican strategy; while his previous orientation had been strictly reformist, Garveys outlook in America became increasingly revolutionary. He endorsed a broad economic plan for private business and industry. By the end of World War I in 1918, black migration, racial violence, and continuing segregation had provided a climate that vastly benefitted the expansion of Garveyism. The UNIAs economic strategy and publication, Negro World, attracted thousands of new proponents. Rapid success encouraged Garvey to move his base of operations from Jamaica to New York.

On August 1, 1920, the first UNIA convention opened with a parade that stretched for miles along Lenox avenue in Harlem. That evening, before a crowd of 25,000 in Madison Square Garden, Garvey boldly announced his plan to build an African nation-state. Sympathizing with the plight of Irish Home Rule and Jewish Zionism advocates, he called upon blacks to seek their own place in the sun. The highlight of the week-long convention was the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World. Containing a bill of rights, the document proclaimed the equality of the black race and included resolutions for the creation of independent legal and educational systems.

Around the time of the convention, Garvey organized several business enterprises. These included the Negro Factories Corporation, a restaurant, a millinery, a publishing house, and a chain of cooperative grocery stores. But most importantly, he attempted to create a maritime fleet that he hoped would give blacks political power and bring them to the forefront of worldwide trade. Selling shares of five-dollar stock through the mail enabled him to acquire enough capital to purchase three ships for the Black Star Shipping Line. The shipping company contributed to Garveys growing prominence as an international champion of Pan-Africanism. Consequently, he introduced a plan to transfer his organizations headquarters to Monrovia, Liberia.

Some Blacks Rejected Separatist Ideals

Despite his emerging popularity, Garvey received widespread opposition among both black and white political, labor, and religious organizations. During the postwar era, a growing fear of Socialist and Communist conspiracies led many to view Garveys movement as a harbinger of radical black power. In 1919 Garvey was summoned by the U.S. State Department regarding the legality of the B.S.L. operation. Although the investigation failed to produce any evidence against Garvey, the State Department pursued a plan for his eventual deportation.

Harshest resistance arose among black leaders, including Socialist Labor Party spokesman A. Philip Randolph and the African Blood Brotherhoods Cyril V. Briggs. After 1920 Garvey suffered continual attacks from the Negro publications Chicago Defender and Crisis, the journal of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). W.E.B. DuBois, cofounder of the NAACP, was one of the leading adherents to the mounting Garvey Must Go campaign. Although he was a black nationalist and Pan-Africanist, DuBois rejected Garveys segregationist and economic policies. As a result, the two became embroiled in bitter dispute over black progress and African liberation.

In the years following the first UNIA convention, the organization began to decline. After a trip to Central America in 1921 Garvey was denied a visa by the State Department, thereby delaying his reentry into the United States for several months. A year later, federal officials convicted Garvey of mail fraud. Released on bail, he tried to rescue the failing B.S.L. from collapse. Due to the poor condition and exorbitant operating costs of the companys vessels, however, the B.S.L. was forced into insolvency. During the same year, Garveys meeting with the acting Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) greatly contributed to his faltering status. His statements that the UNIA and the KKK shared a similar policy of racial separation spread outrage throughout the black community. Garveys demand for a unified African Orthodox church left him almost entirely alienated from conventional black religious denominations.

Charges of Mail Fraud Led to Incarceration

In 1923 the murder of former UNIA member Reverend James Eason generated further controversy. Easons death motivated eight of Garveys enemies to send an incriminating letter to Attorney General Harry Dougherty. The correspondence hastened the State Departments decision to bring Garvey to trial. With Garvey acting as his own defense, the hearing became a forum for his racial beliefs. Unable to adequately defend against the charge of mail fraud, he was incarcerated; six months later he was released on $25,000 bail. In 1924 he attempted to establish a second commercial fleetthe Black Cross Navigation and Trading Companybut facing a shortage of funds, the business soon folded. UNIA efforts to found an independent Liberian republic also proved unsuccessful. In 1925, despite an appeal to the Supreme Court, Garvey was sent to the Atlanta penitentiary. After serving two years, federal authorities ordered his release and immediate deportation.

Upon his return to Jamaica in 1927 Garvey entered local politics. Struggling to form the Peoples Political Party, he developed a program of national economic, agricultural, labor, and political reform. Although the UNIAs 1929 convention in Kingston, Jamaica, recaptured some of the splendor and enthusiasm of its earlier Harlem era, the organization never again amassed a substantial membership. Under a new charter, Garvey returned the UNIA headquarters to Jamaica, causing widespread fragmentation and desertion among branches in the United States. In 1935, confronted with ensuing political defeat and financial problems, Garvey took up permanent residence in London. But in England his racial program and political aspirations were met with indifference. From 1936 to 1938 Garvey attended conventions in Toronto, Canada, where he set up the School of African Philosophy. After a long period of failing health, he suffered a stroke in 1940 that led to his death in June of that year.

Regarded as Pioneer of Black Pride

Despite limited success in his lifetime, Garvey has become an international symbol of black freedom. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., called him the first man, on a mass scale to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny. During its heyday the UNIA claimed as members Black Muslim leader Elijah Mohammed and the father of Malcolm X. In 1964 the Jamaican government proclaimed Garvey a national hero. His legacy served as an integral force in the Black is Beautiful consciousness of the 1960s. More recently, Garvey has become an inspirational figure within the Jamaican Rastafarian religious movement. Indebted to the perseverance and dedication of Garveys Pan-African struggle, Malcolm X wrote, Each time you see another independent nation on the African continent you know Marcus Garvey is alive.



Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century, edited by John Hope Franklin and August Meir, University of Illinois Press, 1982.

Clarke, John Henry, with Amy Jaques Garvey, Marcus Garvey and the Vision of Africa, Random House, 1974.

Cronon, Edmund David, Black Moses: The Story of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Improvement Association, foreword by John Hope Franklin, University of Wisconsin Press, 1955.

Garvey, Amy Jaques, Garvey and Garveyism, United Printers Ltd., 1963.

The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, edited by Robert Hill, University of California Press, 1983.

Irvin, Jeannette Smith, Marcus Garvey s Footsoldiers, African World Press, Inc., 1988.

Lewis, Rupert, Marcus Garvey: Anti-Colonial Champion, African World Press, Inc., 1988.

Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey; or, Africa for Africans, compiled by Amy Jaques Garvey, second edition, Frank Case and Co., Ltd., 1967.

Stein, Judith, The World of Marcus Garvey: Race and Class in Modern Society, Louisiana State University Press, 1986.

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


Crisis, May 1924.

Ebony, November 1926.

Journal of Negro History, January 1951.

Journal of Southern History, May 1988.

New York Times, February 1922.

Time, August 1924.

John Cohassey

Garvey, Marcus

views updated May 23 2018

Garvey, Marcus 1887-1940


Marcus Garvey was the founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA). He was a prominent spokesman for the back to Africa movement within black nationalism, which urged people of African ancestry to return to the continent. He is revered as a prophet in Rastafarianism.

Garvey was born in Jamaica and traveled to London and the United States before World War I (1914-1918). He started the UNIA in Jamaica in 1914 as a fraternal organization calling for self-improvement for poor Jamaicans. As the movement took on a more political character in the 1920s, it gathered support from earlier movements for black liberation in the colony, such as the nineteenth-century ex-slaves reparations movement. Garvey corresponded with Booker T. Washington, who had called for black economic self-sufficiency in his Atlanta Address of 1895, and in the early days of his movement shared Washingtons gradualist approach. When Garvey went to the United States in 1916, his hope was to emulate Booker T. Washington by starting a school in Jamaica to train poor blacks in practical subjects. Once in America, however, he established a branch of the UNIA there, and in the end it was in North America that the movement had its greatest membership and influence in the period after World War I.

The purpose of the UNIA as Garvey expounded it in the period between 1918 and 1922 was to unite blacks around the world and to work for independent economic improvement. He was not a black supremacist, but instead believed that the races would prosper best if they were separate and self-sufficient. Garvey gathered support from veterans of previous black campaigns, especially the movement for pensions for slaves that had been led by Callie House. Garvey provoked controversy when he lent support to President Hardings campaign against miscegenation and met with leaders of the Ku Klux Klan. His argument was that the races should remain separate, not so that one could dominate another, but so that each could work out its own destiny in keeping with its natural virtues. This is a position that more recent black nationalist groups including the Nation of Islam have also held.

In the 1920s Garveyism became a great international civic movement, whose supporters had an almost religious fervor about Garvey himself as well as his principles. Garvey hoped that blacks from the Americas could redeem Africa. He was opposed to colonialism and called on European powers, especially Britain, to leave Africa. He supported Ethiopian resistance to Italian aggression in 1935, but was harshly critical of Emperor Haile Selassie after Ethiopias surrender in 1936 (a fact often overlooked by Rastafarians, for whom Selassie is a divine figure).

In order to put his philosophy of racial self-sufficiency and self-redemption into practice, Garvey founded a number of businesses. Most famous were the Black Star shipping line and the Negro Factories Corporation. Unfortunately, the realities of the business climate in the 1920s, colonial regulations in Africa, and American racial discrimination meant that his businesses were unsuccessful. After the failure of the Black Star Line, the American Department of Justice, spurred on by the new director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, brought charges of fraud against Garvey. The charges hinged on a technicalitywhether the Black Star Line had ever owned a ship depicted in the stock prospectus. It is still unclear to this day whether Garvey actually did anything wrong. Nonetheless, there had certainly been a lot of shaky financial deal-making in the companys history, and Garvey, if not guilty himself of participation, had at least overlooked some misdeeds. In any case, a black nationalist found it difficult to get a fair trial in 1920s America. Garvey was imprisoned for several years, before President Coolidge commuted his sentence. He was deported to Jamaica in 1927.

Garvey had a long dispute with black civil rights leader W. E. B. Du Bois. Du Bois argued in the early part of the twentieth century that American blacks should work to integrate public institutions and call upon the U.S. government to live up to the high standards of equal treatment under law enshrined in the Constitution. He was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which played a key role in the struggle for racial integration and civil rights for American blacks. Du Boiss position was, of course, diametrically opposed to Garveys. To Garvey, racial integration was at best an illusion and at worst a snare to keep blacks subordinate to whites and away from their destiny in Africa. Their dispute took on an unfortunate personal tone, with Du Bois calling Garvey a lunatic and Garvey responding that Du Bois was a white mans nigger and a mulatto monstrosity. Ironically, Du Bois later came to a position closer to that of Garvey than to his former integrationist stand, and himself emigrated to Africa, dying a Ghanaian citizen.

After his return to Jamaica, Garvey formed the Peoples Political Party (PPP), the first modern political party in Jamaica. Up to this time, Garvey had been reluctant to get involved in politics, seeing the political system as irredeemably white-dominated and participation a form of tokenism that could distract blacks from self-sufficient development. Garvey was elected twice to town council seats, but his views annoyed the colonial government and he was arrested. He finally left Jamaica in 1935 and spent the last five years of his life in London, continuing to work toward his vision of black self-sufficiency and African liberation, but with limited results.

Garveys movement, although manifesting itself under a variety of different names and somewhat different ideological colors in its several homes, can be considered the first international African movement and perhaps the most dynamic force in the struggle for democracy, dignity, and human rights for black people of the first half of the twentieth century. Garvey deserves a place alongside better-known figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Du Bois, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Toussaint Louverture as a hero in the struggle for black liberation in the Americas.

Garveys remains were moved from London to Jamaica in 1964 and were buried in the national heroes cemetery in Kingston. He is venerated today as a founding figure in Jamaicas struggle for national liberation.

Garveys own religious practices were conventional he was a Roman Catholicand he never claimed any religious authority. However, the Rastafarian movement has adopted him as a major prophet, with many Rastas seeing him as the reincarnation of John the Baptist, Moses, or Elijah. Indeed, the modern Rastafarian movement sprang up after the collapse of the UNIA and the PPP and incorporated many members of those organizations. Garveys project of returning blacks to Africa is a centerpiece of most Rastafarian theology. Of course, for Rastafarians, it is a religious duty to return Jahs people to the promised land, while for Garvey it was a practical necessity.

SEE ALSO Black Nationalism; Du Bois, W. E. B.; Rastafari


Burning Spear. 2003. Marcus Garvey. Audio CD. Palm Audio, 2003. Remastered version; original date of release 1975.

Garvey, Marcus. 1986. Message to the People: The Course of African Philosophy. Ed. Tony Martin. Dover, MA: Majority Press.

Hill, Robert A., ed. 19831995. The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers. Vols. 17, 910. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hill, Robert A., ed. 1987. Marcus Garvey, Life and Lessons: A Centennial Companion to the Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Lewis, Rupert, and Patrick Bryan, eds. 1988. Garvey: His Work and Impact. Mona, Jamaica: Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of the West Indies.

Stewart R. King

Garvey, Marcus

views updated May 21 2018

Marcus Garvey

Born August 17, 1887

St. Anns Bay, Jamaica

Died June 10, 1940

London, England

Leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, which preached black pride and advocated a return to Africa

"I saw before me then, even as I do now, a new world of black men, not peons, serfs, dogs and slaves, but a nation of sturdy men making their impression upon civilization and causing a new light to dawn upon the human race."

M arcus Garvey burst onto the African American scene in March 1916. He had come to Harlem, a black neighborhood in northern Manhattan in New York City, to seek financial support for a school he was trying to establish in his homeland, Jamaica, an island in the Caribbean. He soon went on to promote a mass return to Africa by the descendants of black slaves. Garvey was one of the first effective promoters of black pride, emphasizing the historical dignity of black people.

Marcus Garvey addressed a central issue in American society: the failure, after three hundred years, to include descendants of Africans in a society that prided itself as a "melting pot." (The term "melting pot" refers to a process in which the habits and characteristics of immigrants from many different countries merge together and become a new nationality.) Arriving in New York just after World War I (1914–18), Garvey offered a range of solutions to what he saw as an absence in African Americans of the ancestral pride exhibited by European Americans. The Jamaica-born Garvey was viewed with alarm and suspicion by federal officials in an era when advocates of radical solutions were often turned out of the country.

Garvey was not the first person to advocate that African Americans return to their ancestral continent, from which their forefathers had been kidnapped into a life of slavery in both the United States and in the islands of the Caribbean. Similar ideas were floated more than a century earlier by both blacks and whites who doubted that slaves or former slaves would ever achieve justice in the United States. Garvey renewed the idea with a strong sense of drama. He created a large international movement called the Universal Negro Improvement Association for descendants of exiled Africans everywhere.

Out of Jamaica

Marcus Mozaih Garvey Jr. was born in a small town on the island of Jamaica, one of the largest English possessions in the Caribbean. Long after the North American colonies gained their independence from England and formed the United States, the island of Jamaica remained a British possession. Garvey was the son of Marcus Garvey Sr., a stone mason who earned a living cutting large stones from the ground to use in buildings, and his wife Sarah. The senior Garvey was poor—he sometimes had to grow crops to sell for extra money—but he loved to read and kept a small library at home.

Young Marcus dropped out of school after elementary school to serve as an assistant in a printing shop owned by a family friend in Kingston, the island's largest city. From there, Garvey launched a career that would see him engage in publishing newspapers and books and eventually lead him to organize a social movement that spanned several continents and included tens of thousands of followers. Garvey did not stay put in Kingston for long.

In 1910, at the age of twenty-three, Garvey left Jamaica for Costa Rica, in Central America, one of many Jamaicans who hoped to find better opportunities in Central America. During the next few years, Garvey moved around Central and South America, and then moved to England. Everywhere he went, Garvey observed a similar pattern: black people were the subjects of discrimination, treated as inferiors and unable to participate in the political and social life of whatever country in which they lived. The color of their skin made Africans instantly visible and different in appearance from their neighbors.

In England, Garvey did not prosper and was virtually penniless by 1914. He had, however, read Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington (1856–1915). Washington had been born a slave in Virginia and eventually became the leader of the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, a school for freed slaves after the American Civil War (1861–65). Washington preached a philosophy of self-reliance, urging former slaves to learn skills needed to succeed in farming. Only by becoming economically self-sufficient, Washington thought, could former slaves hope to achieve political equality with whites. It was a message that Garvey adopted as his own philosophy, in his unique way.

United Negro Improvement Association

In 1914, Garvey returned to Jamaica and founded the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Garvey had no money to build a large organization; the UNIA began as little more than a dream of Garvey's to unite descendants of Africans who were scattered throughout Europe and the Western Hemisphere into a single organization.

Garvey exchanged letters with Washington while organizing educational facilities in Jamaica on the model of Washington's work at Tuskegee, Alabama. The theme of UNIA was what Garvey called "cofraternity"—a global association of people with African ancestors.

In March 1916, Garvey traveled to New York, intending to stay for just five months while raising funds for his activities in Jamaica by making speeches. In fact, he stayed in the United States for eleven years, moving the UNIA to the United States, which had a much larger black population and offered Garvey a wider stage. After a brief tour of the United States and Canada, Garvey set up his new headquarters in Harlem, the center of black cultural life in New York City. There, the colorful Garvey delivered speeches on street corners, and rented a room to hold indoor meetings once a week.

Garvey's message became popular with many African Americans, and UNIA grew rapidly throughout the United

States, and internationally, in Canada, the Caribbean, Central and South America, England, and West Africa. To promote his cause, Garvey founded a newspaper, The Negro World, which circulated internationally. In its pages, Garvey preached his message of economic independence for black people everywhere. Eventually, Garvey thought, black people should return to Africa, to build a unified nation where European colonies had been established in the nineteenth century. In the short run, Garvey encouraged black people to start their own businesses in order to establish economic independence from Europeans.

The Black Star shipping line

Garvey took his own advice. In 1924, he organized what he called the African Orthodox Church, featuring figures of Jesus Christ and Mary as black people. Garvey firmly believed that religion was an important factor in the way people see the world, and that religion should reflect racial pride for descendants of Africans.

Continuing to preach the importance of economic independence for blacks, in 1918 Garvey organized the Negro Factories Corporation. The corporation operated a variety of enterprises: a doll factory, grocery stores, restaurants, and a tailoring company. Eventually the company employed more than a thousand African Americans.

A year later, in 1919, Garvey also organized another company, the Black Star Line. His plan was to acquire passenger ships that would offer passage from the Western Hemisphere (North and South America) to Africa, and allow blacks within the Western Hemisphere to work and travel on ships owned by fellow Africans. It was a grand scheme—Garvey raised over a million dollars, mostly in small amounts from individuals—but it eventually led to Garvey's downfall.

In the meantime, however, the Black Star Line captured the imagination of black people throughout the hemisphere. When a Black Star ship sailed into port in Costa Rica, African workers took a day off and brought flowers and fruit to the ship. In Havana, Cuba there was a similar response, with people rowing out to the ship from shore. A group of African Americans in South Carolina chartered a train to carry them to the port of Charleston, just to see a Black Star ship.

In the meantime, Garvey's ideas were spreading rapidly. He organized an international convention, the first of several, in 1920, which adopted a document titled the "Declaration of Rights of the Negro People of the World." It was a concise statement of Garvey's philosophy of black pride and unity, and the desirability of eventually immigrating to Africa. UNIA adopted as its colors the colors of the flag of Ethiopia—red, black, and green—and adapted the Universal Ethiopian Anthem as its official song. A combination of paid professionals and volunteers were sent to African communities worldwide to spread the word of UNIA and Garvey.

Garvey's ideas were not the only ones being preached in 1920. Three years earlier, Russian communists had overthrown the czar, or king, of Russia and declared the Bolshevik Revolution (1917) in the name of communism, a political philosophy under which the government owned the land and factories. In the United States, the government was deeply concerned that new ideas, which it regarded as extreme, would take root and challenge the political and economic system. The U.S. attorney general arrested hundreds of "reds" (the term for communists) and, in the case of immigrants, sought to deport them.

Although Garvey was not a communist, he was regarded as another potentially dangerous voice. The government sought a way to get rid of Garvey's influence without sparking widespread sympathy for him. The Black Star Line proved to be the answer.

Garvey and financial fraud

In order to raise money to buy his first ship, Garvey sold shares in the company, chiefly by promoting it through his newspaper and speeches. He wanted the entire company to be financed by small investments from African Americans to further his goal of black economic self-sufficiency. Garvey was not, however, an experienced businessman, nor was he experienced in the business of selling stock to the public, an activity regulated by the federal government. He did not have trouble attracting investments—thousands of African Americans bought shares in the company, usually in small amounts—but this process provided the federal government with an opportunity to attack Garvey's political and social ideas by attacking his business practices.

The government was not the only group opposed to Garvey. Communists opposed him because he preached loyalty to race rather than to the working class. Some African American civil rights leaders, such as W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963), leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, opposed Garvey on the grounds that achieving racial integration and equality in the United States was a better solution to the problems of African Americans.

Consequently, Garvey had few organized supporters in 1923 when the federal government accused him of mail fraud, or cheating, on investors in the Black Star Line. (Federal law prohibits conducting fraudulent, or dishonest, business using the U.S. mail.) Prosecutors charged that he had sold stock in the Black Star Line, even after realizing the company was bankrupt, or without funds. Garvey was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison in 1925. Two years later, President Calvin Coolidge (1872–1933; served 1923–29) shortened Garvey's prison term, on the condition that Garvey leave the country.

Garvey returned to Jamaica to try to reestablish the UNIA and to run for local political office. In the United States, however, his followers split into competing factions. One group was loyal to Garvey as their leader; another group selected other African Americans to run the organization in the United States. The UNIA also inspired some members to set up their own organizations, including the Nation of Islam, whose founder, Elijah Muhammad (1897–1975), became a major force among African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s.

In Jamaica, Garvey organized the People's Political Party in an effort to give blacks representation in Jamaica's government. One of the goals of Garvey and his party was to reform the judicial system, which the courts decreed was contempt, a ruling that led to Garvey's imprisonment once again. Garvey won election to a local office but lost his seat because, as a prisoner, he could not attend any meetings. Upon his release from prison, he won back his seat. Meanwhile, when the seventh UNIA Convention recommended moving its headquarters to England, Garvey agreed. He and his family moved there in 1935. After suffering a series of strokes, he died in 1940.

Impact of Marcus Garvey

Marcus Garvey was not the first person to advocate a reverse migration by black people to the continent where many of their ancestors had been kidnapped and held in slavery throughout the Western Hemisphere. He was, however, one of the most influential proponents, or promoters, of the back-to-Africa movement in the twentieth century. Earlier African American proponents, such as Paul Cuffe (1759–1817), a black sea captain and merchant who actually sailed to Africa (Sierra Leone) with returning natives in 1815, had viewed migration as a solution to slavery. In 1816, the American Colonization Society was given a charter by the U.S. Congress to send freed slaves to Liberia, on the west coast of Africa. The U.S. government even provided funds and assisted in talks with native chiefs for the transfer of land for this purpose. The first settlers landed at the site of Monrovia in 1822. In 1838, the settlers united to form the Commonwealth of Liberia, under a governor appointed by the American Colonization Society.

Garvey's influence was overshadowed by the influence of Du Bois and others who advocated equal rights for all citizens. Ironically, while Garvey never immigrated to Africa himself, Du Bois did. Despairing that equality for people of African ancestry would ever come to America, Du Bois moved to Ghana in 1961 and began writing the Encyclopedia Africana, devoted to collecting information about African peoples throughout the world.

—James L. Outman

For More Information


Clark, John H. Marcus Garvey and the Vision of Africa. New York: Vintage Books, 1974.

Cronon, Edmund D., ed. Marcus Garvey. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1973.

Lewis, Rupert. Marcus Garvey, Anti-Colonial Champion. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1988.


DuCille, Michel. "Black Moses, Red Scare; the Clash of Marcus Garvey and J. Edgar Hoover." The Washington Post (February 12, 1997): p. H1.

"Remembering Marcus Garvey." Ebony (November 1987): p. 138.

Watson, Elwood D. "Marcus Garvey and the Rise of Black Nationalism." USA Today Magazine (November 2000): p. 64.

Web Sites

"The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers Project, a Research Project of the James S. Coleman African Studies Center." UCLA African Studies. (accessed on March 14, 2004).

PBS. "Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind." American Experience. (accessed on March 14, 2004).

Garvey, Marcus

views updated May 18 2018

Garvey, Marcus

August 7, 1887
June 10, 1940

Marcus Mosiah Garvey was the founder and leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), the largest organized mass movement in black history. Hailed in his own time as a redeemer, a "black Moses," Garvey is now best remembered as champion of the back-to-Africa movement that swept the United States in the aftermath of World War I.

From Jamaica to the United States

Garvey was born in Saint Ann's Bay, on the north coast of the island of Jamaica. He left school at fourteen, worked as a printer's apprentice, and subsequently joined the protonationalist National Club, which advocated Jamaican self-rule. He participated in the printers' union strike of 1912, and following its collapse went to Central America, working in various capacities in Costa Rica, Honduras, and Panama. He spent over a year in England during 1913 and 1914, where he teamed up for a time with the pan-Negro journalist and businessman Duse Mohamed Ali, publisher of the influential African Times and Orient Review. After a short tour of Europe, he returned to England and lobbied the Colonial Office for assistance to return to Jamaica.

Garvey arrived back in Jamaica on the eve of the outbreak of World War I. He lost little time in organizing the UNIA, which he launched at a public meeting in Kingston on July 20, 1914. Content at first to offer a program of racial accommodation while professing strong patriotic support for British war aims, Garvey was a model colonial. He soon aspired to establish a Tuskegee-type industrial training school in Jamaica. In spring 1916, however, after meeting with little success and feeling shut out from political influence, he moved to the United Statesostensibly at Booker T. Washington's invitation, although he arrived after Washington died.

Garvey's arrival in America coincided with the dawn of the militant New Negro era, the ideological precursor of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Propelled by America's entry into World War I in April 1917, the New Negro movement quickly gathered momentum from the outrage African Americans felt in the aftermath of the infamous East Saint Louis race riot of July 2, 1917. African-American disillusionment with the country's failure to make good on the professed democratic character of American war aims became widespread.

Shortly after his arrival in America, Garvey embarked on a period of extensive travel and lecturing, which provided him with a firsthand sense of conditions in African-American communities. After traveling for a year he settled in Harlem, where he organized the first American branch of the UNIA in May 1917.


With the end of the war, Garvey's politics underwent a radical change. His principal political goal now became the redemption of Africa and its unification into a United States of Africa. To enrich and strengthen his movement, Garvey envisioned a black-owned and -run shipping line to foster economic independence, transport passengers between America, the Caribbean, and Africa, and serve as a symbol of black grandeur and enterprise.

Accordingly, the Black Star Line was launched and incorporated in 1919. The line's flagship, the SS Yarmouth, renamed the SS Frederick Douglass, made its maiden voyage to the West Indies in November 1919; two other ships were acquired in 1920. The Black Star Line would prove to be the UNIA's most powerful recruiting and propaganda tool, but it ultimately sank under the accumulated weight of financial inexperience, mismanagement, expensive repairs, Garvey's own ill-advised business decisions, and, ultimately, insufficient capital.

Meanwhile, by 1920 the UNIA had hundreds of divisions and chapters operating worldwide. It hosted elaborate annual conventions at its Liberty Hall headquarters in Harlem and published Negro World, its internationally disseminated weekly organ, which was soon banned in many parts of Africa and the Caribbean.

At the first UNIA convention in August 1920, Garvey was elected to the position of provisional president of Africa. To lay the groundwork for launching his program of African redemption, Garvey sought to establish links with Liberia. In 1920 he sent a UNIA official to scout out prospects for a colony in that country. Following the official's report, in the winter of 1921 a group of UNIA technicians was sent to Liberia.

Legal and Political Difficulties

Starting in 1921, however, the movement began to unravel under the economic strain of the Black Star Line's collapse, the failure of Garvey's Liberian program, opposition from black critics, defections caused by internal dissension, and official harassment. The most visible expression of the latter was the federal government's indictment of Garvey in early 1922 on charges of mail fraud stemming from Garvey's stock promotion of the Black Star Line, although by the time the indictment was presented the Black Star Line had already suspended all operations.

The pressure of his legal difficulties soon forced Garvey into an ill-advised effort to neutralize white opposition. In June 1922 he met secretly with the acting imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan in Atlanta, Edward Young Clarke. The revelation of Garvey's meeting with the KKK produced a major split within the UNIA, resulting in the ouster of the "American leader," Rev. J. W. H. Eason, at the August 1922 convention. In January 1923 Eason was assassinated in New Orleans, but his accused assailants, who were members of the local UNIA African Legion, were subsequently acquitted. After their acquittal and as part of the defense campaign in preparation for the mail fraud trial, Garvey's second wife, Amy Jacques Garvey (18961973), edited and published a small volume of Garvey's sayings and speeches under the title Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey (1923).

Shortly after his trial began, Garvey unwisely undertook his own legal defense. He was found guilty on a single count of fraud and sentenced to a five-year prison term, although his three Black Star Line codefendants were acquitted. (The year following his conviction, Garvey launched a second shipping line, the Black Cross Navigation and Trading Company, but it too failed.)

Jamaica and London

Thanks to an extensive petition campaign, Garvey's sentence was commuted after he had served thirty-three months in the Atlanta federal penitentiary. Upon his release in November 1927, he was immediately deported to Jamaica and was never allowed to return to the United States. A second and expanded volume of Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey was edited and published by Amy Jacques Garvey in 1925 as part of Garvey's attempt to obtain a pardon.

Back in Jamaica, Garvey soon moved to reconstitute the UNIA under his direct control. This move precipitated a major split between the official New York parent body and the newly created Jamaican body. Although two conventions of the UNIA were held in Jamaica, Garvey was never able to reassert control over the various segments of his movement from his base in Jamaica.

Marcus Garvey

"We believe in the freedom of Africa for the Negro people of the world, and by the principle of Europe for the Europeans and Asia for the Asiatics; we also demand Africa for the Africans at home and abroad."

declaration of rights of the negro peoples of the world, drafted and adopted in new york, 1920. published in garvey, amy jacques, ed. philosophy and opinions of marcus garvey, new york, 1974.

Although he had high hopes of reforming Jamaican politics, Garvey was defeated in his 1930 bid to win a seat on the colonial legislative council. He had to content himself with a seat on the municipal council of Kingston. Disheartened and bankrupt, he abandoned Jamaica and relocated to London in 1935. A short time after he arrived in England, however, fascist Italy invaded Ethiopia, producing a crisis that occasioned a massive upsurge of pro-Ethiopian solidarity throughout the black world, in which movement UNIA divisions and members were at the forefront. Garvey's loud defense of the Ethiopian emperor,

Haile Selassie, soon changed, which met with scathing public criticism, alienating many of Garvey's followers.

Throughout the thirties Garvey tried to rally his greatly diminished band of supporters through his monthly magazine, Black Man. Between 1936 and 1938 he convened a succession of annual meetings and conventions in Toronto, Canada, where he also launched a school of African philosophy as a UNIA training school. He undertook annual speaking tours of the Canadian maritime provinces and the eastern Caribbean.


In 1939 Garvey suffered a stroke that left him partly paralyzed. The indignity of reading his own obituary notice precipitated a further stroke that led to his death on June 10, 1940. Although his last years were spent in obscurity, in the decades between the two world wars Garvey's ideology inspired millions of blacks worldwide with the vision of a redeemed and emancipated Africa. The importance of Garvey's political legacy was acknowledged by such African nationalists as Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. In 1964 Garvey was declared Jamaica's first national hero.

Although he failed to realize his immediate objectives, Garvey's message represented a call for liberation from the psychological bondage of racial subordination. Drawing on a gift for spellbinding oratory and spectacle, Garvey melded black aspirations for economic and cultural independence with the traditional American creed of success to create a new and distinctive black gospel of racial pride.

See also Garvey, Amy Ashwood; Garvey, Amy Jacques; Negro World ; Pan-Africanism; Universal Negro Improvement Association


Cronon, Edmund David. Black Moses: The Story of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1955.

Garvey, Amy Jacques, ed. Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey (19231925). With an introduction by Robert A. Hill. New York: Atheneum, 1992.

Garvey, Marcus. Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey, edited by Bob Blaisdell. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover, 2004.

Hill, Robert A., ed. The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers. Los Angeles and Berkeley: University of California Press, 19831991.

Lewis, Rupert. Marcus Garvey: Anti-Colonial Champion. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 1988.

Martin, Tony. Race First: The Ideological and Organizational Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1976.

Stein, Judith. The World of Marcus Garvey: Race and Class in Modern Society. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986.

Vincent, Theodore G. Black Power and the Garvey Movement, 2nd ed. Trenton, N.J., 1992.

robert a. hill (1996)
Updated bibliography

Garvey, Marcus

views updated Jun 11 2018

Garvey, Marcus 1887–1940

Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born on August 17, 1887 in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. He founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Jamaica in 1914, after four years of travel in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Europe. In 1916 Garvey immigrated to the United States, where he quickly reconstituted the UNIA, with new headquarters in Harlem, New York. By the mid-1920s the UNIA had expanded to more than forty countries and almost forty U.S. states, making it the largest Pan-African movement of all time.

As a youth, Garvey excelled in the printing trade and became Jamaica’s youngest foreman printer. He studied oratory, became a pioneer trade-union leader, dabbled in journalism, and served on the executive committee of the National Club, an early Jamaican anticolonial organization. He also became an avid reader, with a special interest in Pan-African history. His travels, beginning in 1910, brought him face to face with the universal suffering of Africans. He published newspapers and became a community agitator in Costa Rica and Panama. In London he worked and wrote for the Africa Times and Orient Review, the leading Pan-African journal of the period.

His decision to found a race-uplift organization received its final impetus after he read Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, Up From Slavery, in 1914. Washington was the principal of the most African-American educational institution, Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He was politically conservative but a strong advocate of racial uplift and self-reliance, both of which appealed to Garvey. Inspired by the harsh observations of his travels and the promise inherent in Washington’s success, Garvey famously asked, in his Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, “Where is the black man’s Government? Where is his King and his Kingdom? Where is his President, his country, and his ambassador, his army, his navy, his men of big affairs?” “I could not find them,” Garvey said, “and then I declared, ‘I will help to make them.’”

The question of race dominated the UNIA from its beginnings. The initial objects sought “To establish a Universal Confraternity among the race; To promote the spirit of race pride and love; To reclaim the fallen of the race” [and] “To establish Commissionaries or Agencies in the principal countries of the world for the protection of all Negroes, irrespective of nationality.” The centrality of race was reflected in the UNIA’s slogan, “Africa for the Africans, those at home and those abroad,” and in its motto, “One God, One Aim, One Destiny.” Its main guiding principles were “race first,” self-reliance, and nationhood (political self-determination). Only people of African descent could join the organization, and it mostly eschewed financial help from outside the race. The UNIA was organized around branches called “divisions” and “chapters.” There were around 1,200 branches worldwide with more than 700 of them in the United States. Branches existed in Central America and the Caribbean, Canada, South America, Africa, Europe and Australia. The New York City branch had an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 members. Louisiana, with more than seventy (possibly more than eighty) branches, had a heavier UNIA presence than anywhere else in the world. Estimates of world membership range from one million to more than ten million. Financing came mostly from members and the UNIA’s business ventures.

By 1918 Garvey had made his decision to remain in the United States, and the UNIA thereafter underwent a rapid expansion. It spawned the Negro World (1918), the most widely circulated African newspaper in the world, the Black Star Line Shipping Corporation, and the Negro Factories Corporation, which owned a number of small businesses. It also acquired schools and bought huge amounts of real estate. The Negro World employed some of the best journalistic talent in African America, including Thomas Fortune, John Edward Bruce, and Amy Jacques Garvey, Garvey’s second wife. It provided wide coverage of African American and Pan-African affairs and doubled as a major literary journal in the era of the cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance.

In 1920 Garvey attracted 25,000 people to his First International Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World. Success, however, brought entanglements with a variety of adversaries, including European governments, integrationist organizations such as the NAACP (which was largely led and financed by whites), the Communist International (which espoused “class first” over “race first”) and dishonest or disaffected elements within the UNIA. The U.S. government, ever protective of its status quo against any manifestations of radicalism, began plotting his deportation from at least 1919. They infiltrated the UNIA and brought Garvey into court on a variety of charges, culminating in a conviction for alleged mail fraud in connection with the eventual failure of the Black Star Line. Garvey served almost three years of a five-year sentence until President Calvin Coolidge commuted his sentence late in 1927. Immediate deportation to Jamaica followed.

After returning to Jamaica, Garvey published newspapers, founded the Peoples Political Party, was elected to the principal local government body (the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation Council), and was imprisoned by the British authorities. Garvey spent his last five years (1935–1940) in London, where he continued to lead his now-reduced organization.

Garvey’s emphasis on race was due to a careful analysis of the situation around him. “The world has made being black a crime,” he said, “and I have felt it in common with men who suffer like me, and instead of making it a crime I hope to make it a virtue” (Martin 1986 [1976]). He was born into a world of pseudo-scientific racism. Nineteenth-century thinkers such as American Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), American German Georg Hegel (1770– 1831) and Englishman James Anthony Froude (1818– 1894) all espoused notions of African inferiority, and they were all challenged by Pan-African intellectuals. As early as 1829 African-American David Walker (1785–1830) lambasted Jefferson’s allegations of African genetic inferiority in the seminal David Walker’s Appeal. In 1889, two years after Garvey’s birth, his Trinidadian compatriot John Jacob Thomas (1841–1889) challenged Froude’s views in his polemic Froudacity. Haitian Anténor Firmin (1850-1911) challenged Frenchman Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobi-neau’s (1816–1882) white supremacist treatise Essai surl’inégalité des races humaines (Essay on the inequality of the human race) in his 1885 response On the Equality of Human Races.

Garvey was aware of the widely disseminated pseudo-scientific racist ideas. He read such Pan-African challengers to these views as Edward Blyden (1832– 1912) of Liberia and W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963) of the United States. He said in 1923, “White philosophers, Darwin, Locke, Newton and the rest … forgot that the monkey would change to a man, his tail would drop off and he would demand his share.”

Every aspect of the UNIA was therefore ultimately designed to demonstrate that Africans could—self-reliantly and through the power of organization—help themselves to a position of equality with other races. Garveyites sought to uplift the race through an activist literature and through revisionist historical writing. In the process, they helped usher in the period of literary and cultural flowering known as the Harlem Renaissance. Garvey personally took issue with American anthropologists Franz Boas (1858–1942) and Clark Wissler (1870–1947) for their inconsistent definitions of race. “The custom of these anthropologists,” Garvey lamented in The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, is “whenever a black man … accomplishes anything of importance, he is no longer a negro.”

Garveyites portrayed God as black, even while acknowledging that God was a spirit without color. They tried to employ their own and to provide insurance against sickness and death. They hoped to establish a beachhead in Liberia, from where the task of rehabilitating the race might be expedited. Garveyites accepted past miscegenation as an unfortunate fait accompli induced by slavery, and they welcomed racially mixed persons who acknowledged their African ancestry. They nevertheless frowned on new miscegenation, which they saw as an acknowledgement of inferiority.

Garvey’s ideology of “race first” was, in essence, a reformulation of the perennial ideas of black nationalism that have infused other Pan-African mass movements. His influence was transmitted directly to Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad of the Nation of Islam, the Rastafarian movement, and nationalist movements of the African diaspora. He died on June 10, 1940, in London.

SEE ALSO African Diaspora; American Colonization Society and the Founding of Liberia; Boas, Franz; Firmin, Anténor; Pan-Africanism; Walker, David; Washington, Booker T.


Garvey, Amy Jacques, ed. 1986 (1925). The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, Or, Africa for the Africans. Dover, MA: Majority Press.

Garvey, Marcus. 1986. Message to the People: The Course of African Philosophy. Edited by Tony Martin. Dover, MA: The Majority Press.

Hill, Robert A., ed. 1983–1990. Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers. 7 vols. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Martin, Tony. Literary Garveyism: Garvey, Black Arts, and the Harlem Renaissance. Dover, MA: Majority Press, 1983.

———, ed. 1983. The Poetical Works of Marcus Garvey. Dover, MA: Majority Press.

_____. 1986 (1976). Race First: The Ideological and Organizational Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Dover, MA: Majority Press.

———, ed. 1991. African Fundamentalism: A Literary and Cultural Anthology of Garvey’s Harlem Renaissance. Dover, MA: Majority Press.

Tony Martin

Garvey, Marcus

views updated Jun 27 2018

Marcus Garvey

Born: August 17, 1887
St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica
Died: June 10, 1940
London, England

Jamaican activist and African nationalist

Marcus Garvey, a black man from the West Indies, was the first to forcefully speak about the concept of African nationalismof black people returning to Africa, the continent of their forefathers, in order to build a great nation of their own. His writings and ideas would inspire many leaders of the civil rights movement during the second half of the twentieth century.

Early life

Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica, on August 17, 1887, the youngest child of a stonemason (one who prepares stones for building). He went to the local elementary school, and at the age of fourteen became an apprentice (working to gain experience) 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. In 1907 he took part in the unsuccessful printers strike, where organized workers refused to work unless certain demands were met. This experience influenced the young Garvey in both his political and journalistic passions. He soon began publishing a periodical called the Watchman.

In 1910 Garvey began a series of travels that transformed him from an average person concerned about the problems of those with less opportunity, to an African nationalist determined to lift an entire race from bondage. He visited Costa Rica, Panama, and Ecuador, and worked as an editor for several radical newspapers. 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 ever-changing ideals of stronger races. His reading of Booker T. Washington's (18561915) "Up from Slavery" at this time had a great effect upon him. Also at this time Garvey met Duse Mohammed Ali, a Sudanese-Egyptian and strong supporter of African self-rule. Garvey began writing for Ali's small magazines and was introduced to other black activists.

On his return to Jamaica in 1914 from England, Garvey formed the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL). These organizations were intended "to work for the general uplift of the Negro peoples of the world," and would become the centerpiece for his life's work.

Message in America

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 unrest of the times, and his voice thundered in the evenings on the streets of Harlem in New York City, New York. 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 publicized by its official voice, Negro World, a newspaper published in English, Spanish, and French. Published in New York City from 1918 to 1933, the magazine was succeeded by the monthly Black Man, which ran through the 1930s, published after 1934 in London.

Negro World reached out to black communities all over the world. It even penetrated into the interior of Africa, even though the white rulers there had banned it. 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 lived. He encouraged black people to start their own businessesto take the business of their ghettos into their own hands.

Together with the American clergyman Archbishop George A. McGuire (18661934), 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 eyes. The Black Christ and the Black Madonna were officially announced at the UNIA convention of 1924.

The movement stumbles

The Black Star Line shipping company and the Negro Factories Corporation were to be the commercial strengths of the Garvey movement. But it was the failure of the shipping venture that gave Garvey's enemies the opportunity to destroy him. Investments in the shipping line were lost, and in 1925 Garvey was imprisoned in the United States. After serving two years and ten months of a five-year sentence, he was deported, or forced out of the country, to Jamaica.

Previously, his plans for colonization in Liberia had been ruined by the colonial powers that brought pressure to bear on the Liberian government. As a result, the land that had been granted to the Garvey organization for the settlement of overseas Africans was given to the white American industrialist Harvey Firestone (18631938). 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 restrictions at 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 (freeing) 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.

Garvey's legacy

The Garvey movement was the greatest international movement of African peoples in modern times. At its peak, from 1922 to 1924, the movement counted more than eight million followers. The youngest members of the movement were taken in at five 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 preached to black people to become familiar with their ancient history and their rich cultural heritage. He called for pride in the black racefor example, he made black dolls for black children. His was the first voice to clearly 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 fifty years. He died, as he lived, an unbending leader 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.

For More Information

Cronon, E. David. Black Moses: The Story of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1955.

Lewis, Rupert, and Maureen Warner-Lewis. Garvey: Africa, Europe, the Americas. Kingston, Jamaica: Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of the West Indies, 1986.

Lewis, Rupert. Marcus Garvey: Anti-Colonial Chamption. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1988.

Robinson, Wilhelmena S. Historical Negro Biographies. New York: Publishers Co., 1967.

Garvey, Marcus

views updated May 29 2018


GARVEY, MARCUS . Marcus Mosiah Garvey (August 17, 1887June 10, 1940), the founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), led the largest mass movement among African Americans and can be regarded as one of the founding fathers of Pan-Africanism and the Black Consciousness movement.

Garvey was born in Saint Ann's Bay, Jamaica. During the first decade of the twentieth century, he was involved in the labor movement and advocated for labor reforms in his paper, the Watchman. But he quickly became disillusioned and grew skeptical about the ability of unions to bring about meaningful improvements in the lives of blacks, and about the willingness of whites to cooperate in achieving such a goal. After a brief stint working for the United Fruit banana plantation in Costa Rica, he moved to London, where he came under the influence of Duse Muhammad Ali and wrote articles for his paper, Africa Times and Orient Review. While he was in London, Garvey was inspired with a new vision after reading Booker T. Washington's Up from Slavery. When he returned to Jamaica in 1914, Garvey quickly formed the UNIA, whose purpose was to unite Africans from all over the world in a common purpose of uplift.

Following Washington's Tuskegee model, Garvey's first program was the establishment of a trade school. This effort never enjoyed success, however, due primarily to lack of financial resources. Washington invited Garvey to visit Tuskegee but died a few months before Garvey arrived in New York City in March 1916. Garvey began introducing himself at different churches and sharing his vision. By 1918 he had started a weekly, the Negro World that grew in circulation to fifty thousand. By 1919 Garvey had raised enough funds to purchase an auditorium on West 138th Street in Harlem called Liberty Hall, where throngs came to hear his spellbinding oratory. The popularity of Garvey and his movement grew exponentially after he launched his project to purchase ocean steamers to trade with Africa and take black people back to Africa. Blacks purchased stocks in his company, the Black Star Line, at five dollars per share. Over half a million dollars was raised, and the first ship was purchased in the first year. The UNIA's first international convention, attended by thousands of delegates from every part of the world, was held at Liberty Hall and Madison Square Garden in August 1920. The convention proclaimed Garvey the provisional president of the Republic of Africa and adopted a Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World.

Garvey's movement also had a religious component. Garvey did not think blacks could ever acquire a strong sense of self-esteem while worshipping a white God and a white Savior. He argued that God, Christ, and Mary were black. In 1921 the UNIA's chaplain general, George Alexander McGuire, formed the Good Shepherd Independent Episcopal Church and authored The Universal Negro Catechism and The Universal Negro Ritual. McGuire and Garvey disagreed over forming a separate denomination, and McGuire then formed the African Orthodox Church.

The Black Star Line's financial difficulties contributed significantly to Garvey's demise and the decline of his movement. The ships purchased were unsound, and the organization lacked the resources to repair them after two disastrous ventures. By 1921 two of Garvey's ships were inoperable. African American critics of Garvey's movement, including the leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, W. E. B. Du Bois, instigated Garvey's arrest for mail fraud. Garvey was tried and convicted in 1923; he was sentenced to five years in prison and fined $1,000.

Garvey was pardoned by President Calvin Coolidge in 1927 and was deported to Jamaica, where he tried unsuccessfully to rebuild his movement. In 1935 he moved to London and published a periodical, the Black Man. He died of a stroke in June 1940. Even though he achieved few of his goals, Garvey's name is still revered among black nationalists.


Burkett, Randall K. Garveyism as a Religious Movement. Metu-chen, N.J., 1978.

Garvey, Amy Jacques, ed. The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey. 2 vols. New York, 19231925; reprint, Dover, Mass., 1986.

Hill, Robert A., ed. The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers. 9 vols. Berkeley, Calif., 1983.

Martin, Tony. Race First: The Ideological and Organizational Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Westport, Conn., 1976; reprint, Dover, Mass., 1986.

Martin, Tony. Marcus Garvey, Hero: A First Biography. Dover, Mass, 1983. Published by the Majority Press as part of the New Marcus Garvey Library.

James Anthony Noel (2005)

Garvey, Marcus

views updated May 18 2018

Garvey, Marcus (1887–1940) US black nationalist leader, b. Jamaica. In 1914, he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Garvey believed that black people could not achieve equality within white-dominated, Western countries. He created a ‘back-to-Africa’ movement, establishing the Black Star Line shipping company as a means of transport. By the 1920s, Garvey was the most influential US black leader. In 1922, the Black Star Line and the UNIA collapsed. Garvey was convicted of fraud and jailed (1925). He was pardoned by President Calvin Coolidge and deported to Jamaica (1927). Rastafarianism is influenced by his philosophy.

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