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  Garvey, Marcus Mosiah
AffiliationPeople's Political Party  
NameMarcus Mosiah Garvey
Kingston, , Jamaica
Born August 17, 1887
DiedJune 10, 1940 (52 years)
ContributorThomas Walker
Last ModifedThomas Walker
Oct 25, 2005 11:58am
Tags African - Black - Divorced - Married - Imprisoned - Union Member - Catholic - Methodist - Straight -
InfoMarcus Mosiah Garvey (August 17, 1887 – June 10, 1940) was a publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, crusader for black nationalism and founder of the UNIA-ACL. He was born in Jamaica. Garvey is best remembered as a champion of the "back-to-Africa" movement, which was interpreted as encouraging people of African ancestry to return to their ancestral homeland. He is also recognized as the most important prophet of the "back-to-Africa" Rastafari movement. Garvey said he wanted those of African ancestry to "redeem" Africa, and for the European colonial powers to leave it. Although Garvey was raised Methodist, he became a Roman Catholic.

Garvey was born in Saint Ann's Bay August 17, 1887 , the capital of the parish of Saint Ann, Jamaica, where he attended grammar school. He also received private instruction from his godfather Alfred Burrowes, who ran a printery. At 14, Garvey was apprenticed to Burrowes to learn the printing trade.

Garvey inherited a love of books from his father, a skilled mason who had a private library. This was further encouraged during his apprenticeship with Burrowes, where he came into contact with people who stopped at the printery to discuss politics and social affairs.

Around 1906 Garvey left St. Ann's Bay for Kingston in search of brighter prospects. He worked at first with an uncle, then moved elsewhere, where he worked as a printing compositor. By 1907 he had become a skilled printer and foreman. His first experience in organized labor came in late 1908 when printers, represented by the Typographical Union, went on strike for better wages. Garvey joined the strike in spite of being offered increased wages. The strike was unsuccessful and Garvey lost his job. He was blacklisted from private industry but found employment at the Government Printing Office.

Garvey left Jamaica to work in Costa Rica as a time-keeper on a banana plantation about 1910. Observing the working conditions for blacks, Garvey became determined to change the lives of his people. He left Costa Rica and traveled throughout Central America, working and observing.

He visited the Panama Canal Zone and saw the conditions under which the African-Caribbeans lived and worked. He went to Ecuador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Colombia and Venezuela. Everywhere, he saw blacks experiencing great hardships and suffering prejudice.

Garvey returned to Jamaica, distressed at the situation in Central America, and appealed to Jamaica's colonial government to help improve the plight of African-Caribbeans workers in Central America. His appeal fell on deaf ears.

Garvey's journalistic experience began with a newspaper called The Watchman which he started in 1910. This newspaper was short-lived and was succeeded by others, also short-lived, which Garvey published during his early Central American travels. They were:

La Nación, Costa Rica;
La Prensa, Colón, Panama; and
The Bluefields Messenger, Costa Rica.
Garvey was also associated with other publications: The African Times and Orient Review, The Daily Negro Times, Harlem, 1922-1924; The Blackman, Kingston, Jamaica, 1929-1931; The New Jamaican, Kingston, 1932-33; The Black Man Magazine, which was started in Kingston in 1933 and continued in England until 1939.

Garvey returned to Jamaica in 1914. Convinced that uniting blacks was the only way to improve their condition, Garvey launched the Universal Negro Improvement and Conservation Association and African Communities League (UNIA), becoming president. The association sought to unite "all the people of African ancestry of the world into one great body to establish a country and Government absolutely their own." A weekly newspaper, the Negro World, was produced by Garvey to discuss issues related to the UNIA.

After corresponding with Booker T. Washington, Garvey went to the United States of America in 1916 to give a lecture tour. By 1920 the association had over 1,100 branches in more than 40 countries.

The UNIA flag uses three colors: red, black and green.Garvey advanced several ideas designed to promote social, political and economic freedom for blacks, including launching the Black Star Line Steamship Corporation and its successor company the Black Cross Navigation and Trading Company. However, the line failed owing to mismanagement and fraud. Another venture was the Negro Factories Corporation, which sought to, "build and operate factories in the big industrial centres of the United States, Central America, the West Indies and Africa to manufacture every marketable commodity." A chain of grocery stores, a restaurant, a steam laundry, a tailor and dressmaking shop, a millinery store and a publishing house, were also started.

Marcus Garvey chairing session of the UNIA in convention.Convinced that blacks should have a permanent homeland in Africa, Garvey's movement sought to develop Liberia. In response to suggestions he wanted to take all Americans of African ancestry back to Africa he said, "I have no desire to take all black people back to Africa, there are blacks who are no good here and will likewise be no good there." He further reasoned, "our success educationally, industrially and politically is based upon the protection of a nation founded by ourselves. And the nation can be nowhere else but in Africa." The Liberia program, launched in 1920, was intended to build colleges, universities, industrial plants and railroads as part of an industrial base from which to operate, but was abandoned in the mid 1920's after much opposition from European powers with interests in Liberia.

After an FBI investigation, a charge of mail fraud was brought against Garvey for selling stock in the Black Star Line enterprise, when it was revealed that, contrary to representations, the corporation did not possess the ship in the company's stock brochure (or indeed, any other ship). The promoters of the enterprise were found guilty of using the mail service to sell stock in an undercapitalized corporation by means of misrepresentation of its existing assets. Garvey supporters called the trial fraudulent. Garvey was sentenced to a five year term, and imprisoned in the Atlanta Federal Prison in 1925. To this day, efforts on the part of his supporters to exonerate him from the charges continue. His sentence was eventually commuted, and on his release in November 1927, Garvey was deported from New Orleans to Jamaica, where a large crowd met him at Orrett's wharf in Kingston. A huge procession and band marched to the UNIA headquarters.

Around 1921 Marcus Garvey's nationalism and life history led him to pronounce a belief in "racial purity." This is possibly more ominous sounding to modern ears than is warranted. He admired Irish efforts toward independence so it was not a racist idea in the traditional sense. Instead he feared encouragement of miscegenation would disadvantage those who did not or were not mixed. Still this led him to a controversial praise of Warren G. Harding's speech against miscegenation and discussion that races might be better off separate with largely separate destinies. For not entirely unrelated reasons he had an antagonism toward W. E. B. Du Bois. Previously Du Bois had expressed hostility to the Black Star Line idea and other ideas. Hence Garvey began to suspect Du Bois was prejudiced towards him as a Caribbean of darker skin tone. By the late 1920s this antagonism turned to antipathy. Du Bois called Garvey "a lunatic or a traitor." Garvey shot back saying Du Bois was "a little Dutch, a little French, a little Negro...a mulatto...a monstrosity." This led Garvey to an acrimonious relationship with the NAACP. Somewhat ironically Du Bois would nevertheless be a strong supporter of Pan-Africanism.

He travelled to Geneva in 1928 where he presented the "Petition of the Negro Race" to the League of Nations. The petition outlined the abuse of blacks around the world and sought redress.

In September 1929, Garvey founded the People's Political Party (PPP), Jamaica's first modern political party, mostly centered around workers' rights, education and aid to the poor.

Garvey was elected Councillor for the Allman Town division of the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC) in 1929. He lost his seat, however, because of his absence from council meetings while serving a prison sentence for contempt of court. In 1930 he was re-elected, unopposed, along with two other PPP candidates and he agitated for the adoption of some of the points in the PPP's manifesto.

In April 1931, Garvey launched the Edelweiss Amusement Company, which Garvey used to help artists make a living from their work, including putting on plays. Several Jamaican entertainers who went on to become popular locally, received their initial exposure there. These included Kidd Harold, Ernest Cupidon, Bim & Bam and Ranny Williams.

Garvey left Jamaica for London in 1935. He lived and worked there until his death in 1940. During these last five years in London, he remained active, keeping in touch with events in Ethiopia (then Abyssinia) where war was being waged, and also with events in the West Indies. In 1938, he gave evidence before the West Indian Royal Commission on conditions in the West Indies. In that year also, he set up a School of African Philosophy to train the leadership of the UNIA. He continued to work on the magazine The Black Man.

Due to difficulties in travel resulting from World War II at the time of his death, he was interred in the Kensal Green Cemetery, London. In November 1964, the Government of Jamaica had his remains brought to Jamaica and ceremoniously reinterred at a shrine dedicated to him in National Heroes Park, Garvey having been proclaimed Jamaica's first National Hero.

Worldwide, Garvey's memory has been kept alive in many ways, including schools and colleges, highways and buildings in Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and the United States have been named for Garvey; the UNIA's red, black and green flag has been adopted as the Black Liberation Flag; a bust of Garvey was unveiled at the Organization of American States' Hall of Heroes, located in Washington, DC in 1980.

Rastafarians consider Garvey to be a religious prophet, and more specifically the reincarnation of John the Baptist. This was partly because Garvey said in the 1920's, "Look to Africa, for there a king will be crowned" which they then took as a prophecy about the crowning of Haile Selassie. The rasta founders were a part of Garvey's Back-to-Africa movement in Jamaica, and in its doctrines the Rastafarian movement can definitely be seen as an offshoot or development of Garvey philosophy. His beliefs have fundamentally shaped Rastafari, and he is popular theme in much reggae music, and especially that of Burning Spear.

Jamaica has honoured Garvey in many ways:

a statue of Garvey erected on the grounds of the St. Ann's Bay Parish Library;
a Secondary School in St. Ann named for him;
a major highway in Kingston bearing his name;
a bust of Garvey unveiled at Apex Park, Kingston in 1978;
his likeness appears on the Jamaican 50 cent coin and 20 dollar coin;
the building housing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (New Kingston) bears his name.
a park with his name in Harlem, New York City.
A major street in Nairobi, Kenya.
A small park in Hammersmith, London

There is also a Marcus Garvey library located inside the Tottenham Green Leisure Centre building in North London.



Title Purchase Contributor
Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey  Purchase Thomas Walker 
Black Moses : The Story of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association  Purchase Thomas Walker 

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