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Marcus Garvey

Marcus Garvey (far right) in parade

Marcus Mosiah Garvey (August 17, 1887 - June 10, 1940) was a publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, crusader for black nationalism and founder of the UNIA-ACL. Garvey, is best remembered as a champion of the so-called "back-to-Africa" movement, which was interpreted as encouraging people of African ancestry to return to their ancestral homeland. Actually, Garvey said what he wanted was for those of African ancestry to "redeem" Africa, and for the European colonial powers to leave Africa. In his own words, "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." Although Garvey was raised Methodist, he was a Roman Catholic. Born in Jamaica, he lived for years elsewhere in the Caribbean, then in New York City, and later, London where he died.


Early Life

Garvey was born in St. Ann's Bay , the capital of St. 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 an excellent 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.

Leaves Jamaica

Garvey left 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 travelled throughout Central America, working and observing.

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

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

Publishing Activities

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 of short life spans, which Garvey published during his early Central American travels:

La Nación, Costa Rica;
La Prensa, Colón, Panama; and
The Bluefields Messenger, Costa Rica.

The most successful and important paper was the weekly Negro World, which ran from 1918 to 1933, in Harlem. The paper promoted Garvey's nationalist ideals and was an avenue of expression for blacks during the Harlem Renaissance. French and Spanish language sections were included in the paper, which in August 1920 pushed circulation to 50,000.

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.

Founding of the UNIA-ACL

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, appointing himself 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."

After corresponding with Booker T. Washington, Garvey left for the United States in 1916, going on a lecture tour. By 1920, the association boasted over 1,100 branches in more than 40 countries. Most of these branches were located in the United States, which had become the UNIA's base of operations. There were, however, offices in several Caribbean countries, Cuba having the most. Branches also existed in places such as Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Venezuela, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, Namibia and Azania/South Africa. At their first convention in 1920 held at Madison Square Garden, UNIA division delegates from all over the world elected Garvey "Provisional President of Africa" under the provisions of the UNIA constitution. A programme based on The Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World was adopted, marking the evolution of the movement into a black nationalist one, seeking the upliftment of the black race, encouraging self-reliance and nationhood. One of the mainstays of the Declaration was the resolution that the colors Red, Black and Green be designated as the colors of the entire African race.

The members of the UNIA 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 . 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.

Convinced that blacks should have a permanent homeland in Africa, Garvey's movement sought to develop Liberia. In Garvey's words, "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 railroad tracks 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.

Charged with Mail Fraud

After an FBI investigation Garvey supporters called fraudulent, Garvey was tried, sentenced and imprisoned in the Atlanta Federal Prison in 1925. To this day, efforts 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.

Later Years

He travelled to Geneva in 1928 where he presented the "Petition of the Negro Race" to the League of Nations. The petition outlines 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 Kendal Green Cemetery , London. In November 1964, the Government of Jamaica had his remains brought to Jamaica and ceremoniuously 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.

Rastafarianism considers Garvey as a prophet.

In Jamaica there is:

  • 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.


"Up You Mighty Race, Accomplish What You Will..."

"Whatsoever things common to man, that man has done, man can do."

"One God! One Aim! One Destiny!"

"Africa for the Africans...At Home and Abroad!"

"A people without knowledge of their history is like a tree without roots."

"Look for me in the whirlwind or the storm."

"A reading man and woman is a ready man and woman, but a writing man and woman is exact."

External link

  • UNIA website


The Marcus Garvey Bibliography

Last updated: 02-07-2005 11:34:19
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55