Marcus Mosiah Garvey (August 17, 1887– June 10, 1940), West Indian spokesman of black nationalism and economic development, was a talented publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, and the Founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL). He was born in Saint Ann's Bay, Saint Ann, Jamaica. Respectfully dubbed by his admirers as the "Prophet of Africanism," Garvey is best remembered as a key proponent of the "Back-To-Africa" movement, a socio-political awakening that encouraged people of African ancestry to strive for authentic and full equality by returning to their ancestral motherland. This movement would eventually inspire other spin-offs, ranging from the Nation of Islam to the Rastafari Movement. Garvey declared that he wished for those of African ancestry to re-occupy and "redeem" Africa, and for the European colonial powers to cease their occupation of it.
By enlarging upon the philosophy of Booker T. Washington, Garvey became a mass leader, whose gift of appealing to dreams and ideals fired the minds and hearts of millions of blacks. The result was an international revival that encouraged blacks to stay the course of achieving economic independence from whites. It likewise taught them that genuine racial equality would come about as a result of blacks ascending to the heights of material success and cultural progress, thereby winning "the respect and admiration of all," and rising "above the prejudice of the world." In a statement issued July 16, 1923, Garvey proclaimed:
"If black men throughout the world, as a race, will render themselves so independent and useful as to be sought out by the other race groups, it will simply mean that all the problems of the race will be smashed to pieces, and the Negro would be regarded like anybody else—a man to be respected and admired."
Garvey's firm commitment to his ideal of "separate and equal," was, in many ways, a reaction to the virulent white racism of his day. The intergroup context of hostility, lynchings, peonage, and disenfranchisement practiced by the white majority convinced Garvey that whites had no desire whatsoever to be integrated with blacks. For Garvey, this was the reality, and it was just fine. In his view, therefore, the most inane trait displayed by Western blacks was their incessant yearning to be unconditionally accepted and loved by their white fellow Westerners.
In addition, Garvey wanted his fellow blacks to understand that white people's disdainment of them should not be a surprise. To Garvey, after all, blacks were not poor and wretched because whites hated them. On the contrary, whites hated them because they were poor and wretched. Thus, for Garvey, the only program that made any sense at all was one that lifted the black race toward dignity, self-respect, and racial pride, by having them establish wealth, culture, achievement, civilization, and an Africa-centered, national sovereignty all their own. This vision fueled Garvey's political nationalism, and it compelled him, from 1917-1923, to build the first, the largest, and the broadest mass organization in Western black history. He led a thrust to revitalize what he believed to be Africa's glorious past, and he urged blacks to recapture that lost magnificence of empire, wealth, and achievement. "Resurrect it!" Garvey proclaimed. "Without commerce and industry, a people perish economically. The Negro is perishing because he has no economic system, no commerce, no industry." This message of "Revitalized Africanism" thundered forth at a time when American blacks were prepared for it. Already, black writers such as Langston Hughes, Wallace Thurman, Claude McKay and others of the Harlem Renaissance were evoking a cultural revitalization, grounded in their race's heartfelt quest for its African past. Garvey's message thus fell upon listening ears, was processed by open minds, and was embraced by prepared hearts. Proof of this was seen in the throngs of blacks who proudly proclaimed themselves "Garveyites." They heeded the clarion call for racial solidarity and economic liberation.
Contrasts With Booker T. Washington and Other Leaders
Garvey's breakthroughs and achievements, while nowhere close to being a panacea, were evidence that, among American blacks, the state of the self-help movement was strong. Garvey was a staunch admirer of Booker T. Washington, the incarnate messenger of self-help and individual responsibility. Garvey had read Washington's autobiography, Up From Slavery, and he had studied closely Washington's success with the growth and outreach of Tuskegee Institute. Having arrived in America in 1916, just four months after Washington's death, Garvey determined to take to the next level the momentum sparked by Washington and his Tuskegee leadership model. Unlike Washington, however, Garvey put great emphasis on blacks not expecting whites to ever desire peaceful coexistence—much less, integration—within the same national borders. This attitude was the main reason for Garvey's criticism of the integrationist approach of W.E.B. Du Bois and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Garvey viewed himself as a Christian. He had been reared a Methodist, but he later converted to Roman Catholicism. He regularly proclaimed his commitment to "the spiritual brotherhood of man," and he took many opportunities to "… explain the aims and objectives of the Universal Negro Improvement Association … because of a desire to be Christian friends with the white race." Still, Garvey's separatist paradigm caused many educated, upper-class blacks and whites to shun him as a black racist. This and other derisions, along with his own, internal, movement-based failures, ultimately congealed into an anti-Garvey backlash. From this, emerged a sentiment that prompted the government to investigate the Prophet of Africanism. Despite the fact that he was subsequently imprisoned and finally deported, Garvey's impact inspired a number of offshoot developments that, today, keep alive his influence.
Biography and Life's Work
At Saint Ann's Bay, Jamaica, on August 17, 1887, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr. was born to Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Sr., a mason, and Sarah Jane Richards, who was a farmer and a domestic worker. The young Garvey's first ten years of life were hallmarked by his developing a passion for learning, and by his being trained in the printing business, under the watchful eye of his godfather. His employment at the printing shop of P.A. Benjamin Manufacturing Company deeply instilled him with a love for writing. On March 18, 1908, Garvey's mother died. Over the next six years, Marcus published his first newspaper; traveled Central America; studied at Birbeck College in London; had articles published in three different magazines; visited several European cities; and returned to Jamaica on July 8, 1914. Twelve days later, together with Ms. Amy Ashwood (whom he would later make his first wife), he became the Founder and the first President of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL). Garvey announced that this organization's purpose was to:
"… unify all the world's people of African ancestry into one great body, to establish a country and absolute government of their own."
Garvey's 1914 correspondence with Booker T. Washington spurred the former to stay on course with his calling as a race leader. But Garvey's great dream of meeting Washington was not to be, since the latter passed away on November 14, 1915, four months before Garvey finally made it to the U.S., on March 24, 1916. Within the next two months, he embarked upon a tour of the nation, visiting 38 states, in order to ascertain for himself the conditions of black Americans and their leadership across the country. What Garvey discovered mostly disappointed him, and drove him to the conclusion that an appalling leadership vacuum existed. To remedy this, he set up, in 1917, the New York Chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). The following year, on August 17, the UNIA published the first issue of its official organ, The Negro World. From 1917-1923, possibly as many as six million blacks declared themselves UNIA members. These devotees came primarily from among the less-educated, lower-class masses. Permeated by a strong sense of "self-help," they banded together behind the Prophet of Africanism. And Garvey made every possible effort to practice what he preached.
In 1919, to encourage commerce and industry, he founded the Negro Factories Corporation, which managed a chain of Harlem businesses, comprising groceries, restaurants, steam laundries, a men's and women's garment-manufacturing division, and the Phyllis Wheatley Hotel. By the early 1920s, this corporation and its linked businesses employed at least 1,000 blacks in the U.S.A. alone. This enterprise also sought to do business in Central America, Africa, and the West Indies. Later, in June 1919, the Black Star Line Steamship Corporation was established. Financed by its shareholders, it launched its first ship, the S.S. Yarmouth, in October 1919. The vessel's maiden voyage was to Cuba, Jamaica, and Panama. Owing to mismanagement and fraud, the ship line failed. Its successor company, the Black Cross Navigation and Trading Company, ultimately suffered the same fate. Despite the fact that it was finally a business fiasco, the Black Star Line qualifies as a significant achievement. Both the Star Line and the Trading Company were major symbols of black economic potential. They likewise served as effective instruments of indoctrination and enlistment for Garvey and the UNIA. These and other ventures were evidence of Garvey's risk-taking, entrepreneurial attitude. He meant it, when he said, "Wealth is power, wealth is justice, wealth is real human rights."
On August 1, 1920, at Liberty Hall in Harlem, Garvey assembled the first National Convention of his Universal Negro Improvement Association. The next evening, at Madison Square Garden, he addressed twenty-five thousand blacks. These two events took place 18 months after W.E.B. Du Bois convened his first Pan-African Congress at the Grand Hotel, Paris. Garvey's call for racial solidarity and economic independence caused him to be painted as a black supremacist by both the white and black press of his day. In addition, he was viewed by the establishment black leadership as a threat to the push for integration with whites. Despite the unrelenting campaign against him, the Prophet of Africanism maintained that he was not an advocate of black supremacy, but was an exponent of black race uplift and improvement. Driven by his vision of a permanent, black homeland in Africa, Garvey, in 1920, launched his "Liberia Program." The intention was to build universities, industrial plants, and railroads, as part of a financial base of operations. The effort was abandoned in the mid-1920s, after much opposition from the European powers with interests in Liberia.
Garvey combined his pragmatic, wealth-producing drive with a strategic use of religious faith and zeal. He fully grasped the significance of religion to black culture, and he was a master at incorporating its impact into the appeal of his leadership. By repeatedly emphasizing the betrayal and suffering of Jesus; by recruiting respectable numbers of black clergymen; by fine-tuning a messianic idiom and style; and by inculcating a strong identification with the Cross and the Resurrection of Jesus, the Prophet of Africanism forged a practical theology and a religious relevance that gave UNIA devotees a pervading sense of mission and destiny.
The African Orthodox Church
Unlike later activists for black self-reliance and recovery of pride, Garvey remained a Christian. Malcolm X would be scathingly critical both of white and of black Christianity; Christianity was racist and black Christian clergy betrayed their own race by copying, like sycopants, white preachers with their blond-haired, blue eyed Jesus. Garvey was not attracted by white Christianity but by Ethiopian Christianity, the ancient church of Africa. He was a co-founder of the African Orthodox Church, whose first bishop, George Alexander McGuire, a former Episcopal priest, was consecrated in 1921 by a patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church. McGuire told his members to 'erase the white man's God' from their hearts, introducing images of the black Madonna and child. The contemporary media ridiculed this image but the Church did attract many members. By 1934, its membership was about 30,000. Garvey himself broke with the Church over a dispute regarding the location of its headquarters. Garvey wanted to move the headquarters to the West Indies. Archbishop McGuire founded a Theological Seminary, an order of deaconesses.
Amy Ashwood, a Jamaican, had been with Garvey since 1914, and she was Co-Founder of the UNIA. A lengthy courtship ensued, as she tirelessly supported him and his work. In October 1919, she put her life on the line for Garvey, aiding in the effort to shield him at the time he was shot by George Tyler, during the latter's assassination attempt at UNIA's New York offices. On Christmas Day of that same year, in a private Catholic church wedding, Garvey married Amy Ashwood. The union was brief. After it failed, a bitter relationship blossomed. In July 1922, Garvey obtained a divorce. Later that same month, the Prophet of Africanism wedded Amy Jacques, also from Jamaica, who was Amy Ashwood's friend, had been Ashwood's maid of honor at the 1919 Garvey wedding, and had replaced Ashwood as Garvey's companion and personal assistant since 1920. In 1923, she edited The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey - Africa for the Africans, Volume One, and in 1925, the second volume. They had two sons, Marcus Garvey, Jr., born 1931, and Julius Garvey, born 1933.
Other Challenges and controversies
An interest in the notion of "racial purity" came to the forefront of Garvey's thinking around 1921. His pessimism regarding the possibility of interracial harmony between blacks and whites was already well known. Garvey praised U.S. President Warren G. Harding when the latter spoke out "against miscegenation and against every suggestion of social equality." Likewise, his 1922 meeting, in Atlanta, Georgia, with Ku Klux Klan (KKK) leader Edward Young Clarke, was an opportunity that Garvey took to explain the common ground shared by the UNIA and the KKK, regarding those same issues. Despite the subsequent fiery criticism and the loss of support, Garvey held to his racialist ideology. He respected the "honesty of purpose" shown by whites like President Harding, KKK members, Anglo-Saxon Clubs members, and racist Mississippi Senator Theodore Bilbo. To Garvey, such forthrightness was better than the "farce, hypocrisy, and lie" characteristic of those whites who needed to sustain at least the masquerade of a just society. By appearing to form a common base with white racists, however, Garvey inevitably made several vigorous enemies among the luminaries of the black intelligentsia, press, and the civil rights establishment. Leaders such as W.E.B. Du Bois and A. Philip Randolph heaped upon Garvey the worst type of invective. The Prophet of Africanism returned fire, and a bitterly divisive feud resulted. Officials of the NAACP, along with other prominent blacks, mounted an anti-Garvey campaign, eventually informing government authorities of alleged illegalities.
Mail fraud conviction
A subsequent investigation by the U.S. Postal Inspector General resulted in charges of mail fraud being brought against Garvey by the Attorney General. Accused of selling stock in the failed Black Star Line enterprise, Garvey and three of his colleagues were arrested and indicted. It was revealed that, contrary to representations, the corporation did not actually possess the ship pictured in the company's stock brochure. The Black Star Line did own and operate several ships over the course of its history and was in the process of negotiating for the disputed ship at the time. Of all those charged in connection with the enterprise, only Garvey was found guilty of using the mail service to defraud. His supporters declared the trial iniquitous. While it seems clear that there were serious accounting irregularities related with the enterprise, and that claims made by Garvey in selling Black Star Line stock were misleading, Garvey's ultimate prosecution may have been politically motivated. He was convicted, given a five-year sentence, and, in 1925, jailed in the Atlanta Federal Prison. To this day, efforts continue on the part of his supporters to exonerate him of the charges. His sentence was eventually commuted by President Calvin Coolidge. Since Garvey had been convicted of a felony, and was not a U.S. citizen, immigration laws mandated his immediate expulsion as an undesirable alien. And upon his release from prison in November 1927, Garvey was deported from New Orleans to Jamaica, where a large crowd met him at Orrett's Wharf in Kingston. He never again set foot in the United States.
In Jamaica, Garvey's efforts were focused on restructuring the UNIA and struggling to maintain his leadership relevance. He assembled convocations there and in Canada. He tinkered with local politics, wrote prolifically in his own papers, and kept a sharp eye on world affairs. Garvey traveled to Geneva, Switzerland in 1928, where he presented the "Petition of the Negro Race" to the League of Nations. This statement outlined the abuse of Africans around the world. In September 1929, he founded the People's Political Party (PPP), Jamaica's first modern political party, centered primarily upon workers' rights]], education, and aid to the poor. He continued his dabbling in regional politics until 1935, when he left Jamaica for London, where he settled just after the invasion of Ethiopia by Fascist Italy. Following that invasion, his public criticism of Haile Selassie's behavior alienated many of Garvey's remaining supporters. His final years of fading into ever-increasing obscurity brought him the ultimate indignity of reading his own obituaries, one month prior to his June 10, 1940 death.
Legacy: The UNIA and the Cause of Black Self-Help
Garvey's universal popularity spans the globe, keeping alive and well his memory. That memory could be encapsulated in the following statement he once uttered:
"The world has made being black a crime, 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."
That hope is part of the reason that schools, colleges, libraries, and highways in Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and the USA have been named after him. The UNIA's red, black, and green flag has been adopted as the Black Liberation Flag. The flag's black was for the race; its red, for the blood of the race; and its green, for the hope of the race. Garvey understood how to balance the pragmatic with the symbolic. In 1980, a bust of Garvey was unveiled at the Organization of American States' Hall of Heroes, in Washington, DC.
As did Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey extolled Capitalism and free enterprise as "necessary to the progress of the world." This teaching and his undying opposition to Communism played major parts in motivating blacks to distrust friendly overtures from the proponents of Socialism and Marxism. At the same time, Garvey held no illusions regarding Capitalism. He suggested ways of reforming it, and he delivered scorching critiques of what he deemed its negative aspects. Garvey became the object of the scorn and ridicule of those who were motivated by a civil rights vision of the race problem. Nevertheless, the Prophet of Africanism left a legacy of using wealth and economic clout to combat racism and prejudice. His civil rights critics, he pointed out, never did this, and they seemed to have no desire to encourage the methodology of self-help and entrepreneurship. Garvey was quick to point out how the lack of focus upon business development among blacks would be excruciatingly detrimental, in the long run, to their cause of attaining genuine equality in America and elsewhere around the world. While political protests and demands were crucial, of equal import, he maintained, was the generation of independent wealth.
Marcus Garvey and the Back-To-Africa Movement
Garvey's widow, Amy Jacques Garvey, always maintained that "the term 'back-to-Africa' was used and promoted by newspapers—Negro newspapers mostly—to ridicule Garvey. There was no back-to-Africa movement, except in a spiritual sense." This observation was basically true, despite the fact that Africa was pivotal to all of Garvey's doctrine and propaganda. His vision was of an Africa gradually liberated from the chains of colonial domination, with its nations ultimately involved as stable, dignified partners with the rest of the global community. Although some of his oratorical bombast seemed to imply it, he never actually envisioned the en masse return of blacks from the diaspora.
Memorials to a Jamaican National Hero
Following his death, Garvey's body was interred in the Kensal Green Cemetery in 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. By that time, Garvey had been proclaimed Jamaica's first National Hero.
Ralph Ellison used Garvey as the basis for Ras the Exhorter, the West Indian black nationalist demagogue in his novel Invisible Man.
In the book Neuromancer by William Gibson, the tugboat piloted by Maelcum is named The Marcus Garvey.
Garvey has been honored in many ways, both in Jamaica and abroad:
- a statue of Garvey erected on the grounds of the St. Ann's Bay Parish Library;
- a secondary school in Saint 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 New York City's Harlem neighborhood;
- a street named for him in New York City's Brooklyn borough;
- a park named for him in the Tenderloin region of San Francisco, California;
- a major street named for him in Nairobi, Kenya;
- a small park named for him in London's Hammersmith;
- the Marcus Garvey Center, Lenton, Nottingham, UK.
There is also a Marcus Garvey Library located inside the Tottenham Green Leisure Centre building in North London.
The spoken word introduction to The Orb's track "Towers of Dub" from the album U.F.Orb features a prank call made by satirist Victor Lewis-Smith to London Weekend Television, in which Smith claims to be Garvey, and leaves a message for Haile Selassie, whom he claims will be arriving there shortly.
Quotations From Marcus Garvey
- "Anybody can talk and write, but writing and talking are not going to save the Negro. The men who are really going to make the race are the businessmen, the people who take chances. Men like Jesse Binga, R.R. Wright, Watt Terry, the heads of our insurance companies and our banks and corporations. Women like Mrs. Maggie Walker, Madam C. J. Walker, Mrs. Annie Malone. These are the people who are constructively building to help the race, because out of their efforts, which is at a great risk, employment is being found for the people, and opportunity is being given for them to exist." (1925)
- "In America, compromises have been struck that would never have been arrived at, but for the presence of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Even the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has had a better time because of my presence in America, because they were able to use my name and UNIA's in approaching white men for their patronage. Because if [whites] did not support the middle, that is, the NAACP, they would have to grapple with the extreme movement of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and the uncompromising radicalism of Marcus Garvey. This scare brought more money into the coffers of the NAACP than they would have gotten otherwise. Many men opposed me because it was profitable to them …. That is why certain white people looked upon me as a dangerous man, because they were prompted to that belief by my enemies, to take money out of them… " (1930)
- "We are now launching out, in keeping with our original objects, on the proposition of building factories in the United States…. We hope that in ten years, the Negro will be on the right road to the solution of his problems. We are anticipating opposition from the same group of men, who do nothing but oppose. They have not, up to now, brought out any economic solution of our race problem. Yet they agitate to oppose anything undertaken by others for the good of the race. We must realize that our greatest enemies are not those on the outside, but those in our midst." (1930)
- The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers Project UCLA African Studies Center.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
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All links retrieved August 13, 2018.
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