Marcus Mosiah Garvey

Marcus GarveyMarcus Garvey
Civil Rights Activist (1887–1940)


“Hungry men have no respect for law, authority or human life.” – —Marcus Garvey

Born in Jamaica, Marcus Garvey worked for the Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism movements, to which end he co-founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and African Communities League, dedicated to promoting African-Americans and resettlement in Africa. He promoted a separate black nation. Garvey advanced a Pan-African philosophy which inspired the movement known as Garveyism. Garvey would eventually inspire others, from the Nation of Islam to the Rastafari movement.

Early Life

Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr. was born on August 17, 1887, in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. Marcus Garvey was the last of 11 children born to Marcus Garvey, Sr. and Sarah Jane Richards. His father was a stone mason, and his mother a domestic worker and farmer.

In 1903, he traveled to Kingston, Jamaica, and soon witnessed labor strikes. In 1907, he took part in a strike which left the laborers unemployed as machines to replace them were brought in from the United States. Nevertheless, the experience kindled in him a passion for activism. He later traveled to London where he attended night classes at Birkbeck College and tried to involve himself with the African Times and Orient Review, which advocated Pan-African nationalism.

Founding the United Negro Improvement Association

Marcus Garvey returned to Jamaica in 1912 and co-founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). After writing to Booker T. Washington, the American educator who founded Tuskegee Institute, Garvey traveled to the United States in 1916. He settled in New York City and co-founded UNIA in Harlem to promote a separatist ideology to African Americans. In 1918, Garvey began publishing the newspaper Negro World to convey his message.

In 1919, Marcus Garvey and UNIA launched the Black Star Line, a shipping company said to establish trade and commerce between Africans in America, the Caribbean, South and Central America, Canada and Africa. In August 1920, UNIA claimed 4 million members and held its first International Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Before a crowd of 25,000 people, Marcus Garvey spoke of having pride in African history and culture. Many found his words inspiring, but not all. Established black leaders found his separatist philosophy ill-conceived. W.E.B. Du Bois, a prominent Black leader and officer of the NAACP called Garvey, “the most dangerous enemy”. Like himself, Garvey felt Du Bois was an agent of the white elite.

Under Surveillance

History would soon reveal F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover’s fixation on ruining Garvey. Hoover referred to Garvey as a ‘notorious agitator’, and for several years, compiled damning personal information on him, even going so far as to hire the first black FBI agent in 1919 in order to infiltrate Garvey’s ranks and spy on him. [However, BoI had plenty of Black agents on its pay roll already. TMB]

“They placed spies in the UNIA,” said historian Winston James. “They sabotaged the Black Star Line. The engines… of the ships were actually damaged by foreign matter being thrown into the fuel.”

Hoover would use the same methods decades later to obtain information on Black leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

Charges and Loss of Authority

In 1922, Marcus Garvey and three other UNIA officials were charged with mail fraud involving the Black Star Line. The trial records indicate several improprieties occurred in the prosecution of the case. It didn’t help that the shipping line’s books contained many accounting irregularities. On June 23, 1923, Garvey was convicted and sentenced to prison for five years. Claiming to be a victim of a politically motivated miscarriage of justice, Garvey appealed his conviction, but was denied. In 1927 he was released from prison and deported to Jamaica.

Garvey continued his political activism in Jamaica, and then moved to London in 1935. Garvey collaborated with outspoken segregationist and white [r]acist Senator Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi to promote a reparations scheme. The Greater Liberia Act of 1939 would deport 12 million African-Americans to Liberia at federal expense to relieve unemployment. The act failed in Congress, and Garvey lost support.

Death and Legacy

Marcus Garvey died in London in 1940 after several strokes. His body was interred in London. In 1964, his remains were exhumed and taken to Jamaica, where the government proclaimed him Jamaica’s first national hero and re-interred him at a shrine in the National Heroes Park.

Garvey’s memory remains. His message inspired many in the early days of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. In tribute to his contributions, Garvey’s bust has been displayed in the Organization of American States’ Hall of Heroes in Washington, D.C. The country of Ghana has named its shipping line the Black Star Line and its national soccer team the Black Stars, in honor of Garvey.

Source: https://www.biography .com/people/marcus-garvey-9307319?




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