“We declare to the world that Africa must be free, that the Negro race must be emancipated (p. 137 Altman, Susan. Extraordinary Black Americans. )” are the famous words delivered by Marcus Mosiah Garvey. Born a West Indian, he later became a powerful revolutionary who led the nation into the Civil Rights Movement. Garvey dedicated his life to the “uplifting” of the Negro and to millions of Black people everywhere, he represented dignity and self-respect.
Like Malcolm X of a later generation, he believed that Negroes could never achieve equality unless they became independent-founding their own nations and governments, businesses and industrial enterprises, and their own military establishments which are the same institutions by which other peoples of the world have risen to power. Marcus Gravey was the eleventh child of Marcus and Sarah Gravey. He was born in 1887 in St. Anns Bay, a rural town on the north coast of Jamaica in the British West Indies.
Garvey learnd at a young age about the differences between the races. Being one of the few Blacks on the island, Garvey often played with the children of his white neighbors. The little girl who lived next to the Garveys home informed Marcus that she was being sent away to school in Scotland and that she was instructed by her parents “never to write or try to get in touch with me, for I was a nigger. ” Although he was a good student, financial problems forced him to leave school at fourteen and become an apprentice.
After helping organize a strike, Gravey was fired from his job. Garveys mind was clearly on politics and the need for organization rather than on his vocation. In 1910 Garvey helped to found a political organization named the Nation Club. He created the Watchman, the first of his many newspapers. The failure of both ventures made evident the need for money to fun his political activities and Garvey joined the stream of West Indian workers migrating to Central and South America in search of better opportunities.
He worked briefly on a banana plantation in Costa Rica and for a newspaper in Panama and then went to London, England. While there, he worked for an Egyptian scholar, and learned much of the history of Africa, particularly with reference to the exploitation of black peoples by colonial powers. After reading “Up From Slavery,” by Booker T. Washington, Marcus Gravey asked himself, “Where is the Black mans Government? (p. 107 Franklin, John H. Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century)” He could not find them and declared he would help them.
Marcus Garvey returned to Jamaica in 1914 after finding no success in England. He founded the organization to which he was to devote his life, the Universal Negro Improvement and Conservation Association and African Communities League (UNIA), with the intention of making Africa “the defender of Negroes the world over. (p. 110 Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century”) Intending to open a school in Jamaica similar to the one organized by Booker T. Washington in the United States, he accepted an invitation to visit Washingtons school at Tuskegee, Alabama.
When he arrived in the United States, however, he found that Booker T. Washington had died. Throughout the following years, Garvey toured the United States, speaking about the UNIA and the promise of a glorious Black future in Africa. It was a message that attracted thousands of followers. In a matter of months, he had founded over 30 branches of the UNIA Marcus Garvey did more than talk. In 1918 he began publishing the Negro World, which soon became one of the most popular Black newspaper in the United States.
He established the Black Star Line Steamship Company, the Negro Factories Corporation, the Black Cross Nurses, the African Legion, and the Black Eagle Flying Corps. Within two years, he raised more than ten million dollars. He formulated what he called the “Back to Africa” program for the resettlement of the Negro in his ancestral homeland. In August 1920, Garvey staged a month-long convention in Harlem, New York, featuring band, receptions, rallies, and parades.
They presented a policy statement on the “Back to Afric….. program, and proclaimed a formal “Declaration of Rights” for Negroes all over the world. Thousands attended from twenty-five countries and all forty-eight states. Before it ended, the delegates voted to create an African government with Marcus Garvey at its head and to organize the 400 million Black people of the world into a free republic of Africa. By encouraging the more than 1. 5 million UNIA members to purchase shares in the Black Star Line Steamship Company, he was able to acquire three vessels and put them into service between New York, Central America and the West Indies.
It was not long before he became embroiled in a dispute with the New York District Attorney’s office, which threatened to sue him for criminal libel after he had published a highly critical article on the methods it had used in investigating his company. During this time, to complicate matters even further, an unsuccessful attempt was made on his life. Unfortunately, before Garvey could realize any of his plans, his company went bankrupt, and he was arrested for mail fraud in connection with the sale of Black Star stock.
Convicted of the crime, fined $1,000, and ordered to serve a five-year jail sentence, Gravey entered Atlanta Penitentiary in 1925. Two years later, President Calvin Coolidge commuted his sentence but ordered him deported to Jamaica. Marcus Garvey left on another world tour soon after his return to his homeland. Despite a of enthusiasm for his ideas, Garvey found himself plagued by an assortment of now familiar financial problems, including payment of back salaries to members of his former New York staff of the UNIA.
As a result of judgments against him, the assets of the Jamaica branch of the UNIA were almost totally depleted. At this point, Garvey turned his energies to Jamaican politics, agitating in particular for the enforcement of already existing British laws, which were designed to protect the rights of plaintiffs against possible connivance between judges, lawyers and businessmen. For his pains, Garvey was convicted of libel and forced to serve a jail sentence of three months.
Upon his release from prison, Garvey ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the Legislative Council, In his campaign, he called for self-government In Jamaica, a minimum-wage law, land and judicial reform, the promotion of local industry, and the creation of both a national university and an opera house. Most of Garvey’s followers, however, did not have the necessary voting qualifications, and he was thus soundly defeated at the polls. Nevertheless, he continued to struggle for a political foothold in Jamaica and, ultimately, did manage to win a seat in a local council.
By the mid 1930’s, however, the Negro inhabitants of the island had found their economic and political position so improved that they paid less and less heed to Garvey’s proposals. Marcus Garvey retired to London in 1935, where he died on June 10, 1940, following a stroke. His wonderful plans had failed; but he had captured the imagination of millions of black people as no other leader had before him. From a more historically viewpoint, Marcus Garvey must be regarded as an incredible visionary.
Marcus Garvey was a man who undertook enormous and grandiose ideas and goals to empower and rise Black people all over the world. A man literally driven by the notion that the Negro’s sole means for achieving a unique culture in the 20th century was through the foundation of a unified, separatist empire in Africa. Although his ideas, in their ultimate form, may have been rejected by some of the people of his day, it is clear that, since then, these very same ideas in a different perspective have had a favorable influence on the policies of many Negro leaders throughout history.