Marcus Garvey was born in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica on August 17, 1887 and died in London, England on June 10th, 1940. His childhood was characterized by an adequate elementary education supplemented by private tutors and Sunday Schools. His childhood was deeply rooted in a pleasant environment. His parents were engaged in small-scale peasant farming. His father a descendant of the Maroons-Jamaica’s ex-slaves, who successfully defied the slave regime, was also a skilled tradesman and stonemason.
Marcus Garvey’s background further distinguished him from the typical peasant, in that his father possessed a vast library from which Garvey developed an early taste for reading. At the age of fourteen, by which time he had already become apprenticed to a local printer, Garvey left school. Two years after leaving school, he moved to Kingston – Jamaica’s capital city – where he obtained work, as a printer.
When Garvey was eighteen, he had achieved what was later described as an excellent position, as manager of a large printing establishment. Marcus Garvey was the youngest foreman printer in Kingston and at a time when foremen were still being imported from Great Britain and Canada. He later participated in a strike, during which he consented to lead the workers, which resulted in him losing his job.
After Marcus lost his job with the printing establishment, he obtained new employment with the Jamaican Government Printery in Kingston. Garvey quickly immersed himself in the intellectual and political life of the city. In 1909 his political involvement had brought him into The National Club organized by a lawyer and legislative council member. Garvey was elected one of the assistant secretaries of the National Club, which sought to combat privileges and the evils of British colonialism on the island
In 1910, Mr. Garvey went to Costa Rico, where he worked for a while as a Timekeeper on a United Fruit Company Banana Plantation, and as a laborer on the Pier at Port Limon. In that same year he was expelled from Costa Rico because he was accused of harassing the British Consul. This stems from his being vocal concerning rights for the many British West Indian Laborers working there, and was arrested for urging the workers to fight for better working conditions.
Marcus Garvey arrived back in Jamaica on July 15, 1914 with ideas on making a living and founding a movement for African/Black People. He studied the conditions of the people of his race (Negro), and later became the President and Traveling Commissioner of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) – the organization that he founded.
Marcus Garvey migrated to the United States of America in 1916. He obtained work as a printer, and saved enough money to start his UNIA Fundraising Campaign throughout the United States. From 1925 through 1928, he established 725 UNIA Branches in the United States and 271 outside the United States. The United States Government became alarmed by Mr. Garvey’s rising popularity. He was therefore branded subversive, and a threat to the democratic ideals of the United States. He was marked for defamation.
The European Governments were also against Mr. Garvey, because he was considered a threat to the stability of their colonies. British authorities got busy pursuing the policy they had begun in 1919 of banning the UNIA newspaper The Negro World: Prohibiting UNIA officials from entering their colonies, and generally doing whatsoever they could to thwart the spread of Mr. Garvey’s influence.
The Communists were against him, because he successfully kept Black Workers out of their grasp. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other integrationist organizations were against him, because he argued that Whites were the true spokesmen for White America and he in turn speaks for the black masses. He advocated Black separatism.
On January 12, 1922, Mr. Garvey was arrested for alleged mail fraud. This came as a result of redoubled efforts on the part of his enemies who presumed his guilt and called for his arrest and deportation. In 1923, he was falsely convicted on mail fraud charges in connection with stock sales of The Black Starline Shipping Company. He was imprisoned and later deported from the United States of America. He was never allowed to visit the USA again.
Race First and Self-reliance
Marcus Garvey, unlike his minor rivals in the United States, built a mass organization that went beyond mere civil rights agitation and protest. The UNIA was based upon a definite well-thought-out program that Marcus Garvey believed would lead to the total emancipation of the black race from white domination.
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” promised Mr. Garvey. His concern over the salvation of his race led him to make harsh criticism of any weaknesses he perceived among black people. There was nothing that displeased him more than the black man who did not think in racial terms.
A prolific poet of liberation
Marcus Garvey’s poems are a good service of his ideology. They were replete with such themes as the beauty of the black women, the need for self-reliance, the glories of The African Story, necessity for an end to black participation in white wars, and protest against the Italian invasion of Ethiopia.
MR GARVEY – The Political Playwright
Garvey’s hey days of the 1920′s coincides with the Afro-American literary efflorescence known as the Harlem Renaissance. During the later half of the 1930′s Mr. Garvey increasingly focused his attention on Paul Robeson – the leading black motion picture actor of the period. In 1937 Garvey protested to the British Broadcasting Corporation against Robeson’s film, while in 1939, one year before his death, he actually published a critical pamphlet aimed at Roberson’s films.
Paul Robeson (the Negro actor) left London for Hollywood to make another slanderous picture against the Negro – charged Marcus. The color question is the one reason that we cannot find black girls or boys in stores and offices. The UNIA in the United States numbered in its ranks, people of colors. It also included businesses and professional people, in addition to the great mass of workers and peasants. Marcus Garvey did not accept white philanthropy or allow whites to join his organization.
The white man fixed the bible to suit himself, and he even fixed tradition itself, telling us that everything worthwhile and beautiful was made by the white man; that God is a great white man, that Jesus was a white man, and the angels etc. are all white. Where whites formed a large ruling majority, white racial self-interest would tend inexorably towards the extermination of the black minority.
By maintaining a black power base, he had more freedom to work with or support widely differing types of white persons and organizations on specific projects or for limited objectives than some of his contemporaries, who wear straitjackets in international organizations. Mr. Garvey’s Race First Doctrine was essentially a strategy to ensure self-reliance and equality for the down -trodden African race.
Self-reliance was a necessary corollary to race first. Successful political action can only be founded on an independent economic base. Within months of his arrival in the United States in 1916, Marcus Garvey was already appraising with approval, the efforts Afro-Americans had made in the economic field.
Between 1918 and the early 1920′s Mr. Garvey’s headquarters in New York City sprouted a large assortment of UNIA businesses. The Black Starline shipping Company was incorporated in 1919. The Negro Factories Corporation followed not long afterward. Then came: The Universal Laundries: The Universal Millinery Store: The Universal Restaurants: The Universal Grocery Stores: The Universal Tailoring Establishment: The Universal Doll Factory: Printing Press, and Hotel.
The UNA in New York had by the first half of 1920 acquired three buildings, one parking lot and two trucks, and its weekly media – The Negro World. In the latter part of the 1920s Mr. Garvey was contemplating a large bank. At that time The UNIA and its allied corporations in the United States employed several hundred workers, owned considerable amounts of property, and local business ventures.
The UNIA quest for self-reliance led to sporadic attempts in providing educational facilities. The disposition of the many to depend upon other races for a kindly and sympathetic consideration of their needs, without making the effort to do for self has been the race’s standing disgrace by which we have been judged and through which we have created the strongest prejudice against ourselves – teaches Mr. Garvey. The race need workers: Men and women who are able to originate and improve, thus making an independent racial contribution to the world and civilization
Convinced that Black people must seek salvation first, as a race, Mr. Garvey sets himself the task of doing this through the Principle of Nationhood. He believed that Black people should be brought into one active community encompassing the whole Black Universe.
The UNIA did not speak “in the language of theology and religion, or in the language of social reform. The UNIA speaks in the language of building a government of political poser and all that goes with it”. In the international conventions beginning in 1920, the UNIA had, in Mr. Garvey’s words, the greatest legislative assembly ever brought together by the Negro peoples of the world. The National conventions had issues and debates that lasted the full thirty-one days of August. The UNIA branches and other organizations attended the conventions from countries such as Australia, Africa, and North America. Marcus Garvey as executive head was given the title “Provisional President of Africa.
The Black world was subdivided into several broad geographical regions; each presided over by a leader. The Universal Ethiopian Anthem was adopted as “The Anthem of the Negro Race in 1920. Also the Magna Charta, in its declaration of Rights of the Negro People of the World, was adopted in the 1920 convention. The flag of Red, Black and Green was adopted in the 1920 Declaration of Rights as the official colors of Africans Internationally.
The lack of an African symbol of nationhood seems to have been caused for crude derision on the part of whites and a source of sensitivity on the part of Afro-Americans. White derision over this deficiency was summed in a popular American song, “Every Race Has Flag, But the Coon.” A 1919 report appearing in the African Times and Orient Review (for which Mr. Garvey worked) documented the far-reaching consequences of this song.
The race catechism Garveyites used explained the significance of the red, black and green; as Red for the blood which men must shed for their redemption and liberty, Black for the color of the noble, and Green for the luxuriant vegetation of our motherland. On at least one occasion Marcus Garvey gave a different explanation for the colors of the flag during an interview with Charles Moubra White. Mr. Garvey told Charles Moubra White that red expressed the UNIA’S sympathy with the Reds of the World”, Green expressed a similar sympathy for the Irish in the struggle against the British, and Black stood for people of the African Race