Journalist, editor, founder and leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), the most important 20th century international organization dedicated to black self-determination, economic advancement and pride.
Garvey was born in Jamaica in 1887, the youngest of eleven children. His father, a bricklayer, was said to have a significant library in his home. At age 16, he moved to Kingston and worked in a printing business owned by a relative, which laid the foundation for the idea of creating his own newspaper later. He learned politics and social issues through his interaction with customers who came to do business with the press. His interest in anti-colonialism and the nationalist movement in Jamaica grew.
When he was fired from his job for participating in a strike, he decided to travel to Latin America (Costa Rica, Panama and Ecuador) and Europe, where the saw the deplorable working and social conditions suffered by blacks. In Britain, he worked for the pan-African daily theAfrica Times and the Orient Review. In 1914, he returned to Jamaica, where he was one of the founders of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. The association’s objective was to “unite all people of African origin in the world in a single body to establish a nation and government totally our own.”
Two years later, Garvey moved to the United States and founded the newspaper Negro World and established a chapter of UNIA in Harlem in New York. Garvey traveled to various cities in the United States and Canada, giving speeches on behalf of black men. With the massive migration of blacks to urban centers during World War I, there was a renewal of the cultural environment in the African-American communities and the message spread. The UNIA conducted meetings and workshops for blacks who did not have the means to study. The contradictions in the government discourse of fighting for democracy, which was not available to blacks, became ever more evident. In his speeches, Garvey highlighted his pride in his culture and the skin color of African descendants. In 1918, the UNIA was believed to have 2 million members, and in August of 1920, during a UNIA convention, 25,000 people filled Madison Square Garden to hear one of Garvey’s famous speeches. The UNIA was the largest movement for blacks of its time.
In 1918, Garvey created the Black Star Line, a steamship company to provide transportation to Africa. He was later accused of fraud and was convicted of selling shares in the Black Star Line with a solicitation that said the company owned a ship that in reality it did not own. He was sentenced to five years in prison and, after two years, was deported to Jamaica. During his time in prison in Atlanta, he wrote and edited his writings under the title Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey. In 1929, he founded the People’s Political Party, which demanded self-government, and he was elected to the Kingston Council. In 1935, he returned to London, where he died in 1940. His remains were brought to Jamaica, where he was proclaimed a national hero.
Author: Pablo Samuel Torres
Published: April 30, 2012.
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