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Marcus Garvey (1887-1940)


Marcus Mosiah Garvey, a compelling orator, organizer and Black nationalist, he advocated economic independence and Black internationalism as an answer to Black people’s plight.  He was born on August 17, 1887, in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, the youngest of 11 children of Marcus and Sarah Garvey.  Both parents were of pure African lineage, giving Garvey a strong sense of racial pride. 

Having to quit school at the age of 14, Garvey went to work as a printer’s apprentice in Kingston, Jamaica.  Since he was highly intelligent and an avid reader, gifted in the use of language, his newspaper training was to become an important factor in his later years.  Garvey also became impressed with the power of oratory persuasion and spent hours in his room reciting and learning new words from a small dictionary he carried.  Concerned about the injustices perpetrated against his race, in 1910 Garvey went to Central and South America in search of better opportunities.  However, in every city and every country, Garvey was sickened by the exploitation of his people.  He later went to London and briefly studied at Birkbeck College where he met Africans for the first time.  An Egyptian nationalist, Duse Muhammad, inspired Garvey’s interest in Africa’s independence and gave him the opportunity to write for his Africa Times and Orient Review.  He came upon a copy of the Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, Up from Slavery, and was moved by his philosophy of Black self-help. 

In 1914, armed with a determination to help his people, Garvey returned to Jamaica and founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).  The UNIA’s goals were to promote racial unity through education, encourage racial pride, establish worldwide commercial activity, and develop Africa.  The UNIA’s first project was the establishment of a trade school, patterned after Tuskegee Institute, however it failed to materialize and Garvey sought help in the United States at the invitation of Booker T. Washington.  Unfortunately, Washington died prior to Garvey’s arrival.

Within two months, after arriving in New York on March 23, 1916, Garvey had recruited nearly 2,000 members in the UNIA.  He traveled throughout the 38 states, preaching racial pride and independence.  Within a five year span, he had recruited more than a million members.  There were 700 branches in the West Indies, Central America and northern South America.  In January 1918, to catapult his ideas worldwide, he began publishing the Negro World, which became a leading weekly newspaper.

In 1919, Garvey started the Black Star Ship Line, consisting of the Yarmouth, Shadyside and Kanawha fleet.  His Negro Factories Corporation provided loans and technical assistance to Blacks developing their own companies.  Selling stock to Blacks at $5.00 a share, a chain of cooperative businesses was also established.  However, his UNIA ventures soon fell upon financial hardship.  And, despite his efforts to reorganize, he was arrested in 1922, and unjustly charged with mail fraud in promoting the sale of stock in the Black Star Line.  After years of appeal and the support of many friends, he began serving his sentence in 1925.  In 1927, his five year sentence was commuted and he was ordered deported to Jamaica by President Coolidge.

In 1940, Marcus Garvey died in London at the age of fifty-two, survived by his second wife, Amy Jacques Garvey, and two sons, Marcus Jr., and Julius.  Garvey stirred the imagination of Black people the world over and he created in them an intense interest in their culture, history, achievements, and future.  His legacy is simply stated, “Up you mighty race, You can accomplish what you will.”

Source:  An Empak “Black History” Publication Series.  A Salute to Black Civil Rights Leaders.  Vol. IV

Copyright© 1987 Empak Publishing Company, Div. of Empak Enterprises, Inc.


A Message to Young People:  from Garvey the teacher

It is through education that we become prepared for our responsibilities in life.  If one is badly educated he or she will naturally fail in the proper judgments and practice of their duties.  Negroes that have been badly educated have universally failed to measure up as a race.  They must now make their education practical and real, hence, they must rearrange everything that affects them in their education to be of some assistance to them in reaching their goals - therefore, you must never stop learning.

The world's greatest men and women were people who educated themselves outside of the university, by burning the midnight lamp.  That is to say, when their neighbors and household had gone to bed, they are up reading, studying and thinking.  You have the opportunity of doing the same thing the university student does, which is to read and study.  You can only make the best of your of life by knowing and understanding it.  You must fall back on the intelligence of others who came before you and have left their records behind, in order to understand life.  

You can never give up until you reach your goals, because those before you proved that nothing is impossible.  The value of knowledge is to pursue it and use it.  One must never go down in intelligence to those who are below them, but if possible help to lift them up to you and always try to ascend to those who are above you and be their equal, with the hope of being their master.  Continue always pursuing what you desire, whether it is educationally, culturally, or otherwise.   A desire to accomplish greatness must first be a decision your heart and mind have made, in order for you to know what direction you desire to seek this greatness.  You should know that all the knowledge you want is in the world, and all that you have to do is seek it and never stop until you have found it.