Marcus Mosiah Garvey is one of the world’s most renowned Black leaders. Garvey was no ordinary man, but one of those rare creatures of history whose fate it is to be seized with the social and economic oppression of a people and who see this oppression as his or her own spiritual mission. No other Black man in history was able to understand so clearly the worldwide oppressions of Black people, and no other was in turn perceived by so many Blacks as the one person with the solution to their problems.
Although Marcus Mosiah Garvey has long since past, his presence will never be forgotten. In his own time, he was hailed as a redeemer, a “Black Moses” who tried to lead his people to freedom, who dared to dream about and preach black redemption and black pride. He is credited as the founder of Rastafarianism, and “is second only to Halie Selassie,” the Rastafari God. He is a legend of his time and continues to live on through the lyrics of reggae music, inspiring reggae artists around the world.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr. was born in St. Ann’s Bay parish of St. Ann, Jamaica on August 17, 1887. He was the youngest of eleven children born to Marcus Mosiah Garvey Sr., a descendant of the Maroons and Sarah Jane Richards, a woman of high moral values and a regular churchgoer. Marcus’s mother wanted to name him Moses, as she liked Biblical names for her children, and had a hunch that this child would become a leader like Moses of old. However, Marcus Sr. had different thoughts concerning the name of his newborn son. He thought that the boy should be named after him, and maybe he would become a Marcus Aurelius, believing in the worth of every human being because “the Universe has need of them.” (I have found contradictory statements of Garvey’s father’s name. Some sources say it was Marcus Mosiah Garvey and others Marcus Aurelius Garvey.) Eventually a compromise was reached and he was baptized as Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr.
Garvey spent his childhood in St. Ann’s Bay, St. Ann, which was also referred to as the Garden Parish due to its lush vegetation and good rainfall. He spent his early years learning to swim in the sea, dodging sharks, fishing and lying in the sun on the beach. As he grew up, he came to appreciate Roaring River Falls, a wharf where he would sit and observe ships loading products for Germany and America. He talked with the seamen and became intrigued by their numerous stories filled with adventure.
Garvey attended infant and elementary school in St. Ann’s Bay and also received private tuition from his Godfather, Mr. Alfred Burrows. Garvey was a bright student, showing exceptional dexterity in the areas of history, mathematics and oratorical skills. Little did he know he would put these skills to work in his future plans to unite African people’s destiny, to encourage self-sufficiency, while embracing the ideology: “Africa for Africans.” At this point in his life, he knew no difference between black and white; however, his innocence was soon lost.
At fourteen years of age, Garvey was jolted when the white minister’s daughter, a neighbor that Marcus had grown up with and played with all his life, was sent to school in England and was told by her parents not to write to him because he was a “nigger.” This was something that Garvey never forgot. It was a stunning awakening to the harsh reality of the racial discrimination present in Jamaican society. He soon realized that opportunities for desirable employment, such as training for government jobs, went to white youths, while black boys became laborers. Garvey affirmed that “God created all people equal, and to deny this was to insult God Almighty.”
During the same year, Marcus was sent to learn the printing trade at his Godfather Burrows’s shop. The love of books that he had inherited from his father was further encouraged during his working days at the printery. Mr. Burrows had an extensive book collection, which Marcus made full use of. Garvey also came into contact with Mr. Burrows’s old cronies and friends, who frequently stopped by the printery to discuss politics and social affairs, reminiscing about the old slave days, plantation stories and slave rebellions. It was at this point in Garvey’s life that his lifelong interest in politics and social affairs began.
At age eighteen, in 1906, Garvey moved to Kingston, Jamaica in search of brighter prospects. He got a job at Benjamin’s Printery and by the age of twenty, he had become a master printer and foreman at this company. In 1908, Garvey had his first experience in labor organization when the printers went on strike for better wages. Garvey joined them in spite of being offered higher wages himself. When the strike proved to be unsuccessful, Marcus lost his job and was blacklisted, which banned him from working in a private printery. However, with his expertise of the printing business, he soon found employment at the Government Printing Office.
In 1910, Garvey joined the National Club of Jamaica, a political club that provided him with his first experience in newspaper publishing and campaigning for a political candidate. He was elected Secretary and published the pamphlet, The Struggling Mass. Two of the members, J. Coleman Beecher and S.M. DeLeon, were asked what impressed them most about Garvey, and they replied:
He was fiercely proud of being black. He carried a pocket dictionary with him and said he studied three or four words daily, and in his room he would write a paragraph or two using these words. (Beecher)
He had a mature mind from the time he came to Kingston in his teens. He was always busy, planning and doing something for the underprivileged youth. Uplift work we called it, and he had us in the shaft with him. (DeLeon)
During the same year, Garvey left Jamaica for Costa Rica where he worked as a timekeeper on a banana plantation while staying with an uncle. As he observed the conditions under which his fellow blacks worked, he became determined to change the lives of his people. In referring to God’s relationship with humanity, Garvey wrote:
When God breathed into the nostrils of man the breath of life, He made him a living soul, and bestowed upon him the authority of “Lord of Creation.” He never intended that an individual should descend to the level of a peon, a serf, or a slave, but that he should be always man in the fullest possession of his senses and with the truest knowledge of himself. But how changed has man become since creation? We find him today divided into different classes — the helpless imbecile, the dependant slave, the servant and master. These different classes God never created. He created man.
Garvey left Costa Rica and traveled throughout Central America, working and observing the working conditions of blacks throughout the region. His travels included Guatemala, Panama, Nicaragua, Bocas-del-Toro, Ecuador, Chile, and Peru. In all of these Spanish-speaking republics were West Indian workers who had left their overpopulated islands because of unemployment and poverty. He was soon to find that everywhere, blacks were experiencing great hardships.
Whenever Garvey could, he published a little paper to voice the migrants’ feelings and views. In Costa Rica it was called La Nacionale, in Panama La Prensa. However, the people were unable to conceptualize the importance of upkeeping a paper and an organization for their own protection and interests. Garvey persisted and became harassed by the authorities and they labeled him as an agitator. Garvey returned to Jamaica after two years and said, “he felt sick at heart.” He brought the sufferings of the West Indian workers before the governor of Jamaica but his cry for help “fell on deaf ears.”
In 1912, Garvey left Jamaica and sailed to England, where his only surviving sister, Indiana, lived. It was in London that he learned a lot about African culture and also became interested in the conditions of blacks in the United States. Garvey began taking part in the free-for-all Speaker’s Corner in London’s Hyde Park, regularly visiting the House of Commons, and attending lectures at Birksbeck College. At the same time, Garvey befriended Duse Muhammad, an Egyptian nationalist who published a paper called The African and Orient Review. It was through his friendship with Muhammad that he gained an international perspective of the struggles of African people all over the world.
While in London, Garvey also read Booker T. Washington’s autobiography and other works by the American activist and educator. Garvey wrote, “I read of conditions in America. I read Up From Slavery, and then my doom — if I may so call it — of being a race leader dawned upon me.” Although it had been four decades since the abolition of slavery in the United States, many still considered blacks an inferior race. Garvey began to ask unanswerable questions: “Where is the black man’s government? Where is his king and kingdom? Where is his President, his country and ambassador, his army, his navy, his men of big affairs? I will help to make them,” he declared. And with that, he headed home to Jamaica.
Garvey returned to Jamaica in 1914 with a vision to establish an organization to “unite all Negro peoples in the world into one great body to establish a country and government absolutely their own.” Five days after his arrival, the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League was born. “Such a name I thought would embrace the purpose of all black humanity. Thus to the world a name was born, a movement created, and a man became known,” stated Garvey. The organization declared its motto — One God! One Aim! One Destiny!
The objectives of the UNIA were synonymous to Marcus Garvey’s dreams. First, he wanted a worldwide confraternity of the Black race; second, he wished to see the development of Africa from a backward, colonial enclave to a self-supporting giant of which all Blacks could be proud; third, he wanted to see Africa as a developed Negro nation, a force in world power, and a place to which all Blacks could return; fourth, he envisioned a Black nation from which Black representatives were to be sent to all the principle countries and cities of the world; fifth, he wanted to see the development of Black educational institutions for the teaching of Black cultures; and last he wanted to work for the uplifting of the Black race anywhere it was to be found.
Although he developed a small following in Jamaica, he was opposed, criticized, and ridiculed by many, including blacks. The daily papers wrote of his trip to London and told of his movement. Headlines such as: “Garvey is crazy: he has lost his head,” and “Is that the use he is going to make of his experience and intelligence?” began appearing in Jamaican papers. Garvey writes about his opposition:
I was openly hated and persecuted by some of these colored men on the island who did not want to be classified as negroes, but as white. They hated me even worse than poison. They opposed me every step …I became a marked man, but I was determined that the work should be done.
Garvey was disappointed in the reaction that Jamaicans had towards the UNIA. In need of funds and support, Garvey wrote to Booker T. Washington because he was impressed with his views on education and industry. Washington replied encouraging him to come to America, however, by the time Garvey raised enough money to make the trip, Washington had passed away. Still fully determined, Garvey proceeded to America where he thought blacks would be more eager to improve their status.
During this time, WWI was ending, and unsatisfied black people all over the country were rioting, and the need for a leader to come forward and inspire them increased. Marcus Garvey would fill that void.
Just before Garvey left for the United States, on the eve of his departure, he is reported to have said in his farewell address, “Look to Africa for the crowning of a Black King, he shall be the Redeemer.” To the Rastafarians, this king is Halie Selassie, and today, all Rastafarians revere Marcus Garvey as their inspirer; his picture is prominent in all homes and cult houses. His speeches are avidly read; songs and poems are written in his honor and, in the pantheon of the Rastafarians, Marcus Garvey is second only to Halie Selassie.
In March of 1916, Garvey landed in Harlem. Blacks were on the verge of a major social change. Thousands of blacks, from the West Indies and the American South, were migrating to New York, however they were quick to find that even in the North, Negroes were considered second-class citizens. Garvey started his campaign in Harlem as a soapbox speaker on street corners and was later allowed use of St. Mark’s Hall for special meetings. He rallied the people around him because he was talking about a positive international program, not just an anti-lynching protest.
The UNIA’s message of black unity, black pride, and economic self-sufficiency quickly took root and flourished among a dissatisfied and bitter people. “We’ve got to teach the American Negro blackness,” Garvey preached. “Black ideals, black industry, black United States and black religion.” Today, this message of unity among the black race continues to be heard through Peter Tosh’s Africa:
Don’t care where you come from
As long as you’re a black man you’re an African.
Garvey’s popularity soon grew to a point that could support his next venture, the formation of another chapter of the UNIA in New York. However, he first embarked on a yearlong speaking tour of thirty-eight states.
At the end of 1917, Garvey returned to Harlem and during January of the following year, established the first American branch of the UNIA in New York. Within a year, the UNIA had branches in thirty-eight states and six foreign countries, with a following estimated around four million people. Garvey emerged as the best known, most controversial, and, for many, the most attractive of a new generation of New Negro Leaders. Garvey spoke of this when asked to reflect on his past year’s work:
Other races were engaged in seeing their cause through — the Jewish through their Zionist movement and the Irish through their Irish movement — and I decided that, cost what it might, I would make this a favorable time to see the Negro’s interest through.
Although Garvey thought of himself as a journalist, each of his attempts at newspaper editing had failed. However, the UNIA had grown so much that it was a necessity to have a publication through which he could express his views. The Negro World was the result, and it was successful. As the movement spread, The Negro World gained circulation and helped recruit more followers. Within a short span of time, the weekly became one of Harlem’s most popular black-owned publications. Parts of the 10-to-16-page paper were published in French and Spanish for Central American and West Indian readers, and each edition carried Garvey’s front-page editorial. By some estimates, circulation reached 65,000 worldwide and Claude McKay, a contemporary and critic of Garvey, called the publication “the best-edited colored weekly in New York.”
Garvey suggested that in order to achieve independence, the blacks would first and foremost have to be economically independent. In an effort to make the blacks’ economic independence a reality, the UNIA started the Negro Factories Corporation, a chain of grocery stores, a restaurant, a steam laundry, a tailor and dressmaking shop, a millenary store and a publishing house. However, the most important and promising, the Black Star Line Steamship Corporation, was launched in 1919.
The Black Star Line started out as a shipping line to foster black trade, but Marcus had the ultimate goal of using the four ships that made up the fleet to implement his “Back to Africa” movement: transporting black passengers back to the motherland between America, the Caribbean, and Africa. Garvey’s “Back to Africa” movement is explained clearly through the lyrics of Exodus, written by Bob Marley:
Open your eyes and look within
Are you satisfied
With the life you’re living
We know where we’re going
We know where we’re from
We’re leaving babylon
Into our father’s land…
When Garvey started the company, he financed it by selling stock to blacks around the country. He advertised in the Negro World and in leaflets that read, “Let us guide our own destiny” and “Have you bought your shares in the Black Star Line? If not, please do so today.” Garvey had waged an all-out campaign to raise money, but the Black Star Line was never financially healthy.
In 1920, Marcus Garvey held the first UNIA International Convention at Madison Square Garden, which significantly altered the course of the association. It was at this time that the UNIA’s Declaration of Rights was adopted, marking the evolution of the movement into a black nationalist one. Also, by a unanimous vote, Garvey was elected provisional president of Africa and the official colors of the movement, Red, Black, and Green were endorsed. The symbolism of these colors is explained in Rally Round, by Steel Pulse:
Rally round the flag,
Rally round the red, gold, black, and green.
Marcus say, Marcus say, Red for the blood that flowed like a river
Marcus say, Marcus say, Green for the land, Africa
Marcus say, Marcus say, Yellow for the gold that they stole
Marcus say, Marcus say, Black from the people they looted from…
In January of 1922, federal agents arrested Garvey, and charged him with mail fraud. As early as September 1918, Garvey’s name had appeared on a report to the Bureau of Investigation. Government surveillance had been growing right along with Garvey’s publication of The Negro World. For years the government had tried to find something to charge Garvey with including a violation of the Mann Act, the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act. However, no solid evidence could be found against him. In 1919, bureau headquarters in Washington instructed its New York office to forward a summary of the Garvey file and prepare “at the earliest moment, a case for deportation.” However, once again, no government agency had found enough evidence for such an action.
1919 was also the year that J. Edgar Hoover was appointed the first director of the Justice Department’s new General Intelligence Division, which was also the head of the ‘Red Scare.’ Hoover’s duties included monitoring “Negro activities,” and he focused in on Garvey, describing him as “particularly active among the radical elements in New York and agitating the Negro movement. Unfortunately, however, he has not yet violated any federal law.” Hoover’s plan to remove Garvey soon began to take shape and his investigation switched to searching for possible criminal action rather than seditious behavior.
Hoover received information from an undercover agent in 1921 saying that Garvey’s movement was in “financial straits” but that the UNIA was continuing to promote stocks in the Black Star Line. A second line memo indicated that The Negro World was about to publish a false advertisement “to be used for the purpose of securing further purchases for the Black Star Line stock.” Desperately trying to raise money, Garvey’s officials continued to sell stock, soliciting by mail. Because the Black Star Line was in financial collapse, Hoover deemed the sales fraudulent and moved to indict Garvey.
Despite witnesses being uncertain and testimonies inconsistent, Garvey was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison and fined $1,000. Hoover also suspended all Black Star Line operations. However, Garvey appealed, acting as his own defense and was set free on bail from New York Tombs Prison three months after his arrival. Garvey gave a speech before incarceration in The Tombs Prison:
Now, understand me well, Marcus Garvey has entered the fight for the emancipation of race, the fight for the redemption of a country. From the silent graves of millions who went down to make me what I am, I shall make for their memory, this fight that shall leave a glaring page in the history of man.
Two years later, in 1925, the federal appeals court upheld the conviction of Garvey and it was then that he began to serve his sentence in a US penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia. When the US Marshall took Garvey to prison, one of the officers said, “We have captured the tiger.” Garvey responded, “But my cubs are running wild!” It was here, in the Atlanta prison that Garvey wrote “African Fundamentalism,” which he later shared with blacks around the world on a speaking tour. Garvey explains this concept:
“African Fundamentalism” seeks to emancipate the Negro from the thoughts of others who are encouraging him to act on their opinions and thought. Have your own opinion. Any race that has succeeded in the world will tell you that their ability to rise above others and to establish themselves in the world was only made possible through the fact that they thought and acted for themselves. Because if you act on the thoughts of others, so long will they remain your superiors…to let you serve them as slaves.
Garvey further explains this concept in a speech titled “Accept Something Original:”
The Creed of “African Fundamentalism” must be maintained and protected every day. It is a philosophy that is to serve as a guide to the Negro Peoples of the world. The other peoples do not live their lives by chance; they have a Creed to guide them. Our race is the only one that has not done that, and so long as we continue the slack methods, so long will we be the slaves of the world….”African Fundamentalism,” the Creed of our race. Get a copy tonight, hang it up on your wall, point your children to it; let them study it; let them follow it; let it be an inspiration to greater things.
Garvey spent two years in jail, writing “African Fundamentalism” and conjuring up new ideas for the UNIA and the black people of the world. In 1927, President Calvin Coolidge reversed Garvey’s sentence; however, he was released into the custody of US Immigration Services and deported to Jamaica. When he arrived to his homeland, a large crowd met him at Orett’s Wharf in Kingston. A huge procession and band marched to the UNIA headquarters at Liberty Hall, where Garvey impressed the crowd with his usual impassioned oratory.
The Rastafari Elders remember the fight that Marcus Garvey fought for the emancipation of Blacks through the lyrics of 400 Years:
Hail Marcus Mosiah Garvey,
Who lead the Black world into reality.
Oh, what a Marcus Mosiah Garvey,
Jah, Jah give the power of authority…
Marcus Garvey never weary, Garvey never fear.
He trod it in the prison, and he trod it in the jail.
The prophet take the rough road to the mountain top.
Unite the poor and needy and protect the handicapped.
Once back in Jamaica, Garvey worked hard to rebuild the UNIA there. He traveled a lot, visiting many branches of the organization in other West Indian territories and in Central America. In 1928, Garvey left Jamaica for Europe, where he established European headquarters. He then went on a speaking tour of Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, and Geneva. He attempted to visit Canada but was detained in Montreal and deported once again, back to Jamaica.
In 1929, Garvey founded the People’s Political Party, Jamaica’s first modern political party, which included such goals as a larger share of self-government, protection for native industries, and a legal aid department for the poor.
Garvey’s return to the Jamaican UNIA headquarters caused “widespread fragmentation and desertion among branches in the United States.” Although the UNIA convention in Kingston in 1929 was able to “recapture some of the splendor and enthusiasm of its early Harlem era, the organization never again amassed a substantial membership.”
In 1931, Garvey launched the Edelweiss Amusement Company in Jamaica. This company exemplified the necessity for artists to make a living from their work and a majority of the entertainment was based on church, school, and folk entertainment. Garvey himself wrote plays and poems for presentation here and on Sundays, Garvey conducted a “non-denominational, religious service.”
In 1935, Garvey moved to London and in 1937 began a publication of a series of negative editorials of Halie Selassie and his policies, accusing him of lack of identification with fellow blacks and of being “visionless and disloyal to his country.” During the same year, he organized The School of African Philosophy, which would train the future leadership of the UNIA.
In 1940, five years after his arrival in London, Garvey fell ill. Garvey suffered a stroke in January, which left him partially paralyzed. He slowly improved under special care, however, he had had pneumonia twice before and his heart was weak. Garvey spoke of his death when he grew ill:
When I am dead, wrap the mantle of the Red, Black, and Green around me, for in the new life I shall rise with God’s grace and blessings to lead the millions up the heights of triumph with the colors you well know. Look for me in the whirlwind.
In May, a London reporter, sent out a news release that Garvey had died and newspapers all over the world carried the news. “As he opened all his letters and cables,” remarks Daisy White, Garvey’s personal secretary, “he was faced with clippings of his own obituary and pictures of himself with deep black borders. After the second day of this pile of shock, he collapsed in his chair and could hardly be understood after that.” Marcus Garvey steadily grew worse and passed away on June 10, 1940, never having set foot in Africa.
Marcus Garvey was buried in St. Mary’s Roman Catholic cemetery in Kensal Green, London. However, on November 13, 1964, the remains of the Right Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey were exhumed in London and reentered into a special Marcus Garvey Memorial in National Heroes Park in Kingston, Jamaica. It was here that Garvey was declared Jamaica’s first national hero.
Marcus Garvey’s life remains a testimony to his spectacular ability to capture the popular imagination and move people to a new outlook. He has lived on through Rastafarians and the lyrics of reggae music, with albums such as Marcus Garvey and Garvey’s Ghost by Burning Spear preserving his unforgettable thoughts and teachings. His movement still represents liberation from the psychological bondage of racial inferiority. “After all discount is made,” declared a temporary, “after all the tinsel is brushed away, the fact remains that the grandiose schemes of Marcus Garvey gave to the race a consciousness such as it had never possessed before.”
Bair, Barbara and Robert A. Hill, Marcus Garvey: Life & Lessons. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987: pp. xiii-xviii, 7-25, 206-14.
Barrett, Leonard E., Sr., The Rastafarians. Boston: Beacon Press, 1997: pp. 65-7, 80-4.
Barrow, Steve and Peter Dalton, Reggae: The Rough Guide. London: Rough Guides Ltd., 1997.
Clarke, John H., Marcus Garvey and the Vision of Africa. New York: Vintage Books: A division of Random House, 1974: pp. 29-37, 71-6, 139-51, 343-4, 373.
Davis, Stephen and Peter Simon. “From the Root of King David,” Reggae International. New York: R&B, 1982: pp. 59-60.
Davis, Stephen and Peter Simon. “The Brotherhood of Rastafari,” Reggae Bloodlines: In Search of the Music and Culture of Jamaica. New York: De Capo Press, 1992: pp. 63-70.
DuCille, Michel. “Black Moses, Red Scare: The Clash of Marcus Garvey & J. Edgar Hoover.” The Washington Post 12 February 1997.
Erskine, Noel L., Decolonizing Theology. New Jersey: Africa World Press, Inc., 1998: pp. 154-65.
Hacker, Diana, A Writer’s Reference, 4th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999: pp. 267-72, 289-93, 331-43.
Hill, Robert A., The Marcus Garvey & UNIA Papers v 12, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.
Maeder, Jay and Dennis Wepman. “Black Star Marcus Garvey, 1922.” Daily News 19 April 1998.
Vincent, Theodore G., The Black Power & The Garvey Movement. New York: The Ramparts Press, pre 1960.
“Black Moses, Red Scare: The Clash of Marcus Garvey & J. Edgar Hoover,” Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe,
“Black Start Marcus Garvey, 1922,” Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe,
“Fact Sheet on Marcus Garvey,” The Marcus Garvey & UNIA Papers Project, UCLA,
“Great Men & Women: Marcus Garvey,” Jamaica’s Heroes,
“Historical Facts about Marcus Garvey & the UNIA-ACL,” UNIA-ACL Homepage,
“Marcus Garvey: An Overview,” The Marcus Garvey & UNIA Papers Project, UCLA,
“Marcus Garvey & the UNIA,” The Marcus Garvey & UNIA Papers Project, UCLA,
“Marcus Garvey & the UNIA-ACL Chronology,” UNIA-ACL Homepage,
“Marcus Garvey: Life & Lessons,” The Marcus Garvey & UNIA Papers Project, UCLA,
“Marcus Garvey Promotes ‘Africa for the African,’” World African Network News,
“’Marcus Garvey Words Come to Pass:’ A Black Revolutionary’s Teachings Line on Through Rastafarianism & Reggae Music,” The Dread Library,
“Who was Marcus Garvey?” Thomas “Vialli” Wallner: Who was Marcus Garvey,
Bob Marley & the Wailers, “Exodus,” Island Records Ltd., 1997.
Bob Marley & the Wailers, “Songs of Freedom,” Island Records Ltd., 1999.
Peter Tosh, “Equal Rights,” JAD Records, 1977.
Peter Tosh, “Honorary Citizen,” JAD Records Inc., 1971 (disc one); Pauline Morris, 1977 (disc two); Sony Music Est. Inc., 1997 (disc three).
Rastafari Elders, “Rastafari Elders,” RAS Records Inc., 1990.
Steel Pulse, “Steel Pulse Rastanthology,” Wise Man Doctrine, 1996.
Steel Pulse, “Vex,” MCA, 1994.
*Many lyrics from other artists looked at on niceup.com.
Read more @: http://debate.uvm.edu/dreadlibrary/winnick.html