Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr. ONH (17 August 1887 – 10 June 1940) was a Jamaican political activist, publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, and orator. He was the founder and first President-General of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL, commonly known as UNIA), through which he declared himself Provisional President of Africa. Ideologically a black nationalist and Pan-Africanist, his ideas came to be known as Garveyism.
Garvey was born to a moderately prosperous Afro-Jamaican family in Saint Ann's Bay, Colony of Jamaica and apprenticed into the print trade as a teenager. Working in Kingston, he became involved in trade unionism before living briefly in Costa Rica, Panama, and England. Returning to Jamaica, he founded UNIA in 1914. In 1916, he moved to the United States and established a UNIA branch in New York City's Harlem district. Emphasising unity between Africans and the African diaspora, he campaigned for an end to European colonial rule across Africa and the political unification of the continent. He envisioned a unified Africa as a one-party state, governed by himself, that would enact laws to ensure black racial purity. Although he never visited the continent, he was committed to the Back-to-Africa movement, arguing that many African-Americans should migrate there. Garveyist ideas became increasingly popular and UNIA grew in membership. However, his black separatist views—and his collaboration with white racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) to advance their shared interest in racial separatism—divided Garvey from other prominent African-American civil rights activists such as W. E. B. Du Bois who promoted racial integration.
Committed to the belief that African-Americans needed to secure financial independence from white-dominant society, Garvey launched various businesses in the U.S., including the Negro Factories Corporation and Negro World newspaper. In 1919, he became President of the Black Star Line shipping and passenger company, designed to forge a link between North America and Africa and facilitate African-American migration to Liberia. In 1923 Garvey was convicted of mail fraud for selling its stock and imprisoned in the Atlanta State Penitentiary. Many commentators have argued that the trial was politically motivated; Garvey blamed Jewish people, claiming that they were prejudiced against him because of his links to the KKK. Deported to Jamaica in 1927, where he settled in Kingston with his wife Amy Jacques, Garvey continued his activism and established the People's Political Party in 1929, briefly serving as a city councillor. With UNIA in increasing financial difficulty, in 1935 he relocated to London, where his anti-socialist stance distanced him from many of the city's black activists. He died there in 1940, although in 1964 his body was returned to Jamaica for reburial in Kingston's National Heroes Park.
Garvey was a controversial figure. Many in the African diasporic community regarded him as a pretentious demagogue and were highly critical of his collaboration with white supremacists, his violent rhetoric, and his prejudice against mixed-race people and Jews. He nevertheless received praise for encouraging a sense of pride and self-worth among Africans and the African diaspora amid widespread poverty, discrimination, and colonialism. He is seen as a national hero in Jamaica, and his ideas exerted a considerable influence on movements like Rastafari, the Nation of Islam, and the Black Power Movement.
The growth of UNIA: 1918–1921
In 1918, UNIA membership grew rapidly. In June that year it was incorporated, and in July a commercial arm, the African Communities' League, filed for incorporation. Garvey envisioned UNIA establishing an import-and-export business, a restaurant, and a launderette. He also proposed raising the funds to secure a permanent building as a base for the group. In April 1918, Garvey launched a weekly newspaper, the Negro World, which Cronon later noted remained "the personal propaganda organ of its founder". Financially, it was backed by philanthropists like Madam C. J. Walker, but six months after its launch was pursuing a special appeal for donations to keep it afloat. Various journalists took Garvey to court for his failure to pay them for their contributions, a fact much publicised by rival publications; at the time, there were over 400 black-run newspapers and magazines in the U.S. Unlike may of these, Garvey refused to feature adverts for skin-lightening and hair-straightening products, urging black people to "take the kinks out of your mind, instead of out of your hair". By the end of its first year, the circulation of Negro World was nearing 10,000; copies circulated not only in the US, but also in the Caribbean, Central, and South America.
Garvey appointed his old friend Domingo, who had also arrived in New York City, as the newspaper's editor. However, Domingo's socialist views alarmed Garvey who feared that they would imperil UNIA. Garvey had Domingo brought before UNIA's nine-person executive committee, where he was accused of writing editorials professing ideas at odds with UNIA's message. Domingo resigned several months later; he and Garvey henceforth became enemies. In September 1918, Ashwood sailed from Panama to be with Garvey, arriving in New York City in October. In November, she became General Secretary of UNIA. At UNIA gatherings, she was responsible for reciting black-authored poetry, as was the actor Henrietta Vinton Davis, who had also joined the movement.
After the First World War ended, President Woodrow Wilson declared his intention to present a 14-point plan for world peace at the forthcoming Paris Peace Conference. Garvey was among the African-Americans who formed the International League of Darker Peoples which sought to lobby Wilson and the conference to give greater respect to the wishes of people of colour; their delegates nevertheless were unable to secure the travel documentation. At Garvey's prompting, UNIA sent a young Haitian, Elizier Cadet, as its delegate to the conference. The world leaders who met at the conference nevertheless largely ignored such perspectives, instead reaffirming their support for European colonialism.
In the U.S., many African-Americans who had served in the military refused to return to their more subservient role in society and throughout 1919 there were various racial clashes throughout the country. The government feared that black people would be encouraged to revolutionary behavior following the October Revolution in Russia, and in this context, military intelligence ordered Major Walter Loving to investigate Garvey. Loving's report concluded that Garvey was a "very able young man" who was disseminating "clever propaganda". The BOI's J. Edgar Hoover decided that Garvey was worthy of deportation and decided to include him in their Palmer Raids launched to deport subversive non-citizens. The BOI presented Garvey's name to the Labor Department under Louis F. Post to ratify the deportation but Post's department refused to do so, stating that the case against Garvey was not proven.
Success and obstacles
UNIA grew rapidly and in just over 18 months it had branches in 25 U.S. states, as well as divisions in the West Indies, Central America, and West Africa. The exact membership is not known, although Garvey—who often exaggerated numbers—claimed that by June 1919 it had two million members. It remained smaller than the better established National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), although there was some crossover in membership of the two groups. The NAACP and UNIA differed in their approach; while the NAACP was a multi-racial organisation which promoted racial integration, UNIA was a black-only group. The NAACP focused its attention on what it termed the "talented tenth" of the African-American population, such as doctors, lawyers, and teachers, whereas UNIA emphasized the image of a mass organisation and included many poorer people and West Indian migrants in its ranks. NAACP supporters accused Garvey of stymieing their efforts at bringing about racial integration in the U.S.
Garvey was dismissive of the NAACP leader W. E. B. Du Bois, and in one issue of the Negro World called him a "reactionary under [the] pay of white men". Du Bois generally tried to ignore Garvey, regarding him as a demagogue, but at the same time wanted to learn all he could about Garvey's movement. In 1921, Garvey twice reached out to DuBois, asking him to contribute to UNIA publications, but the offer was rebuffed. Their relationship became acrimonious; in 1923, DuBois described Garvey as "a little fat black man, ugly but with intelligent eyes and big head". By 1924, Grant suggested, the two hated each other.
To promote his views to a wide audience, Garvey took to shouting slogans from a megaphone as he was driven through Harlem in a Cadillac. UNIA established a restaurant and ice cream parlour at 56 West 135th Street, and also launched a millinery store selling hats. With an increased income coming in through UNIA, Garvey moved to a new residence at 238 West 131st Street; in 1919, a young middle-class Jamaican migrant, Amy Jacques, became his personal secretary. UNIA also obtained a partially-constructed church building in Harlem, which Garvey named "Liberty Hall" after its namesake in Dublin, Ireland, which had been established during the
The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey
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