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Marcus Garvey was born in St Ann's Bay, St Ann, on August 17, 1887 to Malcus "Marcus" Mosiah Garvey, a mason and Sarah Jane Richards a domestic worker.

He died from a stroke in London in June 1940. His body was exhumed and shipped to Jamaica in November 1964 when he was also officially recognised as a National Hero. Here are some of Garvey's accomplishments throughout his lifetime.

Early activism

Garvey organized a strike among the workers at Kingston's largest printer. The 1907 earthquake devastated the city and the financial hardships prompted the printers’ union, Jamaica’s first, to ask for better wages and working conditions. When their request was denied they went on strike. The plant owners offered Garvey a pay increase as incentive to quash the work stoppage, but he refused and walked out of negotiations. The strike was eventually broken and Garvey was blacklisted by private printers.

 

The UNIA

In 1910, he began travelling to countries in the Americas and Europe. He did not visit Africa, but kept abreast of African affairs, and made contact with influential Africans. He conceived the idea of one great international organisation of proud, educated and financially independent black people who would take their place as equals on the world stage.

Garvey returned to Jamaica in 1914, and, on Emancipation Day, August 1, and launched the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). The UNIA was dedicated to improving the conditions of black people the world over. Its famous motto was 'One God! One Aim! One Destiny!' Seeing a larger stage in the United States, he moved there in 1916.

At its height, the UNIA had an estimated four million members with more than 1,000 branches in more than 20 countries, and is generally considered the largest mass movement in Afro-American history.

The headquarters for the UNIA in Jamaica was located at 76 Kings Street. The site is now a Jamaica National Heritage Trust site and was renamed Liberty Hall.

The Influence of Garvey

Many major African political figures would recall being influenced by Garvey, including Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah, Kenya's Jomo Kenyatta, and Nigeria's Nnamdi Azikiwe. Much of the African National Congress leadership in 1920s South Africa belonged to the UNIA. So did Elijah Muhammad, who, to a large extent, patterned his Nation of Islam movement on the UNIA. Malcom X's father was a UNIA organiser, and Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Min attended UNIA meetings.

In Jamaica, Garvey also hosted lectures, debates, training courses and cultural programmes at Liberty Hall, the first meeting hall in Jamaica owned and operated by blacks. Among those who benefited from these educational offerings were Sir Phillip Sherlock, Wesley Powell, Dalton James, Amy Bailey, and Father Gladstone Wilson.

'Africa for Africans'

Garvey thought that the only way blacks could take their rightful place in history was in a secure African homeland, where they could develop their own culture and civilisation. He was convinced that blacks would always be dominated by whites if they remained as minority groups scattered throughout white-dominated countries.

Garvey is seen as a trailblazer in calling for a homeland for peoples of African origin cut off from their ancestral roots and transplanted to alien environments in the Western Hemisphere.

It can be said that Garvey's Back-to-Africa movement inspired other movements such as the Rastafarian community and their desire to migrate to the African continent.

Black Star Line

Garvey was a gifted orator and activist but not a good businessman. His Black Star Line Steamship Corporation, which was conceptualised to transport blacks back to Africa, proved a financial disaster. It also gave American authorities, who saw Garvey as a threat to the Jim Crow status quo, the opportunity to neutralize him. He was charged for fraud, given a five-year sentence, and deported back to Jamaica in 1927.

However upon his return to his homeland, thousands hailed Garvey's arrival. The Daily Gleaner reported that "no denser crowd has ever been witnessed in Kingston ... . Deafening cheers were raised."

Political efforts

In 1929, Garvey formed the People's Political Party (PPP) and put forward Jamaica's first practical manifesto. It called for Jamaican representation in the British Parliament, a Jamaican university, a free government high school and public library in each parish capital, promotion of native industries, public housing, land reform, and minimum wage and eight-hour day legislation.

Clash of the Titans

At one point, two of our now national heroes Marcus Garvey and Norman Manley  came close to fisticuffs after a heated debate in the meeting room of the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation. The two men traded barbs during a council meeting that was called to discuss the construction of a gas station in what was considered a quiet residential area.

Read an account of the exchange here : The Manley-Garvey Face-Off

 

 

'Black Power'

The popular 1960s slogans: 'Black Is Beautiful' and 'Black Power' all emanated from the Garvey doctrine of black empowerment, and provided inspiration and driving force for the civil rights movement in the United States during that turbulent period.

Garvey argued that there is a need for people of African descent to learn whence they came and how they arrived at their present positions.

In a pamphlet published in Kingston in 1916, Garvey declared: "To study the history of the Negro is to go back into a primitive civilisation that teems with the brightest and best in art and the sciences. You who do not know anything of your ancestry will do well to read the works of Blyden, one of our historians and chroniclers, who has done so much to retrieve the lost prestige of the race, and to undo the selfishness of alien historians and their history, which has said so little and painted us so unfairly."


For more on Garvey from The Gleaner click on these links:

Remembering Marcus Garvey

Marcus Garvey and Black History Month

Marcus Garvey: Black champion of vision and destiny

The Manley-Garvey face-off

Marcus Garvey syllabus for secondary schools to be launched today