Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born August 17 1887 in St. Ann’s Bay Jamaica to Marcus Mosiah Garvey Sr., a mason and Sarah Jane Richards, a domestic worker and farmer. He begins an apprenticeship at his godfathers printing company in 1900 and ends all formal education in 1903 after completing the sixth grade. From 1910 to 1912, Garvey travels extensively in Central America, editing a daily newspaper in Port Limon Costa Rica and a tri-weekly paper in Colon Panama. In 1912, Garvey moves to London to attend Birkbeck College. During his time there, Garvey travels to numerous countries throughout Europe. After returning to Jamaica in 1914, Garvey co-founds the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and the African Communities League with Amy Ashwood. Their motto becomes: “One God! One Aim! One Destiny!” and “Africa for Africans Home and Abroad!” Later that year, Garvey writes to Booker T. Washington for support for his movement. Washington invites Garvey to visit Tuskegee, but passes away before they are able to meet. Garvey arrives in the United States in 1916, settling in Harlem. He gains a following for his movement by speaking nightly on the street corner. In a letter dated April 25, 1916, Garvey requests that W. E. B. Du Bois chair his first lecture in the United States. A reply was sent four days later stating the Du Bois would be out of town. Garvey gave his first public lecture in May 1916, which ends with him falling off the stage! Despite this embarrassment, Garvey perseveres, giving speaking tours across the country throughout the summer.
On August 17, 1918, the first issue of the UNIA’s The Negro World is published to promote nationalism and the Back to Africa movement. Garvey argued in The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey that “nationhood is the only means by which modern civilization can completely protect itself. Independence of nationality, independence of government, is the means of protecting not only the individual but the group. Nationhood is the highest ideal of all peoples. The evolutionary scale that weighs nations and races, balances alike for peoples; hence we feel sure that someday the balance will register a change for the Negro” (5). He also believes in the Divine Apportionment of the World, where each race is given its own country (25).
A few months later, copies are confiscated by authorities in various countries. It is banned by the governor of Belize, called seditious by the governor of Trinidad, and seized by the government of British Guiana. The acting governor of Jamaica orders the postmaster to open and detain copies of the newspaper. In April 1919, Garvey announces his plan to start the Black Star Line, a shipping company, and the Negro Factories Corporation, which developed grocery stores, a restaurant, a laundry, a moving van fleet and a publishing house. In a letter to the editor of The New York Age in 1919, Du Bois credits Garvey with “having forseen the necessity of a union in business and social uplift between all the African peoples.” Yet he contends that Garvey is not the answer and should not be the person to carry it out because he “lacks poise and business ability.” It is perhaps this opinion that kept Du Bois from inviting Garvey to participate in the Pan African Congresses. It is around this time that the Federal Bureau of Investigation begins to monitor Garvey and other black radicals. A few months later Garvey is arraigned by the Court of General Sessions and committed briefly to the Tombs prison in New York, where he is shortly released after paying $3000 bail. In September, the Black Star Line signs a contract to purchase its first ship, the “S.S. Yarmouth,” later renamed the Frederick Douglass for $165,000. In Oct., Garvey is shot by an attempted assassin George Tyler, who commits suicide while in jail. On January 17 1920 the S. S. Yarmouth departs New York Harbor for Havana, two days later the ship is found sinking a mere 101 miles off the coast of New York. The U.S. government seizes the cargo. Talk of a dissention between members of UNIA becomes public. Garvey addresses these concerns in a meeting at Liberty Hall on March 28th, 1920. The end of that summer, August 1 through the 31st, UNIA holds its first International Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World at Madison Square Garden and schedules a massive parade in Harlem. At the Convention, the UNIA adopts and signs a” Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World”, adopts a “nation” flag with the colors of red, black, and green, and elects officials for a provisional government, where Garvey is elected Provisional President of Africa. In a 1920 UNIA Questionnaire, it reads “ We of the UNIA, after having taken into consideration the impossibility of the liberal and humanitarian few to curb successfully the passion of the great mass, are endeavoring to so create sentiment among the 15 million Negroes of America and other parts of the world as to lead them to see that the only and best solution for the race problem is for us to have a nation of our own in Africa, whereby we would not be regarded in countries like America, as competitors of the white race for the common position in politics, industry and society, but that we would be regarded as a people striving fin our own country to present to the world a civilization and culture of our own.” That same month, Garvey is indicted on charges of criminal libel and the government investigates ways to deport him. It is also around this time that Garvey announces a $2 million Liberian Construction Loan, meant to repatriate black people to Africa. In 1922, The Negro World is confiscated and banned throughout Africa. Garvey is soon arrested for fraudulent use of mails and the Black Star Line dissolves due to financial failure. The Universal Negro Improvement Association enterprise is forced to close its doors due to failure to pay rent. In June 1923, Garvey is sentenced to five years in the Tombs Prison, but 4 years later he is sent to New Orleans for deportation. He delivers a farewell address on the deck of the S. S. Saramacca. He is never to return to the United States. In just over ten years in the United States, Garvey was able to captivate the world’s attention and began what many call the largest movement among African descendent peoples. Despite Garvey’s legal woes and the international reception to the magazine, The Negro World continues to publish in the United States until 1933.
Although his failed economic enterprises have been well documented, Garvey maintained that his failures were due to traitors within the African American community. He often accused African American leaders of color prejudice, which weakened his sources of support. In a 1923 press release, Garvey argues that his critics are jealous of his movement’s success among blacks across the world. It is because of this jealously, that critics (Du Bois is listed) must formulate lies about Garvey himself and his movement. At the same time, the letter comes off as a challenge, oftentimes being forceful. This might signal an underlying weakness in Garvey’s campaign. In it he also says “Pilgrim Fathers we must have if Africa is to rise from her slumber and darkness,” which suggests that Africa is not for Africans, as such, but for African Americans or for those that are capable of being leaders for an African nation. A UNIA manifesto dated 1926 states: “Owing to the maladministration of Marcus Garvey, in whose hands we confidently placed the guidance of our vast world organization, we have been able to do little in a concrete way for the advancement of the great cause of Negro Nationhood, save spread propaganda of racial unity among Negroes everywhere.” It goes further to claim that Garvey squandered the funds collected and gave himself an “exorbitant salary.” In 1935, Garvey relocates to London, leaving his two sons Marcus and Julius with their mother Amy Jacques Garvey in Jamaica. In Jan. 1940, Garvey suffers a cerebral hemorrhage, he is paralyzed on his right side and his speech is affected. On 10 June, after suffering a second cerebral hemorrhage, Garvey dies in London. His body was returned to Jamaica in 1964, where it is buried in the National Heroes Park in Kingston. Garvey is positioned as the advocate for Black Nationalism based on economic self-help, drawn from Washington’s thought and Pan-Africanism, which is also associated with Du Bois. In The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, Garvey argues that “the race can only be saved through a solid industrial foundation. That the race can only be saved through political independence. Take away industry from a race; take away political freedom from a race, and you have a group of slaves” (7). Garvey argued that African Americans must find their destiny in Africa. He urged the African American community to become self-sufficient and establish economic links between communities in the African Diaspora.
For more information on Garvey and Du Bois, please visit The Special Collections and University Archives on Credo.