10 Things to Know About The Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey

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Written by Ann Brown
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U.S. Library of Congress, George Grantham Bain Collection

There is no doubting Marcus Garvey and his movement changed the lives of many African Americans. He offered options many other leaders hadn’t, such as the idea of returning back to Africa.  In 1914 he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) was a Black nationalist fraternal organization.

The NYC-based, Jamaican immigrant will always be counted among American’s civil rights leaders. And his teachings are still relevant today.

His August 17 birthday is honored worldwide. “On August 26, the Woodson Banneker Jackson-Bey Division of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, the D.C.-based chapter of the organization Garvey founded, will pay tribute to Garvey at the Thurgood Marshall Center with noted historian C.R. Gibbs and psychologist Dr. Jeff Menzise as keynote speakers, and songstress Foluke as the entertainment,” Afro.com reported.

Here are 10 things you should know about Garvey.

Pan-African Movement

While there was a global Pan-African movement going on and Garvey helped introduce Black Americans to the concept. Still, the idea was not fully embraced. “This global Pan-African movement marked Garvey as a target of the U.S. government and other Black leaders who didn’t embrace African fundamentalism, the school of thought in which Black Africans celebrate their trailblazers, not those of their oppressors,” Afro.com reported. 

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The UNIA-ACL

The UNIA-ACL grew and grew and eventually had global attention. “The UNIA-ACL’s first international convention in 1920 at New York City’s Madison Square Garden attracted more than 40,000 people, a considerable feat in the absence of social media. That gathering brought forth ‘The Declaration of the Rights of Negro People of the World, ‘under which the UNIA adopted red, black, and green as the colors of the Pan-African flag, a banner that gained popularity during Black Power Movement of the late 1960s and 70s,” Afro.com reported.

Media & More

Garvey founded the Negro World newspaper in 1918 as a weekly newspaper prompting Garvey’s movement.

“Garvey was also a noted figure in the publishing world where for five-cents, readers of his newspaper received a front-page editorial written by him along with poetry and articles of international interest to people of African ancestry,” the Los Angeles Sentinel reported.

“My dad developed his oratorical skills in large part through his work in newspapers, other publications and speeches,” Garvey’s son Dr. Julius Garvey said. “He used the dictionary and would read through it learning new words every day and, at one point, his words reached between 6 and 11 million people around the world.”

“The paper had a distribution of upwards of five hundred thousand copies weekly at its peak, which included both subscribers and newspaper purchasers,” Wikipedia reported.

The Beginning

Garvey was born in 1887 in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, as one of 11 children. But only Marcus and one of his siblings survived into adulthood. As an adult, Garvey traveled to London where he was educated. “He later returned to Jamaica and started the United Negro Improvement Association and he went on to create thousands of jobs for Black people in America and abroad through his many enterprises under the umbrella of the Negro Factories Corporation,” the Los Angeles Sentinel reported. 

Garvey moved to the United States in 1916 and established a UNIA branch in Harlem. He encouraged unity between Africans and the African diaspora, he pushed for an end to European colonial rule across Africa and the political unification of the continent. 

Garvey & The KKK

Garvey actually collaborated with the KKK as they both believed in racial segregation. This caused tension between Garvey and other Black leaders at the time.

Remembered in Death

“June 10 marks the anniversary of his death in London in 1940, while August 17 celebrates his birth in St Ann’s Bay, 1887. The occasions do not go unnoticed, as there are worldwide memorials recognizing the awesome contribution and leadership provided by Garvey to the emergence and development of black consciousness, Black pride, Black dignity, and Black culture,” Jamaica Observer reported. 

Name Lives On

There are schools, colleges, highways, buildings named in his honor all over the world.

“In Africa, his name is revered in Cape Town, Ghana, Nairobi, Nigeria, and Kenya as a liberator. Nigeria has streets bearing his name. Nkrumah of Ghana named the country’s shipping line the Black Star and the national football team the Black Stars. In England there is a Marcus Garvey Library in Nottingham, a street named after him in Brixton, a Marcus Garvey Centre in Nottingham, a statue in Willesden Green Library, Brent, London,” Jamainca Observer reported.

In Harlem there is a memorial park in Harlem, a public library branch in New York, a school, and a major street named after him in Brooklyn. “There is a Garvey Cultural Centre in Colorado, a Garvey Festival held annually in Pembroke, Illinois, and his bust is housed in the Organization of the American States’ Hall of Fame, Washington,” Jamaica Observer reported.

Economi Emowerment

Garvey encouraged Blacks to start businesses that would serve their communities. He, himself, was a serial entrepreneur. “Garvey launched various businesses in the U.S., including the Negro Factories Corporation. In 1919, he became President of the Black Star Line shipping and passenger company, designed to forge a link between North America and Africa,” Wikipedia reported.

Business Backlash & Deportation

When Garvey’s Black Star Line went under,  Garvey was convicted of mail fraud in 1923 for selling its stock and imprisoned. “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, Garvey continued his activism and established the People’s Political Party in 1929. As well as launching the Edelweiss Amusement Company, he continued to travel internationally to promote UNIA, presenting his Petition of the Negro Race to the League of Nations in Geneva. In 1935 he relocated to London,” Wikipedia reported.

Legacy Lives On

Garvey’s body was returned to Jamaica, and the government named Garvey Jamaica’s first National Hero and reinterred his body at a shrine in National Heroes Park, Kingston.