Opinion: When Marcus Garvey Came To Canada

Opinion: When Marcus Garvey Came To Canada

Marcus Garve FBI
Marcus Garvey, perhaps the most influential Black leader to have unified the diaspora of African descendants, raised money for his movement in Canada. Image: U.S. Library of Congress, George Grantham Bain Collection

Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican and founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), honeymooned and raised funds in Montreal and Toronto in January 1920.

He arrived in Montreal from New York on Christmas day 1919 with Amy Ashwood, his bride and co-founder of the Jamaican UNIA.

On Dec. 26, 1919, they held two rallies in Montreal before traveling to Toronto for three rallies on Jan. 5-7, 1920. They raised a total of $8,000 for the Universal Negro Improvement Association.

However, this was not the first time that Garvey visited Canada. In 1916, a Montreal resident, Edgerton Langdon, visited Harlem and heard Garvey speak. The next year, Langdon invited Garvey to Montreal and helped him spread his gospel of Black pride in Canada.

Garvey has not received his due as a serious messianic figure despite his meteoric rise and becoming arguably the most influential Black leader in the history of the Atlantic world.

Even though Garvey chose the U.S. as his place of operation, he had a continental strategy to enact his global movement, inspiring notions of messianic salvation all over the world.

Black people in Canada, especially in Montreal and Toronto, elevated Garvey and helped sustain the Universal Negro Improvement Association, as shown by Leo Bertley, Dionne Brand, and Carla Marano.

Many western governments including the U.S., Canada and European countries with colonies in Africa and America were fearful of Garvey, mostly because his program of Black unity and self-determination would flip over a racist and exploitive world order.

As a result, European powers banned Negro World, the Universal Negro Improvement Association’s newspaper, from their colonies.

Garvey achieved what was thought by many to be impossible. He was a realist, visionary and exceptional propagandist for Black pride and the spiritual and psychic liberation of Black people.

He inspired many people including Kwame Nkurumah, the first prime minister and president of Ghana. Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese revolutionary, also drew lessons from Garvey’s Black nationalism.

“Look at me in the whirlwind of the storm, with God’s grace,” Garvey told his followers. “I shall come and bring with me countless millions of Black slaves who have died in America and the West Indies and the millions in Africa to aid you in the fight for liberty, freedom and life.”

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Since the 17th century, there has been a steady stream of migration of Black people into Canada via Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, and the U.S.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, a few thousand Africans arrived in Canada as slaves. The British, after the revolution, later gave passage to more than 3,000 slaves and free Black people who had remained loyal to the crown.

Messianic fervor gripped Black communities in Canada and the U.S. 100 years ago. It spread to the Caribbean, Central and South America, Africa, and Europe.