He is one of the greatest figures of African liberation and the custodial hero of Pan-Africanism.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey, born August 17th of 1887 at St Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, was one of two surviving children, out of 11 children born to his parents. His father who was a literate Christian passed on the value of reading to him and as early as 14, he already worked at a printing press and had already developed the passion to fight injustice and inequality.
In 1907, Marcus Garvey took part in the first strikes of the printing press union, got blacklisted and dismissed. Garvey left to work at Central America and South America, only to realize the dehumanizing state that Blacks and those from the West Indies were subjected to.
In this regard, he said “The Negro is marginalized everywhere and forcibly maintained at the bottom of the social ladder of humanity, as a result of the color of their skin. Without the least consideration, neither for his human qualities or what could be his intelligence or his gifts. Nowhere does the Negro enjoy the least human dignity, everywhere, he is a serf, a slave.”
Marcus Garvey was spurred by his discovery, organized Black workers, and spoke up through disputant Newspaper publications. This would later lead to his extradition to Jamaica by Costa Rican authorities, he, however, continued his activism.
Marcus would later leave for London, where he thought he would have more impact, speaking on the streets. He was motivated by a book; “Up from Slavery”, written by African-American activist, Booker .T. Washington. He became sure that what the black world needed was scientific and economic emancipation.
Garvey became burdened with the situation that Africans were subjected to by the colonizers in Africa. This was as a result of his contact with some Africans who were in the Black Continent. He studied law and philosophy and stayed under the teachings of Black Egyptian, Dusé Ali Muhammad who taught him the basics of African history. Under Dusé’s tutelage, Garvey would learn that Egypt and Carthage civilizations were Black civilizations, and about how Africa governed and ruled the world for 3,000 years.
Armed with this knowledge, and African historical consciousness, new ideas were born. This gave rise to the realization of the UNIA-ACL, Universal Association for the Advancement of the Negro League of the African Community.
The Mission: To liberate Africa from colonialism and to make the continent a political, economic, industrial, military empire, and The Promised Land for all Africans in the world.
Motto: One aim, One God, One destiny.
It is in the United States that he empowered the UNIA after discovering that the United States was such a country of contrast as it had the fiercest racist violence, but the most motivated and progressive Blacks. Garvey traveled 38 states, delivering with great charisma, really motivating speeches. He attracted supporters and laid the foundation for the UNIA in the Black neighborhood of Harlem, New York.
The mission of Africa regaining its position as the world’s civilizer, spread like wide fire, in 1921, UNIA, had an impressive 6 million membership and almost 1,100 chapters in 40 countries. It’s News publications were distributed all over the Americas in different languages.
In the early editorials of the Negros World, Garvey is quoted to have said: “Africa must be liberated and we must all dedicate our lives, our energy, and our blood to this sacred cause.”
Garvey founded the Black Star Shipping Line, and with the support of Black investors, including the poorest, he had a contribution of $10 million, and in no time bought 3 cargo ships, that moved goods. The other objective was to convey Blacks back to Africa. With his ships, he moved 4,000 tonnes of construction materials and expatriates, to Liberia where he wanted to build a city that will rival Western megacities. Wherever their ship alighted, they were cheered by Blacks.
In 1919, Garvey founded the Negro Factories Corporation, this gave rise to the creation of chains of grocery stores, restaurants, fashion stores, garment workshops, hat stores, black doll factories, dyeing stores, laundries, hotels, and publishing houses to mention but a few. Between 1920 and 1924, the UNIA had founded many subsidiaries and schools, all run by Blacks, and most likely employed thousands of people.
Garvey founded a United African State, and he was the elected president. His yearly conventions gathered African delegates from Europe, America, and Africa. In 1920, he created the Pan African flag with colors red, black green, symbolizing The African blood, sacrificed for her liberation, the African skin color and the natural resources of Africa respectively.
There was a war between two great African legends. They both wanted the emancipation of Blacks all over the world, but they disagreed on methods and ideologies. W.E.B Du Bois, who was an African-American Bourgeois elite of light skin was the greatest Pan-African leader before Garvey, he was of the opinion that Blacks be integrated into white communities and treated equally, while Garvey who was a self-informed dark-skinned man, was of the opinion that Blacks be separated from whites, and didn’t mind if it led to a conflict.
Garvey was amazed at how many whites supported W.E.B Du Bois in his Black lobby NAACP.
Du Bois totally disagreed with Booker .T. Washington’s submission policy which formed Garvey’s thought. They called each other the greatest threats to the African race. While W.E.B Du Bois condemned the Ku Klux Klan, a white racist organization who supported Marcus because they believed he was the only one who would make America fully white again, Marcus praised them for frankly showing their hatred for blacks unlike other whites who he believed were hypocrites. The Ku Klux Klan members even invested in the Black Star Line to show their support.
Soon enough, the Black Star Line was faced with attacks both from the US authorities and from the European colonizers who occupied Africa and considered Marcus Garvey a threat and an enemy. The shipping line began to fall. Marcus was framed by the Europeans and arrested for a crime he was innocent of, to be imprisoned for 5 years but ended up spending 3 years instead, as the international mobilization protested for his freedom.
After Marcus’ release, he resumed his fight without relenting in spite of the weak condition he met the UNIA. His impact was felt the most in Atlanta. W.E.B. Du Bois, in his fight for African independence, would later join in the campaign “Garvey must go”, this was to ensure that Garvey left the US for good. Marcus Garvey in December 1927 was banished from the US and deported to Jamaica.
Marcus Garvey, undeterred, continued his activism in Jamaica. He created the PPP, a political party, considered as the first modern political party in Jamaica, continued to head the UNIA despite oppositions, funded the West African Student Union, WASU, supported Ethiopia during the Italian occupation, supported the West Indies and chaired the UNIA congress in Toronto 1937. The renowned activist passed on in 1940, after a stroke. He was 53, and unfortunately never saw his beloved Africa.
Marcus Garvey inspired the likes of Kwame Nkrumah, considered as the greatest figure of African Independence’, whose passion drawn from Garveyism as a student in the United State, gave rise to the founding of a United Africa, which turned out the African Union of today. He inspired Malcolm X whose parents Earl and Louise campaigned for Garvey when he was alive, and would later pay tribute to Marcus Garvey for impacting Carribean independence.
He also inspired Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first president of Nigeria and acclaimed heir to Garveyism and Jomo Kenyatta, first president of Kenya who participated in the 1945 first conferences launched by W.E.B Du Bois and Garvey’s widow, Amy Jacques Garvey for the effective fight for the independence of Africa.
He inspired Zimbabwean nationalist, Julius Nyerere, Malawi’s first president, and Tanzania’s first president; Banda and the advocates of the Black cause in South Africa.
He remains a voice in the history of Africa’s fight for liberty.