Today we pay our tributes to the great black revolutionary philosopher and Pan African legend Hon. Marcus Garvey who joined the ancestral realm on this day, 10th June 1940. Marcus Garvey was a proponent of the Black Nationalism and Pan-African movements, inspiring the Nation of Islam and the Rastafarian movement. Born in Jamaica, Marcus Garvey was political activist, publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, and orator for the Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism movements, to which end he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. Garvey advanced a Pan-African philosophy which inspired a global mass movement, known as Garveyism. Garveyism would eventually inspire others, from the Nation of Islam to the Rastafari movement.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr. was born on August 17, 1887, in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica to a moderately prosperous Afro-Jamaican family and apprenticed into the print trade as a teenager. Working in Kingston, he became involved in trade unionism before working briefly in Costa Rica, Panama, and England. Returning to Jamaica, he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association UNIA in 1914. In 1916, he moved to the United States and established a UNIA branch in Harlem. Emphasizing unity between Africans and the African diaspora, he campaigned for an end to European colonial rule across the continent, urging the creation of an independent, politically unified Africa. He envisioned this as a one-party state that would enact laws to ensure black racial purity. Although he never visited Africa himself, he was committed to the Back-to-Africa movement, arguing that many African-Americans should migrate there. UNIA grew in membership and Garveyist ideas became increasingly popular.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey was the last of 11 children born to Marcus Garvey, Sr. and Sarah Jane Richards. His father was a stone mason, and his mother a domestic worker and farmer. Garvey, Sr. was a great influence on Marcus, who once described him as “severe, firm, determined, bold, and strong, refusing to yield even to superior forces if he believed he was right.” His father was known to have a large library, where young Garvey learned to read.
Committed to the belief that African-Americans needed to secure financial independence from white-dominant society, 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. After it went bankrupt, in 1923 Garvey was convicted of mail fraud 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 establishing 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, where his anti-socialist stance distanced him from many of the city’s black activists. He died there in 1940, although in 1964 his body was returned to Jamaica for reburial in Kingston’s National Heroes Park.
Garvey was a controversial figure. Many in the African diasporic community regarded him as a pretentious character and were highly critical of his collaboration with white supremacists and his prejudice towards mixed-race people. He nevertheless received praise for encouraging a sense of pride and self-worth among Africans and the African diaspora amid widespread poverty, discrimination, and colonialism. He is seen as a national hero in Jamaica, and his ideas exerted a considerable influence on movements like Rastafari, the Nation of Islam, and the Black Power Movement