Marcus Mosiah Garvey
"The Eternal has happened. For centuries the black man has been taught by his ancient overlords that, "he was nothing, is nothing and never shall by anything."
We black folks believe so much in the omnipotence of the white man that we actually gave in all hope and resigned ourselves to the positions of slaves and serfs for nearly five hundred years. But, thank God, a new day has dawned and all black men of the twentieth century see themselves the equal of all men." Marcus Garvey
New York, December 3, 1919
Garvey was born in St. Ann Parish, Jamaica. He was one of 11 children of parents Marcus Garvey, Sr. and Sarah Jane Richards.
Garvey's father was a stone mason by trade, but also known as a painter and to have amassed quite a large library. Of his father, Garvey said he was "severe, firm, determined, strong, refusing to yield to superior forces if he believed he was right." Traits said to have influenced his own early self-education and determination.
At age 14, Garvey began work as a printer's apprentice, and two years later, moved to Kingston. His reform and leadership qualities were honed early on as only a few years later, he played a role in the printer's strike of 1907.
The spark lit, he would leave Jamaica and travel and work through Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Colombia, Venezuala and England. In each country, he spoke with fellow workers, learned first hand of their experiences, and tried to expose the labor issues and poor working conditions. He also studied the intellectual writings of the time, well aware of emerging black voices and identity.
When he returned to Jamaica in July of 1914, he immediately created the Universal Negro Improvement and Conservation Association and African Communities League. The intent was to echo the goals of Booker T Washington's Tuskegee Institute by creating a superior learning environment for black Jamaicans.
Though at the time he failed to create much support, history reveals he planted a seed among some Jamaicans, and Garveyites would later establish themselves, and play a role in the development of Rastafarianism.
Debated, but forever influencial in the development of Rastafarianism, it is during this time Garvey is credited for having said "Look to Africa, for the crowning of the Black King. He shall be the redeemer."
In 1916, after a brief correspondence with Booker T. Washington, Garvey headed to the states, and in Harlem, developed a following and means to spread his message. There he created the Universal Negro Improvement Association which advocated the Black Repatriation Program. Garvey and the UNIA sponsored "The Negro World" newspaper, "The Black Man" magazine, and created the "Black Star Line" shipping company.
In a 1919 editorial, Garvey wrote:
"Let us not turn back in this determination of ours. Africa must be redeemed, but before her redemption we have to prove to the world that we are fit. The change to make ourselves fit is now presented to every son and daughter of Africa. We must now achieve in commerce, science, education, art, industry and politics."
Garvey and the UNIA reached the peak of their influence in 1920 when they claimed 4 million members and held a rally of 25,000 people at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Activities were halted in 1922 when Garvey and UNIA were charged with mail fraud. In 1923 they were tried and convicted. Garvey was jailed until 1927 when Calvin Coolidge commuted his sentence. He was deported to Jamaica.
The scandal followed him there, and he failed to garner the same support he once knew in Harlem. In 1935 he left for England, and died there in 1940.
In the 1960's his message and influence regained traction, and in 1964 his remains were moved to National Heroes Park in Jamaica.
In her biography, Mrs. Rita Marley wrote of Garvey's influence on she and Bob:
"Bob was also very intent on telling me how great black people were, and how far we'd come because of Marcus Garvey."