Who Was Marcus Garvey?
Born in Jamaica, Marcus Garvey was an 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.
Founding the United Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.)
Garvey’s Philosophy & Beliefs
Marcus Garvey returned to Jamaica in 1912 and founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.) with the goal of uniting all of African diaspora to “establish a country and absolute government of their own.” After corresponding with Booker T. Washington, the American educator who founded Tuskegee Institute, Garvey traveled to the United States in 1916 to raise funds for a similar venture in Jamaica. He settled in New York City and formed a U.N.I.A. chapter in Harlem to promote a separatist philosophy of social, political, and economic freedom for blacks. In 1918, Garvey began publishing the widely distributed newspaper Negro World to convey his message.
Black Star Line
By 1919, Marcus Garvey and U.N.I.A. had launched the Black Star Line, a shipping company that would establish trade and commerce between Africans in America, the Caribbean, South and Central America, Canada and Africa. At the same time, Garvey started the Negros Factories Association, a series of companies that would manufacture marketable commodities in every big industrial center in the Western hemisphere and Africa.
In August 1920, U.N.I.A. claimed 4 million members and held its first International Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Before a crowd of 25,000 people from all over world, Marcus Garvey spoke of having pride in African history and culture. Many found his words inspiring, but not all. Some established black leaders found his separatist philosophy ill-conceived. W.E.B. Du Bois, a prominent black leader and officer of the N.A.A.C.P. called Garvey, “the most dangerous enemy of the Negro race in America.” Garvey felt Du Bois was an agent of the white elite.
Under Surveillance By J. Edgar Hoover
But W.E.B Du Bois wasn’t the worst adversary of Garvey; history would soon reveal F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover‘s fixation on ruining Garvey for his radical ideas. Hoover felt threatened by the black leader, fearing he was inciting blacks across the country to stand up in militant defiance.
Hoover referred to Garvey as a “notorious negro agitator” and for several years, desperately sought ways to find damning personal information on him, even going so far as to hire the first black F.B.I. agent in 1919 in order to infiltrate Garvey’s ranks and spy on him.
“They placed spies in the U.N.I.A.,” said historian Winston James. “They sabotaged the Black Star Line. The engines… of the ships were actually damaged by foreign matter being thrown into the fuel.”
Death & Accomplishments
Marcus Garvey died in London in 1940 after several strokes. Due to travel restrictions during World War II, his body was interred in London. In 1964, his remains were exhumed and taken to Jamaica, where the government proclaimed him Jamaica’s first national hero and re-interred him at a shrine in the National Heroes Park. But his memory and influence remain. His message of pride and dignity inspired many in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. In tribute to his many contributions, Garvey’s bust has been displayed in the Organization of American States’ Hall of Heroes in Washington, D.C. The country of Ghana has named its shipping line the Black Star Line and its national soccer team the Black Stars, in honor of Garvey.