The Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey was born on this day and lets us remember and celebrate this day. He immigrated to Harlem in 1916 at the age of 28. In his homeland, he had been an admirer of Booker T. Washington’s philosophy of self-improvement for people of African descent and had formed the Jamaica Improvement Association. When he arrived in America, his ideas expanded when he became a Black Nationalist. Garvey viewed Africa as the ancestral home and spiritual base for all people of African descent.
Garvey studied all of the literature he could find on African history and culture before he decided to launch the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.). Its goal was to unifying “all the Negro peoples of the world into one great body and to establish a country and government absolutely on their own.” The motto of the U.N.I.A. was “One God! One Aim! One Destiny.” The Negro World was the U.N.I.A. weekly newspaper founded in 1918. It was published in French and Spanish as well as English. In it, African history and heroes were glorified.
Garvey was the first, and none since, to create a mass movement of black people in America. Yes, there have been some to bring lots of people together but not with its focus to be political. His political goal was to make black people reconnect with Africa by taking it back from European domination. He advocated the Back-to-Africa Movement and organized a shipping company called the Black Star Line. Both were part of his program to conduct international trade between black Africans and the rest of the world in order to “uplift the race” and eventually return to Africa.
The ranks of the U.N.I.A. were comprised of African “nobility” – Knights of the Nile, dukes of the Niger and Uganda; Knights of Ethiopia, duchesses, etc. Garvey himself was the “Provisional President of Africa”; he and the members of his empire paraded in elaborate military uniforms. Harlem loved parades and street ceremonies, and the U.N.I.A. gave the grandest. During their annual conventions, thousands of delegates from all over the United States, the Caribbean, Central America and Africa marched up and down the streets of Harlem with their banners, uniforms, and colorfully decorated cars.
Garvey traveled throughout the United States speaking and meeting with African-American leaders. In the post-World War I economic crisis and with racial discrimination on the rise. Lynching and poor housing, the masses of Black people were ready for a leader who was aggressive and had a plan to “uplift the race.” The U.N.I.A. grew quickly. By 1919, there were over 30 branches throughout the United States, the Caribbean, Latin America and Africa. Garvey claimed over a million people had joined his organization in three years.
In nine years, Garvey built the largest mass movement of people of African descent in this country’s history. It was because of this that he became the most dangerous black man in America. Hence, a conspiracy was formed to destroy him, much like what happens today. He was convicted of mail fraud and was deported from the U.S. The Black Star Line failed because of purported mismanagement and lack of sufficient funds. However, the U.N.I.A. still survives today, and Garvey left a legacy of racial pride and identification with a glorious African heritage for African Americans.
Schools, colleges, highways, and buildings in Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and the United States have been named in his honor. The U.N.I.A. red, black, and green flag has been adopted as the Black Liberation Flag. Since 1980, Garvey’s bust has been housed in the Organization of American States’ Hall of Heroes in Washington DC. Garvey’s legacy is profound because he opened the eyes of people of African descent to the fact that “unity is the key to our survival.” And that’s my thought provoking perspectives…
Time line and more information: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/garvey/timeline/index.html