Marcus Garvey: Notable Accomplishments and Contribution to Pan-Africanism

Marcus Garvey (1887-1940)

Marcus Garvey was a Jamaican-born journalist, entrepreneur, orator and most importantly a very vocal political and economic activist. He is most well known for his tremendous work in promoting Black pride and Black Nationalist causes in not just the Caribbean nation but across the Americas and Europe.

An eloquent speaker and writer, Garvey is credited with influencing the Rastafari movements, Black Power Movement and a host of important civil rights figures, including Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Kwame Nkrumah, and Nelson Mandela.

But who really was Marcus Garvey? And why does history remember him as one of the most important Black Nationalist and Pan-Africanist figures of all time? Read on to find out more about Marcus Garvey’s notable accomplishments.

Who was Marcus Garvey?

Born on August 17, 1887 in Saint Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, as Marcus Mosiah Garvey, he grew up believing that his family was of full African ancestry.

His paternal great-grandfather was a slave, which meant that his surname reflected that of the slave owner.

Garvey’s parents, Garvey Sr. and Sarah Richards, were stonemason and domestic servant respectively.

As a child, he was once arrested for breaking a church window. He also realized that as he grew up, many of his white childhood friends started to shun him.

Although Garvey’s family economic status was not as bad as their neighbors, he could only attend school up to the age of 14. He took up apprentice training at a local printing shop that belonged to his godfather.

After relocating to Kingston, Marcus, 18, worked at a manufacturing company, where he would rise to become a foreman, the first black Jamaican to do so.

Garvey was quite devastated after losing his mother in 1908. A year prior to her death, she and Marcus’ sister were left homeless after the 1907 earthquake that struck Kingston, Jamaica.

Due to the economic difficulties in Jamaica, Marcus Garvey was one of the many Jamaicans that emigrated from the country in the second decade of the 1900. He made his way to neighboring Costa Rica and worked as a timekeeper on a plantation owned by United Fruit Company.

He strongly campaigned for the political unification of Africa, thus ending all forms of European colonization on the African continent. Some of Garvey’s utterances were so radical that some liberal African Americans found his ideologies similar to that of the KKK (Ku Klux Klan). For example, he strongly believed that Blacks should preserve the Black racial purity.

Although he never visited Africa, he was perhaps the biggest advocate for the Back-to-Africa movement, calling on people of African descent in the diaspora to move to Africa.

Due to his racial segregation rhetoric, he often times locked horns with W.E.B. Du Bois who wanted to create a racially integrated America. However, Garvey was of the opinion that Blacks would never attain a sense of individual worth and pride until the races were separated. In spite of his message, he is generally credited with laying the groundwork for the U.S. Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

By the late 1930s, his health was on the downside. He gave up the ghost on June 10, 1940 after suffering two strokes that left him largely paralyzed. Initially, his body was buried in England. However, in 1964, his remains were flown to Jamaica and laid in state before it was re-buried at King George VI Memorial Park on November 22, 1964.

How Garvey got involved in Black Nationalism

Concerned about the deplorable working conditions of print workers , Marcus Garvey joined the trade union to make a difference. He was a leading member of the print workers that went on strike in 1908. Sadly, he ended up losing his job due to his involvement in the strike.

Those grim experiences he had while in the union inspired him to embark on a crusade to eliminate economic and political inequalities. He vowed to himself to be a vocal promoter of Black Nationalism in not just his country but across the world.

Garvey was particularly inspired by African-American educationist, entrepreneur and activist Booker T. Washington. His first encounter with the works of Booker T. was at the library of the British Museum, where he read the famous book by Booker T. titled Up from Slavery.

Journalism and publishing career

In April 1910, he became the assistant secretary of a Black Nationalist organization called the National Club. He and his fellow members of the club, which was by the way Jamaica’s first nationalist organization, campaigned tirelessly to end indentured labor in Jamaica and the exploitation Asian descent workers. The club also called for then-governor of Jamaica, Sydney Olivier, to step down.

Aided by a member of the National Club, Wilfred Domingo, he published a Black Nationalist pamphlet called The Struggling Mass. Around that same period, he was also involved in the publication of a magazine called Garvey’s Watchman, which sought to spread the message of Black Nationalism.

Having worked tirelessly to improve his language skills, Marcus Garvey went on to be a renowned orator. He spoke with so much passion at public speaking competitions, drawing quite a number of attentive listeners.

His stay in England saw him write for the African Times and Orient Review and the Tourist magazine.

While living in Costa Rica, he founded a National/La Nación, a newspaper that highlighted the deplorable working conditions plantation workers had to endure. He was not afraid to take shots at the banana plantation that he worked on as a timekeeper.

After his newspaper in Costa Rica folded up, he went on to live and work in a number of Central American countries before finally moving to the London, UK. In addition to working as a messenger, a handyman and later a writer for the African Times and Orient Review, he took a number of evening courses in law at Birbeck College, Bloomsbury.

Major Achievements of Marcus Garvey

Here are 7 major achievements of, the renowned Jamaican journalist, entrepreneur and one of the founding figures of Black Nationalism and pride.

Founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA)

Guided by the motto “One Aim. One God. One Destiny.”, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) was founded by Marcus Garvey. The organization’s aim was to promote among Blacks a sense of self-pride and pride in one’s race through economic independence.

Garvey encouraged the members of the UNIA to build themselves economically in order to be better equipped to uplift African people. As the association’s president and global ambassador, he tried to model the organization on Booker T. Washington’s educational style in Tuskegee Institute. Initially, the UNIA received considerable support and donation from the elites in Jamaica; however, due to confrontations with some members of the middle class, as well as the overall decline in support for the association, Garvey relocated to the United States in 1916 aboard the SS Tallac.

Garvey established himself in the heart of Harlem, a bustling Black neighborhood in New York City. About a year after he had arrived in New York City, he had successfully founded a UNIA branch in New York.

Due to his growing reputation, the UNIA was able to attract quite a number of black people, who felt inspired by Garvey’s public speeches.

Marcus Garvey

The tricolour of red, black, and green flag of the UNIA

Established the famous black-run newspapers Negro World and the Daily Negro Times

Garvey founded the Negro World newspaper in April 1918. Much of the funding came from the famous African American entrepreneur and philanthropist Madam C.J. Walker. Even though the newspaper struggled financially, Garvey remained resolute in his decision not to place skin-lightening and other beauty products that he believed was an affront to the Black race. Instead, he called on Blacks to spend more time and money clearing out the kink in their mind first.

The Negro World received wide readership, boasting of about 10,000 copies in the first year. The fact that it was banned in some British West Indian islands made the newspaper even more popular across the Americas.

The Daily Negro Times was established in 1922 to not just act as the mouthpiece of the UNIA, but to also spread Garvey’s philosophies and ideas.

Marcus Garvey founded the famous Black newspaper,  the Negro World

Founded the International League for Darker People

Garvey and his associates established the International League for Darker People in a bid to raise awareness of Black people’s plight in Washington D.C.

He took this a step even further by sending UNIA representative Eliezer Cadet to the Paris Peace Conference. Garvey was trying to establish an international coalition of Blacks that would be able to tackle the major issues facing not just African Americans but the entire Black race.

He also used the International League for Darker People to fight against European colonial rule in Africa.

Established the Black Star Line to promote African-American businesses

With internally generated funds and member dues from UNIA members, Garvey established a shipping and passenger line called the Black Star Line. He envisioned that the line would help more African American businesses to start trading among each other and with businesses in Africa.

Garvey’s goal was to empower the Blacks through economic independence. He believed that true black pride only came as a result of more Blacks owning their businesses, operating it all by themselves and employing their race to work in those businesses.

By September 1919, the Black Star Line had raised about $50,000 from the sale of shares, which many described as fraught by financial irregularities.  Sadly the fortunes of the company took a nose dive after accusations of mail fraud were thrown at Garvey.

The Black Nationalist leader ended up serving sometime in prison for those crimes he alleged were all a conspiracy by members of the NAACP to tarnish his reputation. After 70,000 signatures were received for his release, then-U.S. President Calvin Coolidge decided to commute Garvey’s sentence in 1927. Garvey was released and immediately deported to his home country of Jamaica.

Founded the People’s Political Party – the first in Jamaica

After his deportation to Jamaica, Garvey went on to serve as a city councilor before establishing the People’s Political Party (PPP) – Jamaica’s first political party. The PPP’s manifesto vowed to introduce land reforms, better minimum wage, and increased access to educational opportunities. Unfortunately, the PPP’s showings at the legislative council election weren’t so encouraging.

Promoted self-assertion and self-reliance

Not only did Garvey believe that the solution to racial discrimination was through Blacks promoting their own businesses and culture, but through self-assertion and self-reliance.

Unlike the individualistic stance to solving the economic ills of blacks that Booker T. often proposed, Garvey reasoned that a collective decision making and group profit sharing were just some of the ways Blacks could advance themselves as a whole.

Marcus Garvey was a skilled organizer

A master showman and organizer, the Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey declared himself Provisional President of Africa in 1922

Garvey’s influence in the UNIA was certainly pronounced due to his ability to rally people around a common vision. The UNIA’s August 1920 conference – the First International Conference of the Negro Peoples – attracted over 25,000 people, among the participants included Gabriel Johnson, the mayor of Monrovia, Liberia.

It was also at this conference, that Garvey was declared as the Provisional President of Africa. Garvey’s goal was to place himself as the leader of Africa once the decolonization of the continent ended.

Members of the conference sharply criticized Europe’s continued colonization of the African continent. They prepared a declaration document titled “Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World”.

What made Garvey’s UNIA so significant?

The UNIA was so famous in the 1920s that it had about 25 branches across the United States in its first 18 months of existence. What made Garvey’s UNIA so peculiar at the time was its black-only membership.

Unlike organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) that promoted racial integration, the UNIA envisioned a time when Blacks would live separately from the whites. The NAACP for example was particularly popular among Black educated people such as lawyers, teachers and doctors. Garvey’s UNIA, which Garvey claimed over 2 million members as at 1919, positioned themselves properly among the poor blacks and Afro-Caribbean population in America.

As a result of those differences, the NAACP and UNIA on several occasions locked horns, with the NAACP accusing the UNIA of reversing the small gains they had made in creating a racially integrated nation.  The leader of the NAACP W.E.B. Du Bois once called out Garvey for his radical views, describing him as a dangerous demagogue.

Marcus Garvey: Quick Facts

Marcus Garvey’s statue in San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago

Full name: Marcus Mosiah Garvey

Birthday: August 17, 1887

Birthplace: Saint Ann’s Bay, Jamaica

Date of Death: June 10, 1940

Place of Death: West Kensington, London, England, UK

Cause of Death: Stroke

Re-buried: King George VI Memorial Park (on 22 November 1964)

Mother: Sarah Anne Richards

Father: Malchus Garvey

Siblings: 10, only one survived to adulthood

Education: Law courses at Birkbeck College, London, England

Married to: Amy Ashwood (1919-1922), Amy Jacques (married in 1922)

Children: Marcus Garvey III, Julius

Also Known As: The Black Moses

Popular works: Philosophy and Opinions; The Meditations of Marcus Garvey

Ideologies: Pan-Africanism, Black Nationalism

Most Famous for: Founding the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), the Negro World and the Daily Negro Times newspapers

More Marcus Garvey facts

While taking a trip across Europe, he was briefly involved with a Spanish-Irish heiress.

His calling to Black Nationalism became even more pronounced after having a conversation with an Afro-Caribbean educationist and missionary in 1914.

Throughout his life, he was involved in several businesses; at one point, he even sold greeting cards and tombstones to eke out a living.

Garvey’s first wife was Amy Ashwood, a graduate of Westwood Training College for Women. Ashwood provided considerable amount of funding and support to Garvey’s nascent UNIA. Ashwood would go on to serve as the General Secretary of UNIA. She and African American actor Henrietta Vinton Davis often recited African American poems at UNIA meetings and gatherings.

During World War I, Garvey used his position as the president of the Universal Negro Improvement Association to whip up Jamaican support for Britain, encouraging Jamaicans to join the fight in Europe.

After being declared physically unfit to fight in World War I, he made a U-turn and began criticizing African-Americans that decided to fight in the war, a war that he described as a “white man’s war”.

Garvey survived an assassination attempt in October 1919, when George Tyler stormed into his UNIA office and fired at Garvey. The Black Nationalist leader sustained injuries from the two bullets that hit his leg. It took Garvey less than a week to make it back to full health.  Subsequently, he employed Marcellus Strong to serve as his bodyguard.

He sharply criticized the Italian government over its involvement in the Second Italo-Ethiopian War that began in 1935.

Ghana’s first president Dr. Kwame Nkrumah drew immense inspiration from the works of Marcus Garvey. For example, the black star on the flag of Ghana was inspired by Garvey’s Black Star Line company. Besides, it comes as no surprise that the national football team of Ghana is nicknamed the Black Stars. Also, there is a famous square in the capital city Accra called the Black Star Square.

Some of the core ideologies of the Nation of Islam and their leader Elijah Mohammad were taken from Marcus Garvey.

Garvey was a huge inspiration to the nascent Rastafari movement of the 1930s. Having prophesied the crowning of Haile Selassie in Ethiopia, Garvey is a revered figure among Rastafarians. To this day, some members of the political and religious movement even consider Garvey a prophet.

The Caribbean nation of Jamaica celebrates August 17 as the Marcus Garvey Day.

Marcus Garvey's contribution

Marcus Garvey’s influence on the Civil Rights Movement | MLK’s take on Garvey’s influence on him and the Civil Rights Movement in general. King made the statement on his visit to Garvey’s shrine in Jamaica on June 20, 1965

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