Each August that we celebrate Marcus Garvey’s birthday, we should revisit his contributions and study the works of this great Jamaican hero. Marcus Garvey left a rich historical legacy for us to study and utilize in our continued quest for independence and liberation as a people.
Since the Paris Peace Conference, the founding of the League of Nations and the United Nations, several historic and precedent setting appeals, petitions, and complaints have been submitted to the international community speaking for African people in the United States. On December 10, 1918, the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) convened a mass meeting of more than 7,000 people in the Place Casino in New York to discuss and ratify nine “peace aims to the Allied Democracies of Europe and America, and to the people of democratic tendencies of the world” assembled at the Paris Peace Conference. Garvey and representatives also attended the founding meeting of the League of Nations in 1920.
It was in that spirit of the pioneering international work of Marcus Garvey and the UNIA on behalf of African people that the Durban 400, a delegation led by the December 12th Movement International Secretariat and the National Black United Front (NBUF) traveled to Durban, South Africa in August 2001 for the United Nations World Conference Against Racism. It was at this conference that the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and Slavery were declared “Crimes Against Humanity and that Reparations are owed to African people.” It is in this context that African people’s demand for reparations continues. This serves as a tribute to the legacy of Marcus Garvey.
Marcus Garvey was born August 17, 1887 in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica to Marcus and Sarah Garvey. Marcus Sr., his father, was a descendent of the Maroons. The Maroons were Africans who managed to escape slavery when they reached western shores by jumping from slave ships, or by fleeing slave plantations and establishing well fortified communities deep in the Jamaican interior. Garvey’s mother, Sarah, was said to be of extraordinary beauty and possessed a gentle personality. She was also said to have been a deeply religious person.
Garvey left school at the age of 14 and became an apprentice printer in Kingston. He worked for a private company and eventually became a foreman. At the age of 20, in 1907, although he was a member of management, Garvey led a newly formed printer’s union strike. The company promised Garvey big rewards and benefits if he would discontinue his union organizing. Garvey refused, was fired, and “blacklisted” by the private printing companies of Kingston. This experience intensified Garvey’s political curiosity concerning the condition of African people. It was at this point in 1909, that he formed the National Club and its publication Our Own. From this point forward, Garvey decided to devote his life to the uplifting of the African race. He published his first newspaper, The Watchman, which gave him an opportunity to express his emerging political views on the plight of African people.
While unable to gain support for his organization, Garvey began to travel. He spent time in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Columbia, and Venezuela. These travels gave Garvey an opportunity to observe that whenever African people and whites were in close proximity, African people were on the bottom.
Garvey continued to travel and in 1911 he went to London. He was able to test out his public speaking ability on the condition of African people worldwide at the famous Hyde Park Speaker’s Corner. While in London, Garvey met the editor of the African Times and Orient Review, Duse Mohammed Ali. Ali, an Egyptian scholar, introduced Garvey to many ideas that played an important role in his future thinking.
This background gave Garvey the tools he needed to become one of our true twentieth century freedom fighters. Garvey arrived in Harlem, New York on March 16, 1916. By 1919, Garvey was established as the President General of the UNIA/ACL, which had a membership of over three million people with more than 300 branches throughout the African World Community.
Perhaps Garvey’s greatest contribution to the uplifting of our people was his ability to find a formula for organizing African people around the African principle: the greatest good for the greatest number. This was reflected in the First International Convention of Negro Peoples of the World in Madison Square Garden, in New York in 1920. Over twenty-five thousand African people from all over the world witnessed the selection of Red, Black and Green as the colors of the Provisional Government. In this context, Garvey and the UNIA/- ACL had established an economic arm, the Negro Factories Corporation, with cooperative stores, restaurants, steam laundry shops, tailor shops, dressmaking shops, millinery stores, a doll factory to manufacture African dolls, and a publishing house. Garvey also formed a Steamship Corporation. The goals and objectives of the UNIA had now become clear to the world. As Shawna Maglangbayan points out, “…the Garvey movement and UNIA had become a threat to the white world,”
With the cooperation of anti-Garvey, “Negro leaders,” Garvey was eventually charged and convicted of mail fraud for selling stock in the African Star Lines. On February 8, 1925, Marcus Garvey was arrested and convicted for mail fraud and imprisoned in Atlanta, Georgia. With a great movement of support by his followers, Garvey was released from prison in 1927. Immediately following his release he was deported from the United States and was sent back to Jamaica to continue his work. He continued to travel and while in London, on June 10, 1940, Garvey lapsed into a coma and made his transition into eternity.
The Garvey Movement was one of the greatest mass movements of African people in the world. Although the external and internal forces and enemies of Garvey caused his demise, the ideas of Garvey and the UNIA/ACL are still alive. We need to revitalize and resurrect the spirit of Marcus Mosiah Garvey at every opportunity. One special way to honor the memory of Marcus Garvey is for you to proudly display your Red, Black and Green Flag on his birthday, August 17 in remembrance. The spirit of the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey is needed now, more than ever before.
A Luta Continua / The Struggle Continues!
Dr. Conrad Worrill, Professor Emeritus, Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies (CCICS). New office location is at 1809 E. 71st Street, Chicago, Illinois 60649, 773-592-2598. Email: [email protected] Website: www.drconradworrill.com.