Dr. Conrad Worrill, Chicago Crusader
In 1914, the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, was founded under the leadership of the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. This August represents the centennial of the UNIA/ACL and major commemoratory events are being planned around the country.
In preparation for these celebrations, we are reminded that Garvey made his transition on June 10, 1940. This is a time to begin remembering the contributions of the UNIA/ACL and Garvey as we honor this 100th year celebration in August.
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.
A Luta Continua / The Struggle Continues!