August 17, 2014

Happy Birthday: Marcus Garvey (1887-1940)

Born in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica, on August 17, 1887, Marcus Garvey was the youngest of 11 children. Garvey moved to Kingston at the age of 14, found work in a print shop, and became acquainted with the living conditions of the laboring class. He quickly involved himself in social reform, participating in the first Printers' Union strike in Jamaica in 1907 and in setting up the newspaper The Watchman. Leaving the island to earn money to finance his projects, he visited Central and South America, amassing evidence that black people everywhere were victims of discrimination. He visited the Panama Canal Zone and saw the conditions under which the West Indians lived and worked. He went to Ecuador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Colombia and Venezuela. Everywhere, blacks were experiencing great hardships and discrimination.

Garvey returned to Jamaica distressed at the situation in Central America, and appealed to Jamaica's colonial government to help improve the plight of West Indian workers in Central America. His appeal fell on deaf ears. Garvey also began to lay the groundwork of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), to which he was to devote his life. Undaunted by lack of enthusiasm for his plans, Garvey left for England in 1912 in search of additional financial backing. While there, he met a Sudanese-Egyptian journalist, Duse Mohammed Ali. While working for Ali's publication African Times and Oriental Review, Garvey began to study the history of Africa, particularly, the exploitation of Black peoples by colonial powers. He read Booker T. Washington's “Up From Slavery”, which advocated black self-help.

In 1914 Garvey organized the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and its coordinating body, the African Communities League (ACL). In 1920 the organization held its first convention in New York. The convention opened with a parade down Harlem's Lenox Avenue. That evening, before a crowd of 25,000, Garvey outlined his plan to build an African nation-state. In New York City his ideas attracted popular support, and thousands enrolled in the UNIA. He began publishing the newspaper The Negro World and toured the United States preaching Black Nationalism to popular audiences. His efforts were successful, and soon, the association boasted over 1,100 branches in more than 40 countries. Most of these branches were located in the United States, which had become the UNIA's base of operations. There were, however, offices in several Caribbean countries, Cuba having the most. Branches also existed in places such as Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Venezuela, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Namibia and South Africa. He also launched some ambitious business ventures, notably the Black Star Shipping Line.

Garvey promoted two new business organizations — the African Communities League and the Negro Factories Corporation. Financial betrayal by trusted aides and a host of legal entanglements (based on charges that he had used the U.S. mail to defraud prospective investors) eventually led to Garvey's imprisonment in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary for a five-year term. In 1927 his half-served sentence was commuted, and he was deported to Jamaica by order of President Calvin Coolidge.

Garvey then turned his energies to Jamaican politics, campaigning on a platform of self-government, minimum wage laws, and land and judicial reform. He was soundly defeated at the polls, however, because most of his followers did not have the necessary voting qualifications. In 1935 Garvey left for England where, in near obscurity, he died on June 10, 1940, in a cottage in West Kensington.

Marcus Mosiah Garvey advocated that Africans control the wealth of Africa. He taught that control, control of resources, control of self, control of nation, requires preparation, Garveyism was about total preparation.



Daddy Squeeze Me! said...

You know I am so torn on these issues in the modern day. As a young black gay male, I have been longing so much for a unity and identity and sense of belonging that has been lost centuries ago when my ancestors were brought to American soil. I have always dreamed of Marcus Garvey's dream of pan africanism because African Americans believe they have it the worst, but many of our Afo latin family are not even able to mark black on legal government forms. They are still many many years behind even the things we have today here in America and it helps me realize just how much we African Americans really do have versus many others in our diaspora that need our help all over. They need a voice. They need our love and support. They need our understanding and our time.

But then I think of how much homophobia is rampant in africa thanks in a big part to white radical christian bigots and I sometimes think that maybe I should stick to trying to improve what I can for African Americans here and those like me that have the drive and ambition to help, arent wanted by our own people. Its sad but true. I want our people to rise to our occasion and reject the lies forced upon us by our opprresors and realize our strength in our great numbers!

maybe im just dreaming. Anyway, I enjoyed this blog post a lot.

Unknown said...

My Soul Looks Back - I appreciate your candor and your insights. I'm also glad that you enjoyed this annual 'happy birthday marcus garvey' blog post. I hope you have reason to visit again in the future!