Garvey addressed himself to the lowest classes of blacks and rejected any notion of integration. Convinced that blacks could not secure their rights in countries where they were a minority race, he urged a "back to Africa" movement. In Africa, he said, an autonomous black state could be established, possessing its own culture and civilization, free from the domination of whites. Garvey was the most influential black leader of the early 1920s. His brilliant oratory and his newspaper, Negro World, brought him millions of followers. His importance declined, however, when his misuse of funds intended to establish a steamship company that would serve members of the African diaspora, the Black Star Line, resulted in a mail fraud conviction. He entered jail in 1925 and was deported to Jamaica two years later. From this time on his influence decreased, and he died in relative obscurity.
See Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, compiled by A. J. Garvey (2d ed. 1967, repr. 1986); biographies by E. D. Cronon (1955, repr. 1969) and C. Grant (2008); studies by A. J. Garvey (1963), T. Vincent (1971), E. C. Fax (1972), E. D. Cronon, ed. (1973), J. H. Clarke, ed. (1974), and J. Stein (1985).
Prior to the twentieth century, leaders such as Prince Hall, Martin Delany, Edward Wilmot Blyden, and Henry Highland Garnet advocated the involvement of the African diaspora in African affairs. Garvey was unique in advancing a Pan-African philosophy to inspire a global mass movement focusing on Africa known as Garveyism. Promoted by the UNIA as a movement of African Redemption, Garveyism would eventually inspire others, ranging from the Nation of Islam, to the Rastafari movement (which proclaims Garvey as a prophet). The intention of the movement was for those of African ancestry to "redeem" Africa and for the European colonial powers to leave it. The idea that African Americans should return to Africa was known as the Colonist Movement. His essential ideas about Africa were stated in an editorial in the Negro World entitled “African Fundamentalism” where he wrote:
Our union must know no clime, boundary, or nationality… let us hold together under all climes and in every country…
In 1910, Garvey left Jamaica and began traveling throughout the Central American region. He lived in Costa Rica for several months, where he worked as a time-keeper on a banana plantation. He began work as editor for a daily newspaper entitled 'La Nacionale' in 1911. Later that year, he moved to Colón, Panama, where he edited a tri-weekly newspaper before returning to Jamaica in 1912.
After years of working in the Caribbean, Garvey left Jamaica to live in London from 1912 to 1914, where he attended Birkbeck College, worked for the African Times and Orient Review, published by Dusé Mohamed Ali, and sometimes spoke at Hyde Park's Speakers' Corner.
Following much reflection the following day and night about what he learned, "the vision and thought came" to "name the organization the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities (Imperial) League.
After corresponding with Booker T. Washington, Garvey arrived in the U.S. on 23 March 1916 aboard the S.S. Tallac to give a lecture tour and to raise funds to establish a school in Jamaica modeled after Washington's Tuskegee Institute. Garvey visited Tuskegee, and afterward, visited with a number of Black leaders. After moving to New York, he found work as a printer by day. He was influenced by Hubert Harrison. At night he would speak on street corners, much like he did in London's Hyde Park. It was then that Garvey perceived a leadership vacuum among people of African ancestry. On 9 May 1916, he held his first public lecture in New York City at St Mark's Church in-the-Bowery and undertook a 38-state speaking tour.
In May 1917, Garvey and thirteen others formed the first UNIA division outside Jamaica and began advancing ideas to promote social, political, and economic freedom for Blacks. On July 2, the East St. Louis riots broke out. On July 8, Garvey delivered an address, entitled "The Conspiracy of the East St. Louis Riots," at Lafayette Hall in Harlem. During the speech, he declared the riot was "one of the bloodiest outrages against mankind." By October, rancor within the UNIA had begun to set in. A split occurred in the Harlem division, with Garvey enlisted to become its leader; although he technically held the same position in Jamaica.
Garvey next set about the business of developing a program to improve the conditions of those of African ancestry "at home and abroad" under UNIA auspices. On 17 August 1918, publication of the widely distributed Negro World newspaper began. Garvey worked as an editor without pay until November 1920. By June 1919 the membership of the organization had grown to over two million.
On 27 June 1919, the Black Star Line of Delaware, was incorporated by the members of the UNIA with Garvey as President. By September, it obtained its first ship. Much fanfare surrounded the inspection of the S.S. Yarmouth and its rechristening as the S.S. Frederick Douglass on 14 September 1919. Such a rapid accomplishment garnered attention from many.
One person who noticed was Edwin P. Kilroe, Assistant District Attorney in the District Attorney's office of the County of New York. Kilroe began an investigation into the activities of the UNIA, without finding any evidence of wrongdoing or mismanagement. After being called to Kilroe's office numerous times, Garvey wrote an editorial on Kilroe's activities for the Negro World. Garvey was arrested and indicted for criminal libel in relation to the article, but charges were dismissed after Garvey published a retraction.
While in his Harlem office at 56 West 156th Street on 14 October 1919, Garvey received a visit from George Tyler, who told him that Kilroe "had sent him" to get Garvey. Tyler then pulled a .38-calibre revolver and fired four shots, wounding Garvey in the right leg and scalp. Garvey was taken to the hospital and Tyler arrested. The next day, Tyler apparently committed suicide by jumping from the third tier of the Harlem jail while he was being taken to his arraignment.
By August 1920, the UNIA claimed four million members. That month, the International Convention of the UNIA was held. With delegates from all over the world in attendance, over 25,000 people filled Madison Square Garden on August 1 to hear Garvey speak.
Another of Garvey's ventures was the Negro Factories Corporation. His plan called for creating the infrastructure to manufacture every marketable commodity in every big U.S. industrial center, as well as in Central America, the West Indies, and Africa. Related endeavors included a grocery chain, restaurant, publishing house, and other businesses.
Convinced that Blacks should have a permanent homeland in Africa, Garvey sought to develop Liberia.
The Liberia program, launched in 1920, was intended to build colleges, universities, industrial plants, and railroads as part of an industrial base from which to operate. However, it was abandoned in the mid-1920s after much opposition from European powers with interests in Liberia. In response to suggestions that he wanted to take all Americans of African ancestry back to Africa, he wrote, "We do not want all the Negroes in Africa. Some are no good here, and naturally will be no good there.
Garvey has been credited with creating the biggest movement of people of African descent. This movement that took place in the 1920s is said to have had more participation from people of African descent than the Civil Rights Movement. In essence the UNIA was the largest Pan-African movement.
Unfortunately, however, he [Garvey] has not as yet violated any federal law whereby he could be proceeded against on the grounds of being an undesirable alien, from the point of view of deportation.
Sometime around November 1919 an investigation by the BOI was begun into the activities of Garvey and the UNIA. Toward this end, the BOI hired James Edward Amos, Arthur Lowell Brent, Thomas Leon Jefferson, James Wormley Jones, and Earl E. Titus as its first five African-American agents. Although initial efforts by the BOI were to find grounds upon which to deport Garvey as "an undesirable alien", a charge of mail fraud was brought against Garvey in connection with stock sales of the Black Star Line after the U.S. Post Office and the Attorney General joined the investigation.
The accusation centered on the fact that the corporation had not yet purchased a ship with the name "Phyllis Wheatley". Although one was pictured with that name emblazoned on its bow on one of the company's stock brochures it had not actually been purchased by the BSL and still had the name Orion. The prosecution produced as evidence a single empty envelope which it claimed contained the brochure. During the trial, a man by the name of Benny Dancy testified that he didn't remember what was in the envelope, although he regularly received brochures from the Black Star Line. Another witness for the prosecution, Schuyler Cargill, perjured himself after admitting to having been told to mention certain dates in his testimony by Chief Prosecutor Maxwell S. Mattuck. Furthermore, he admitted that he could not remember the names of any coworkers in the office, including the timekeeper who punched employees time cards. Ultimately, he acknowledged being told to lie by Postal Inspector F.E. Shea . He said Shea told him to state that he mailed letters containing the purportedly fraudulent brochures. The Black Star Line did own and operate several ships over the course of its history and was in the process of negotiating for the disputed ship at the time the charges were brought.
Of the four Black Star Line officers charged in connection with the enterprise, only Garvey was found guilty of using the mail service to defraud. His supporters called the trial fraudulent. While there were serious accounting irregularities within the Black Star Line and the claims he used to sell Black Star Line stock could be considered misleading, Garvey's supporters still contest that the prosecution was a politically motivated miscarriage of justice, given the above-mentioned false statement testimony and Hoover's explicit regret that Garvey had committed no crimes.
When the trial ended on 23 June 1923, Garvey had been sentenced to five years in prison. He initially spent three months in the Tombs Jail awaiting approval of bail. While on bail, he continued to maintain his innocence, travel, speak and organize the UNIA. After numerous attempts at appeal were unsuccessful, he was taken into custody and began serving his sentence at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary on 8 February 1925. Two days later, he penned his well known "First Message to the Negroes of the World From Atlanta Prison" wherein he makes his famous proclamation:
Look for me in the whirlwind or the storm, look for me all around you, for, with God's grace, I shall come and bring with me countless millions of black slaves who have died in America and the West Indies and the millions in Africa to aid you in the fight for Liberty, Freedom and Life.
Professor Judith Stein has stated, “his politics were on trial.”
Garvey's sentence was eventually commuted by President Calvin Coolidge. Upon his release in November 1927, Garvey was deported via New Orleans to Jamaica, where a large crowd met him at Orrett's Wharf in Kingston. A huge procession and band converged on UNIA headquarters.
Garvey suspected Du Bois was prejudiced against him because he was a Caribbean native with darker skin. Garvey called Du Bois “purely and simply a white man's nigger" and "a little Dutch, a little French, a little Negro … a mulatto … a monstrosity.” This led to an acrimonious relationship between Garvey and the NAACP. Garvey accused Du Bois of paying conspirators to sabotage the Black Star Line to destroy his reputation. Du Bois was, nevertheless, a strong supporter of Pan-Africanism.
According to Garvey, “I regard the Klan, the Anglo-Saxon clubs and White American societies, as far as the Negro is concerned, as better friends of the race than all other groups of hypocritical whites put together. I like honesty and fair play. You may call me a Klansman if you will, but, potentially, every white man is a Klansman, as far as the Negro in competition with whites socially, economically and politically is concerned, and there is no use lying.”
After Garvey's entente with the Ku Klux Klan, a number of African American leaders appealed to U.S. Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty to have Garvey incarcerated.
Also in 1929, Garvey was elected councilor for the Allman Town Division of the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC). He lost his seat, however, because of having to serve a prison sentence for contempt of court, but in 1930, he was re-elected, unopposed, along with two other PPP candidates.
In April 1931, Garvey launched the Edelweiss Amusement Company, which he set up to help artists earn their livelihood from their craft. Several Jamaican entertainers — Kidd Harold, Ernest Cupidon, Bim & Bam, and Ranny Williams — went on to become popular after receiving initial exposure that the company gave them.
In 1935, Garvey left Jamaica for London, where he lived and worked until his death in 1940. During these last five years, he remained active and in touch with events in war-torn Ethiopia (then known as Abyssinia) and the West Indies. In 1938, he gave evidence before the West Indian Royal Commission on conditions there. Also in 1938, he set up the School of African Philosophy at 355 College St., in Toronto to train UNIA leaders. He continued to work on the magazine The Black Man.
In 1937, a group of his American supporters, called the Peace Movement of Ethiopia, openly collaborated with Mississippi Senator Theodore Bilbo in the promotion of a repatriation scheme introduced in the US Congress as the Greater Liberia Act.
In 1964, his remains were exhumed and taken to Jamaica. On 15 November 1964, the government of Jamaica, having proclaimed him Jamaica's first national hero, re-interred him at a shrine in National Heroes Park.
Malcolm X's parents, Earl and Louise Little, met at a UNIA convention in Montreal. Earl was the president of the UNIA division in Omaha, Nebraska and sold the Negro World newspaper while Louise was a contributor to the Negro World.
Kwame Nkrumah named the national shipping line of Ghana the Black Star Line in honor of Garvey and the UNIA. Nkrumah also named the national soccer team the Black Stars as well. The black star at the center of Ghana's flag is also inspired by the Black Star Line.
During a trip to Jamaica, Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta Scott King visited the shrine of Marcus Garvey on 20 June 1965 and laid a wreath. In a speech he told the audience that Garvey "was the first man of color to lead and develop a mass movement. He was the first man on a mass scale and level to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny. And make the Negro feel he was somebody.
The United States of Africa first saw light in a 1924 poem by Garvey and is still discussed.
There have been pop culture references to Marcus Garvey since he first came on the international scene. Garvey is cited repeatedly in a diverse variety of books, songs and films. He is mentioned particularly frequently in blues, reggae, jazz and hip hop music.
His beliefs deeply influenced the Rastafari, who took his statements as a prophecy of the crowning of Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. Early Rastas were associated with his Back-to-Africa movement in Jamaica. This early Rastafari movement was also influenced by a separate, proto-Rasta movement known as the Afro-Athlican Church that was outlined in a religious text known as the Holy Piby — where Garvey was proclaimed to be a prophet as well. Thus, the Rastafari movement can be seen as an offshoot of Garveyite philosophy. As his beliefs have greatly influenced Rastafari, he is often mentioned in reggae music.
GARVEY, Marcus (1887-1940) Pan-Africanist Leader, lived and died here, 53 Talgarth Road, W14. [Hammersmith and Fulham 2005]