Jamaica’s first national hero Marcus Mosiah Garvey

Black nationalist Marcus Garvey is shown in a military uniform as the ‘Provisional President of Africa during a parade up Lenox Avenue in Harlem, New York City, Aug. 1922, during opening day exercises of the annual Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World.
Associated Press

Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jamaica’s first national hero, was a proponent of the Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism movements, inspiring the Nation of Islam and the Rastafarian movement.

According to Biography.com, Garvey advanced a Pan-African philosophy, which inspired a global mass movement, known as Garveyism.

Born on Aug. 17, 1887, in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, Garvey was an orator for the Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism movements, to which end he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and African Communities League, Biography.com said.

It said Garveyism would eventually inspire others, from the Nation of Islam, to the Rastafari movement.

Social activist Garvey was self-educated, who was dedicated to promoting African-Americans and resettlement in Africa, according to Biography.com.

It said that, in the United States, Garvey launched several businesses to promote a separate black nation.

After he was convicted of mail fraud and deported back to Jamaica, he continued his work for Black repatriation to Africa.

Garvey was the last of 11 children born to Marcus Garvey, Sr. and Sarah Jane Richards. His father was a stone mason, and his mother a domestic worker and farmer, Biography.com said.

It said Garvey, Sr. was a great influence on Marcus, who once described him as “severe, firm, determined, bold, and strong, refusing to yield even to superior forces if he believed he was right.” His father was known to have a large library, where young Garvey learned to read, Biography.com.

At 14, Marcus became a printer’s apprentice. In 1903, he traveled to Kingston, Jamaica, and soon became involved in union activities, Biography.com,

It said that, in 1907, Garvey took part in an unsuccessful printer’s strike, and the experience kindled in him a passion for political activism.

Three years later, he traveled throughout Central America working as a newspaper editor and writing about the exploitation of migrant workers in the plantations, Biography.com said.

It said Garvey later traveled to London, where he attended Birkbeck College (University of London) and worked for the African Times and Orient Review, which advocated Pan-African nationalism.

Inspired by these experiences, Garvey returned to Jamaica in 1912 and founded UNIA with the goal of uniting all of African Diaspora to “establish a country and absolute government of their own,” Biography.com said.

After corresponding with Booker T. Washington, the American educator who founded Tuskegee Institute, Garvey traveled to the United States in 1916 to raise funds for a similar venture in Jamaica, Biography.com said.

It said Garvey settled in New York City and formed a UNIA chapter in Harlem to promote a separatist philosophy of social, political, and economic freedom for Blacks. In 1918, Garvey began publishing the widely distributed newspaper Negro World to convey his message.

By 1919, Marcus Garvey and UNIA had launched the Black Star Line, a shipping company that would establish trade and commerce between Africans in America, the Caribbean, South and Central America, Canada and Africa, Biography.com said.

At the same time, it said Garvey started the Negros Factories Association, a series of companies that would manufacture marketable commodities in every big industrial center in the Western hemisphere and Africa.

In August 1920, Biography.com said UNIA claimed 4 million members and held its first International Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Before a crowd of 25,000 people from all over world, Marcus Garvey spoke of having pride in African history and culture, according to Biography.com.

It said many found his words inspiring, but not all. Some established black leaders found his separatist philosophy ill-conceived.

W.E.B. Du Bois, a prominent black leader and officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) called Garvey, “the most dangerous enemy of the Negro race in America,” said Biography.com, adding that Garvey felt Du Bois was an agent of the white elite.

In 1922, Biography.com said Garvey and three other UNIA officials were charged with mail fraud involving the Black Star Line.

It said the trial records indicate several improprieties occurred in the prosecution of the case. On June 23, 1923, Garvey was convicted and sentenced to prison for five years, Biography.com said.

Claiming to be a victim of a politically motivated miscarriage of justice, Garvey appealed his conviction, but was denied. In 1927, he was released from prison and deported to Jamaica, Biography.com said.

It said Garvey continued his political activism and the work of UNIA in Jamaica, and then moved to London in 1935.

But it said Garvey did not command the same influence he had earlier.

“Perhaps in desperation or maybe in delusion, Garvey collaborated with outspoken segregationist and white supremacist Sen. Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi to promote a reparations scheme,” Biography.com said. “The Greater Liberia Act of 1939 would deport 12 million African-Americans to Liberia at federal expense to relieve unemployment. The act failed in Congress, and Garvey lost even more support among the black population.”

Biography.com said Garvey died in London in 1940 after several strokes. Due to travel restrictions during World War II, his body was interred in London.

In 1964, his remains were exhumed and taken to Jamaica, where the government proclaimed him Jamaica’s first national hero and re-interred him at a shrine in the National Heroes Park, according to Biography.com.

It said Garvey’s memory and influence remain, adding that his message of pride and dignity inspired many in the early days of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

In tribute to his many contributions, Biography.com said Garvey’s bust has been displayed in the Organization of American States’ Hall of Heroes in Washington, D.C.

Biography.com said Ghana has named its shipping line the Black Star Line and its national soccer team the Black Stars in honor of Garvey.

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