Marcus Garvey

"Until you produce what the white man has produced, you will not be his equal." --Marcus Garvey
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Marcus Garvey was born on August 17, 1887 in St. Anne’s Bay, Jamaica. Growing up, he and his family faced economic hardships, forcing him to drop out of school at age fourteen to work on printing and newspapers. Throughout his childhood he acquired a love for reading, and read several black liberal pieces. He also observed the Irish struggle against England for independence.

Garvey was convinced that in order to prove to whites that blacks deserved equal rights, blacks had to first improve themselves. In essence, he embraced the philosophy of Booker T. Washington.

The Establishment of the UNIA

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In 1914 Garvey established the UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association) in Jamaica. The UNIA encouraged African Americans to demonstrate good morals and to work hard. The UNIA did not make much headway in Jamaica, however, so Garvey made the decision to visit America. He had wanted to meet Booker T. Washington, the man that inspired many of his morals, but Washington had died by the time Garvey came to America.

Instead, Garvey observed the racial tension and faltering optimism of blacks as World War One came to a close. African Americans had hoped that they would be treated better after serving in the war, but this was not the case; racism did not even slow. Garvey was then convinced integration was impossible. The point of the UNIA then changed-- establishing the UNIA's headquarters in New York in 1917, he emphasized "unity, pride in the African cultural heritage, and complete autonomy." In essence, he wanted African Americans to better themselves, take pride in themselves and their race, and create their own nation in Africa.

Talking of the mighty race of African Americans fueled Garvey to try to start economic success. He established the Negro Factories Corporation in 1919, offering stocks for blacks to buy. There was a time when "the corporation operated three grocery stores, two restaurants, a printing plant, a steam laundry, and owned several buildings and trucks in New York City alone." Garvey was determined to have African Americans produce enough for them to create their own nation. Very notable was his shipping line the Black Star Line. Unfortunately, the Black Star Line fell "due to expensive repairs, mismanagement, and corruption."

Garvey also recognized the role of religion. He realized pastors held an enormous influence over followers, and was very successful in acquiring support from many denominations.


W.E.B. Du Bois
W.E.B. Du Bois

Many other mainstream black leaders criticized Garvey. W.E.B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen were notable critics of his ways. Because he supported blacks and whites being seperate and applauded the Ku Klux Klan for supporting seperation, many black civil rights leaders were against him. Garvey claimed "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." This claim fueled many of his critics-- many called for him to be incarcerated after saying that.


The federal government indicted Garvey for mail fraud, and Garvey was jailed in 1925 for two years. After his sentence he was deported back to Jamaica and died there in 1940. After being deported, the UNIA in the United States more or less fell apart. He was proclaimed Jamaica's national hero.