© Paul P. Reuben
Chapter 9: Marcus Garvey (1887-1940)
Outside Links: | Marcus Garvey Official Site | Marcus Garvey & UNIA Papers Project | Another Biography |
Page Links: | Primary Works | Selected Bibliography 1980-Present | MLA Style Citation of this Web Page |
| A Brief Biography |
Site Links: | Chap. 9: Index | Alphabetical List | Table Of Contents | Home Page | November 29, 2012
Source: Marcus Garvey Photo Gallery
"Be assured that I planted well the seed of Negro or black nationalism which cannot be destroyed even by the foul play that has been meted out to me." - MG, First message from Atlanta Penitentiary, 1925.
Current History Magazine (September 1923) titled "The Negro's Greatest Enemy."
Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, and Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey: Or Africa for the Africans.
The Tragedy of White Injustice and Selections from the Poetic Meditations of Marcus Garvey.
Selected Bibliography 1980-Present
Grant, Colin. Negro With a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey and His Dream of Mother Africa. NY: Oxford UP, 2008.
Harris, R., N., and G. eds. Carlos Cooks: And Black Nationalism from Garvey to Malcolm. Majority P, 1992.
Holden, Philip. Autobiography and Decolonization: Modernity, Masculinity, and the Nation-State. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 2008.
Malouf, Michael G. Transatlantic Solidarities: Irish Nationalism and Caribbean Poetics. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 2009.
Martin, Tony. ed. African Fundamentalism: A Literary and Cultural Anthology of Garvey's Harlem Renaissance. Majority P, 1991.
- - -. Literary Garveyism: Garvey, Black Arts and the Harlem Renaissance. Majority P, 1983.
- - -. Marcus Garvey, Hero: A First Biography. Majority P, 1983.
- - -. Race First: The Ideological and Organizational Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Majority P, 1986.
Ratliff, Peggy S. and Ratliff, Roosevelt, Jr. "Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr. (1887-1940)." in Nelson, Emmanuel S. ed. African American Authors, 1745-1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2000.
Stephens, Michelle A. Black Empire: The Masculine Global Imaginary of Caribbean Intellectuals in the United States, 1914-1962. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2005.
Witalec, Janet, and Trudier Harris-Lopez. eds. Harlem Renaissance: A Gale Critical Companion. Detroit: Gale, 2002.
| Top |Marcus Garvey (1887-1940): A Brief Biography
Marcus Moses Garvey was born in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica on August 17, 1887. He was the youngest of a large family, which saw only him and one sister make it to adulthood. He attended a local elementary school and, in his own words, graduated from the Church of England High School. At the age of 14 he was forced out of school because of family financial problems and was apprenticed to his godfather to learn the printing trade. It was here that Garvey had access to a substantial library and picked up the journalistic techniques that aided his future writing abilities (Cronon 3-11).
By the age of 17 Garvey moved to Kingston to work for an Uncle from his mother’s side, and in 1903 he moved his mother to Kingston because of her financial necessity. During his time in Kingston Garvey, a former country boy, learned the ways of city life. He began to take up public speaking, which “was sound training for a man who would one day sway thousands with his magnetic oratory.” (Cronon 12) Garvey also mastered the skills of printing and became a foreman for P.A. Benjamin Company.
Throughout 1911 Garvey traveled to places like Panama, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela, where he continually observed the disposition of the black race. Unhappy about the position of the black race, Garvey left for London in 1912 so that he could learn about the condition of black people throughout all of the British Empire. Garvey took full advantage of his time in London, and after reading Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery, he hurried back home to Jamaica in 1914 inspired to change black peoples’ low standing in the world.
Back home in Jamaica on Aug. 1, 1914, Garvey started the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A). The overall objective of the U.N.I.A was to improve black life around the world, not just in Jamaica, England or America. One of the first objectives of the organization was to open a school for blacks in Jamaica modeled after Washington’s Tuskegee institute in America. The whites of Jamaica supported his cause, while the blacks were indifferent and the mulattos hated it. Because of this seemingly backwards support, Garvey looked to Washington and America for the black support he would need to get his operation off the ground. Even though Washington died before Garvey could make it too America, he still prepared, and landed in Harlem on March 23, 1916. (Cronon 16-20)
While in America, Garvey tried to raise funds for the school in Jamaica by giving speeches, but his “failure to attract large audiences” encouraged him to move his base of operations to New York (Stein 41). He started a branch of the UNIA in late 1917. In January, 1918 the UNIA began printing the Negro World newspaper which helped the organization gain recognition. The branch began slowly, and after a few attempts by some of the UNIA’s leaders to turn the motives of the organization political, Garvey left his presidential position of the Jamaica division to become head of the New York division.
In May, 1919 the success of the UNIA led Garvey to announce his next big project, the Black Star Line. The Black Star Line was supposed to be a shipping company between America and Africa manned by an all black crew. Garvey believed the company would be a first step in improving blacks as a commercial and industrious people (Stein 64). Because the capital necessary to fund an operation like this was not available to blacks, Garvey was forced to turn to the public for funds. At first it appeared the funds would not be appropriated in time to purchase the Black Star Line’s first ship, but W. L. Harris, the owner of the Yarmouth, allowed the Black Star Line to operate on a payment contingency. The ship was renamed to the S.S. Frederick Douglass, and the Black Star Line was finally ready for business (Cronon 54-5).
Judith Stein states, “The Black Star Line transformed Garvey into an international leader of black communities on three continents.” (89) In addition to the Black Star Line was the Negroes Factories Corporation, started in 1919, which helped develop a “chain of co-operative grocery stores, a restaurant, a steam laundry, a tailor and dressmaking shop, a millinery store, and a publishing house.” (Cronon 60) These two corporations, along with the objectives and large membership of the UNIA, began to infuse the black community with a sense of pride. Marcus Garvey, showing success in many ways, had reached his pinnacle during the early 1920s (Cronon 68-9).
On June 25, 1922 Garvey had a two hour meeting with Edward Clarke, who was a high ranking member of the Ku Klux Klan. Garvey’s motives behind the meeting were a political ploy to advance the UNIA in the south where 4 out of 5 blacks lived in America (Stein 154).
As fast as Garvey climbed to the top, his fall seemed to come even faster. For numerous reasons: buying bad ships, surrounding himself with poor support, agitating prominent individuals through journalism, poor appropriation of UNIA and corporate funds, etc. led to a federal investigation on the selling of misrepresented stocks. In February, 1922 Garvey and three of his associates were indicted on twelve counts of mail fraud (Cronon 100-1). Later in 1922, Garvey accused a high priest and member of the UNIA, of mismanagement of funds. His name was J. W. Eason and David Cronon refers to him as one of the “most effective critics of Garveyism.” (Cronon 110) Eason formed a rival organization, and was assassinated early in January 1923. Garvey, though never arrested, was thought to be behind the killing, which prompted eight prominent blacks to protest the delay of Garvey’s earlier indictment on mail fraud. The trial began on May 18, and Garvey was sentenced to 5 years in prison on June 21. Barely serving any time, he was out again on bail September 10, after his attorneys filed an appeal (Cronon 110-18).
In March 1925 the Supreme Court finally denied Garvey’s appeal, and he was promptly taken to the Atlanta penitentiary. From jail Garvey continued his fight for innocence. After thousands of petition signers, along with prominent individuals’ making arguments on Garvey’s behalf, President Coolidge granted him a pardon on November 18, 1927. The pardon was only granted on the basis that he would be deported back to Jamaica (Stein 207).
Garvey would never set foot on American soil again, but “Garvey persistently sought to regain the power and influence that he had tasted briefly.” (Stein 248) Garvey continued to lecture in Canada and Europe, and in 1929 he held an international meeting for the UNIA in Kingston. He also reincorporated the UNIA which caused a division between his Jamaican base and the American base of the organization. In 1930 Garvey’s first son was born, and in 1933 he had a second. In 1935 he relocated to London. Garvey continued small publishings’ and speaking tours. Finally, in 1940, Garvey suffered two cerebral hemorrhages; the second caused his death. (Hill & Bair xvi-xviii).
“Garvey’s last years were spent alone, apart from other Pan-Africanists and then also from his own family.” (Stein 271) It is a sad end for a man who inspired millions of blacks to rise up against white oppressors. Although his character was rough around the edges, and he had many difficult relationships in business, journalism, and politics, Garvey brought pride to the black race. He did not just target one political arena; Garvey targeted the world, and he showed black people that they are just as intelligent and beautiful as any race to ever walk the Earth.
Cronon, David. Black Moses the Story of Marcus Garvey. Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin P, 1955.
Hill, Robert, & Bair, Barbara. eds. Marcus Garvey Life and Lessons. Berkley: U California P, 1987.
Stein, Judith. The World of Marcus Garvey: Race and Class in Modern Society. Louisiana: Louisiana State UP, 1986.
MLA Style Citation of this Web Page:
Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 9: Marcus Garvey " PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. WWW URL: http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap9/garvey.html (provide page date or your date of logon).
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