MARCUS MOSIAH GARVEY’S LEGACY
Exploring the achievements and role Marcus Garvey still plays as
A Celebrated Hero and Inspirational Role Model
August 17, 2014 marked 127 years since Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born. Various global events, organisations and books are forever dedicated to honouring and preserving his legacy. Here, we look at some of the achievements of this political icon. Mwalimu Marcus Mosiah Garvey’s (1887-1940) lineage is that of Maroon heritage, a community of former slaves who successfully fought and overthrew the British colonial regime. Descendants of the Maroons still live independently in their own community on the land which was given to them by the British, as part of a treaty and is independent of the governmental control in Jamaica.
Garvey was born in Jamaica and moved to London in 1912 where, he attended Birkbeck College then, in 1916, moved to Harlem in the USA at the age of 28. An admirer and follower of Booker T. Washington’s philosophy of self-improvement for people of African descent, he’d formed the Jamaica Improvement Association. When he arrived in America, his ideas widened and he became a Black Nationalist. For him, Africa was the ancestral home and spiritual base of all African descendants and the Diaspora. His political goal was to take Africa back from European rule and build a free and United Black Africa. He advocated the Back-to-Africa Movement and organised a shipping company called the ‘Black Star Liner’ as part of his agenda to conduct international trade between Black Africans and the rest of the world in order to ‘uplift the race’ and eventually return to Africa.
Garvey studied all the information he could find on African history and culture then decided to launch the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) with the goal of unifying ‘all the Negro Peoples of the world into one great body and to establish a country and government absolutely on their own’. The motto of the UNIA was One God! One Aim! One Destiny! The Negro World was the UNIA weekly newspaper founded in 1918. It was published in French and Spanish as well as in English. In this publication African history and heroes was made the prominent focus of the paper. The ranks of the UNIA were comprised of African ‘nobility’ - Knights of the Nile, Dukes of the Niger and Uganda; Knights of Ethiopia, Duchesses, etc. Garvey himself was the ‘Provisional President of Africa’ and he and the members of his empire paraded in elaborate military uniforms. Harlem loved parades and street ceremonies and the UNIA gave the grandest. During their annual conventions, thousands of delegates from all over the United States, the Caribbean, Central America and Africa marched up and down the streets of Harlem with their banners, uniforms and colourfully decorated cars. Garvey travelled throughout the USA speaking and meeting with African-American leaders.
Garvey had built the largest mass movement of people of African descent in this country’s history. It began to fail after he was convicted of mail fraud and was deported from the US. The Black Star Liner failed because of purported mismanagement and lack of sufficient funds. In 1927, Garvey was deported. He later moved to London where he established the temporary Universal Negro Improvement Association headquarters after which, he moved to Jamaica and began a daily newspaper ‘The Blackman’. Whilst in Jamaica, he had two sons, Marcus Jr and Julius, with his then wife Amy Jacques Garvey and moved back in the mid 1930s to England, leaving his family behind.
Garvey died in England in 1940 and his body was moved back to Jamaica on 10 November 1964. The following day, he was declared the country’s first National Hero. He was buried in the Marcus Garvey Memorial, National Heroes’ Park in Kingston, Jamaica. However, the UNIA still survives today and Garvey left a legacy of racial pride and identification with a glorious African heritage for African-Americans. The need for self-determination, self-reliance and independence doctrine was espoused by Garvey. His words had a great influence on Earl Little (father of Malcolm X), a Baptist Minister and an active advocate of Marcus Garvey and the UNIA. Which no doubt had an impact on the teachings and thoughts of Malcolm X who, also echoed the same messages of self empowerment, politicisation and economic advancement of the Black community globally.
MARCUS GARVEY CELEBRATED
In various countries like those of the Caribbean, US, Canada and the UK, the legacy and vast contribution of Garvey are acknowledged, remembered, discussed and celebrated. ‘Marcus Garvey Celebrations’ are events designed with the family in mind and are presented on the weekend closest to the 17th of August each year - this being the Birth Date of Mr Garvey. A Canadian organisation called the Black Unification Network uses the celebrations to address ways in which the teachings of Marcus Garvey can be applied to assist in the quest to heal the effects of slavery. These events are designed to educate, stimulate and broaden minds to a cultural reality and encourage youth to aspire for excellence and self-reliance by respecting the experiences of their elders.
During Black History Month in the UK, various events reflect upon and cite the achievements of Marcus Garvey, be it in schools or at other cultural activities throughout the month of October. There have continually been calls for the compulsory teaching of Black history, to be taught as part of the school curriculum and therefore this would provide an ideal opportunity to both inform teachers and pupils alike about the contribution and influence of Black icons in a historical context. At a time when many commentators cite the reasons for ‘Black under achievement’ in schools and academic life is due to the lack of role models and leaders to set examples for them to aspire to. Many of those pupils and students would benefit from learning about Marcus Garvey and his involvement in media, politics, economic empowerment, community activism, cultural advancement, self reliance, determination and focus.