Exploring the achievements and role Marcus Garvey still plays as 
A Celebrated Hero and Inspirational Role Model

August 17, 2013 marked 137 years since Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born. Various global events, organizations 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 Jamaicans who successfully fought and overthrew the British colonial regime. Descendants of the Maroons still live independently in their own community on the land that 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 organized 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 passed in England in 1940 and his body was moved back to Jamaica on 10 November 1964The 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. A need for self-determination; self-reliance and a self-independence doctrine were expressively espouse 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, politicization and economic advancement of the Black community globally.


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