(1887 – 1940)
In 1921 the biggest rally of black people the world had ever seen took place.
25,000 active participants and countless thousands travelled continents by ship and train to attend and watch the 1921 annual convention of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA & ACL), all contributed to the largest visual expression of black unity seen anywhere in the world during the early 20th century.
Black Cross nurses and regiments of health workers as well as barrel-chested Black Star military corps and numerous others groups and individuals who marched across New York’s Manhattan from Harlem to Madison Square Gardens showed the world Garvey’s rousing rallying call for the African race and their descendents: ‘Up, you mighty race. You can accomplish what you will,’ had struck a resonant chord.
Garvey became inspired by a young Englishman of African descent he had met in London in 1913 who had pondered: ‘Where is the Negro’s army? Where are the Negro’s men of great affairs?’ and was resolved to inspire and provide for those of African heritage the organisation he believed we deserved. Garvey founded the first international news magazine, Negro World In 1918; gathered hundreds of thousands of subscribers to the UNIA & ACL in the pre-internet age and ignited the imaginations of intellectuals and activists across the globe.
The prospect of African-Americans abandoning the USA’s industrialized northern cities and agricultural south for Liberia and the ultimate purpose of uplifting and contributing to the creation of an independent and self-determinant ‘United States of Africa’ disturbed the US government. The Federal Bureau of Investigation appointed its first Black officers and initiated the notorious Counterintelligence Programme (COINTELPRO) for the first time in 1922 to offset the rise of the dreaded ‘Black Messiah’.
Trumped up charges were filed against Garvey regarding the registration of his Black Star shipping line. This, and alleged tax improprieties plus postal irregularities regarding the UNIA’s registration and subscription fees, all contributed to Garvey’s 1923 conviction (upheld following a 1925 appeal hearing) and imprisonment in Atlanta’s federal prison, before his 1927 deportation to his native Jamaica.
Garvey spent the final years of his life in west London he died in June 1940. Many Rasta’s see Garvey as a prophet; this was partly because Garvey said in the 1920s: ‘Look to Africa, for there a king will be crowned’ which they took as the crowning of Haile Selassie. The Rasta founders were inspired by Garvey’s Back-to-Africa movement in Jamaica, and in its doctrines the Rastafarian movement can be seen as an offshoot or development of Garvey philosophy.
In 2001 former US President Bill Clinton issued and publicly read a formal apology to Garvey’s family on behalf of the US.
Read more about Marcus Garvey