LEADER: Marcus Garvey
A MAN described by many titles – journalist, publisher, civil rights leader, to name just a few – Marcus Mosiah Garvey is certainly not forgotten.
Jamaica’s first national hero, Garvey, was born on August 17, 1887 in the parish of St. Ann’s Bay. With his father owning an extensive collection of books, young Garvey was said to become a keen reader.
In 1910, he left Jamaica, traveling to South and Central America, and also the UK. He returned to his homeland in 1914, where he set up the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Two years later, he moved to Harlem, New York where UNIA thrived.
Having now established himself as a powerful public speaker, Garvey spoke across America and encouraged black Americans to be proud of their race and return to Africa, their ancestral homeland. It wasn’t long before thousands began championing Garvey’s sentiments.
In order to aid what became known as his Back to Africa movement, Garvey founded the Black Star Line; a shipping line to provide transportation to Africa, and created the Negro Factories Corporation to inspire economic empowerment within the black community.
By now, Garvey’s Pan-African vision – later dubbed as Garveyism – had earned him thousands of supporters and worldwide attention. His next mission was to develop Liberia, in a bid to create a permanent home for black Americans. Launched in 1920, the Liberia programme was intended to build colleges, universities, industrial plants, and railroads as part of an industrial base, from which to operate.
However, the scheme was later abandoned after much opposition from European powers with interests in Liberia.
There was more trouble ahead when, in 1922, Garvey was arrested for mail fraud in connection with the sale of stock in the Black Star Line, which, by now, had now failed. Found guilty of the charge and sentenced to five years in prison, Garvey’s supporters strongly contested that the trial was a politically motivated miscarriage of justice; the result of Garvey having attracted considerable government attention.
He began serving his sentence at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary in 1925, where he penned his well-known ‘First Message to the Negroes of the World From Atlanta Prison.’
In the message, he made his famous proclamation: “Look for me in the whirlwind or the storm, look for me all around you, for, with God's grace, I shall come and bring with me countless millions of black slaves who have died in America and the West Indies and the millions in Africa to aid you in the fight for Liberty, Freedom and Life.”
Later deported to Jamaica, Garvey eventually moved to London, where he died on June 10, 1940. Initially buried in London, his body was later returned to Jamaica in 1964, where he was declared the country's first national hero.
TRIBUTE THROUGH SONG: Burning Spear
Garvey’s values also received much criticism – perhaps most notably from fellow black activist W. E. B. Du Bois, who declared that Garvey was “the most dangerous enemy of the Negro race in America and in the world.”
Nonetheless, Garvey continues to be revered for his pro-black values and his determination to see the advancement and economic independence of black people. He has been celebrated through literature and through song, with reggae singer Burning Spear paying tribute to the leader with his hit Marcus Garvey (taken from his 1975 album of the same name).
In addition, writer Flip Fraser’s renowned play Black Heroes in the Hall of Fame was originally staged in London in 1987, to celebrate the centenary of the Garvey’s birth. It was recently announced that the production – which celebrates a host of black heroes, including Garvey – will be revived next year.
Though he divided opinion, Garvey remains a hero, not only for Jamaicans, but for people throughout the world. And today, with many arguing that black Britons are in need of a strong leader, it seems a fitting time to recognise a man who was just that.
Marcus Garvey: we salute you.