April 5, 2011
Marcus Moziah Garvey was born on August 17, 1887 in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. Garvey is known for his controversial “Back to Africa” movement. Growing up, Garvey had to quit school at the young age of fourteen to help support his family. Although he never experienced first-hand the prejudices of the world as far as slavery, through working many jobs he did witness many who did. Having traveled around Central and South America, he saw a common trend: “Wherever whites and blacks are found together, the whites were sure to be exploiting the blacks—a situation he was determined to change” (Gates 996). Garvey became the symbol of the controversial Black Nationalist and black liberation movements. Attracting millions of supporters, Garvey would preach the importance of blacks and whites being separate. The primary themes to Garvery’s Pan-Africanism beliefs are racial pride, Black Nationalism, and black nationhood.
To start, Garvey preached the message of Pan-Africanism based on the idea that blacks would never receive fair and equal treatment in the United States. In 1914, Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association, or UNIA. The UNIA’s main objective was to uplift blacks in the world. While his message was widely received by the majority of blacks, there were many who felt threatened. Garvey alienated many black civil rights leaders for working toward the integration of blacks and whites, while white racists, like the Ku Klux Klan, embraced the idea of blacks leaving the United States for Africa and supported Garvey and his efforts. In 1916, Garvey arrived in Harlem, New York and witnessed the renaissance led by “The New Negro”, as described by author Alaine Locke. Harlem was the magnet for talented black dancers, singers, poets, actors, business people, and tourists from around the world. Indeed, Harlem was the Great Mecca of new and evolving black talent. Garvey started a fleet line named the “Black Star Line” which was a start to employing and empowering many blacks to become as successful as the white man. Through his UNIA projects, Garvey generated a powerful black liberation movement. Preaching a message of black self-reliance, he raised millions of dollars that the UNIA used to finance black-owned businesses and factories, giving back the racial price that many blacks had been robbed of by whites. Allowing them to feel successful, his followers named him the “New Black Moses”, believing he would lead them into the promised land of paradise in Africa. ‘“An editorial called “A Moses Needed” in the Washington Bee newspaper stated: “The color race is in great need of a Moses[,]… a man of the people and designated by the people” . Garvey’s leadership galvanized a new era of black activism.
Additionally, Black Nationalism falls into play with Garvey’s preachings when he sets out to travel. Inspired by his correspondence with Booker T. Washington, the founder of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and a champion of black education, Garvey set out to launch his own schools. Garvey gave speeches along the streets of Harlem atop a wooden soapbox. His encouraging message struck a nerve and sparked revolutionary fervor in the minds of black American society. He seized on the concepts of black pride and identity and infused the Pan-African message with a new element: black separation or Black Nationalism; he proposed that blacks move back to Africa as soon possible. Taking advantage of vast resources, Garvey proposed to first send out the best and brightest of Harlem. The Talented Tenth, known as the top ten percent of Harlem’s most talented and successful doctors, lawyers, architects, and engineers, were sought out for the constructing of railroads, hospitals, and schools in Africa to prepare for the masses to follow. “We are going to live for a higher purpose, the purpose of a free and redeemed Africa, because no security, no success can come to the Black man, so long as he is outnumbered” (Aptheker 559). Garvey had never been to Africa himself but dreamed of the day that he and his followers would arrive at their tropical paradise of Africa. Fearing the beginnings of revolutionaries for a communist state, Garvey’s message of black nationhood was interrupted by government authorities as a call to anarchy and not unity. However, communism held little attraction for Garvey, who believed in private ownership of land and business. He promoted a version of the so-called American dream in which blacks would achieve prosperity, property ownership, and personal freedom through hard work and smart, open market business practices. He placed his faith in capitalism to accomplish these goals. Many before Garvey had espoused the Pan-African message, but few expressed or successfully promoted the ideology as eloquently as he did.
In conclusion, having witness blacks experiencing great hardship and suffering from the effects of discrimination and prejudice provoked Garvery’s indignation: “I asked, ‘Where is the black man’s Government?’ ‘Where is his King and his Kingdom?’ ‘Where is his President, his country, his ambassador, his army, his navy, his men of big affairs?’ I could not find them, and then I declared, ‘I will help to make them”’ (Clarke 73). Garvery recognize the need for blacks to leave behind the white society that treated them badly for so long and begin a new nation in Africa. Although a controversial and divine figure for his time, his vision of black pride, economic independence, and liberation are now part of mainstream African-American culture today. Works Cited
Gates, Henry Louis Jr. and McKay, Nellie Y. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. New York, NY: 2004. 2nd edition. 995-1003
Clarke, John Henrik, ed., Marcus Garvey and the Vision of Africa. Ney York: Randon House, 1974, p.73. Aptheker et al. eds., Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, vol. 2 p. 559.
African Studies Center, “American Series Introduction: Volume I: 1826-August 1919,” The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers Project, 2005. www.international.ucla.edu/africa/mgpp/.
Bryan, Patrick, and Rupert Lewis. Garvey: His Work and Impact . Trenton, New Jersey: First Africa World Press Edition, 1991 2nd Printing 1994