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A biography of Marcus Mosiah Garvey

Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born in St. Ann's Bay, JA on August 17, 1887. He was the youngest of 11 children. He attended infant and elementary schools and was apprenticed to learn the printing trade at the age of 14.
1906 Garvey left St. Ann's Bay for Kingston. He worked at first with a maternal uncle, then moved on to P.A. Benjamin Limited where he worked as a compositor in the printing section. In 1907, his first experience in labour organization came with a strike in late 1908 when printers went on strike for better wages. Garvey joined the strike, but it was unsuccessful and he lost his job. After that he found employment at the Government Printing Office.
1910, Garvey left to work in Costa Rica as a time-keeper on a banana plantation. Observing the conditions under which the blacks worked, Garvey became determined to change the lives of this people. He travelled throughout Central America, observing the working conditions of blacks throughout the region, visiting the Panama Canal Zone, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Colombia and Venezuela. Everywhere, blacks were experiencing great hardships.
Garvey returned to Jamaica - distressed at the situation in Central America, and appealed to Jamaica's colonial government to help improve the plight of West Indian workers, but without any response.
Garvey's journalistic experience began with a newspaper called The Watchman which he started in 1910. After several short-lived newspapers, he founded the Negro World, which was the most successful and important paper . It ran in Harlem from 1918 to 1933. The paper promoted Garvey's nationalist ideals and was an avenue of expression for blacks during the years of the Harlem Renaissance. In 1920 the weekly claimed a circulation of 50,000.
Convinced that Unity was the only way to improvement for blacks, Garvey launched the Universal Negro Improvement and Conservation Association and African Communities League. He was President of the association. With the motto "One God! One Aim! One Destiny!" the association sought to unite "all the people of African ancestry of the world into one great body to establish a country and government absolutely their own."
Among the objectives of the association, which became known as the UNIA, were to promote the spirit of race, pride and love; to administer to and assist the needy; to reclaim the fallen of the race; to establish universities, colleges and secondary schools for further education and to conduct a worldwide commercial and industrial intercourse.
The first headquarters of the association was located in Kingston. Garvey's efforts in building up the organization were successful, and by 1920, the association boasted over 1,100 branches in more than 40 countries.
To further unite people of African ancestry and prepare them for self-reliance and mass action if necessary, auxiliary groups were formed within the UNIA. The African Legion, the Black Cross Nurses, The Universal Motor Corps, all uniformed groups, helped to foster dignity and self-worth in adults.
The black nationalist ideals of the UNIA were executed through the organization's economic programme. Real political freedom, Garvey felt, would be facilitated by an independent economic base. In an attempt to achieve this goal, the Black Star Line Steamship Corporation was launched in 1919. Between 1919 and 1925, the Black Star Line operated four ships which carried passengers and cargo between the USA and Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Costa Rica and Panama. Another venture of the UNIA -- also started in 1919 -- was the Negro Factories Corporation.
The first convention of the UNIA, held in Harlem in 1920, altered the course of the association. A programme based on The Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World was adopted, marking the evolution of the movement into a black nationalist one, seeking the upliftment of the black race, encouraging self-reliance and nationhood and emphasizing that blacks should put themselves first as other races do. The document protested against the practice in the education system whereby black children were taught white superiority.
The official colours of the movement, red, black, and green were also endorsed. Convinced that blacks should have a permanent homeland in Africa, Garvey's movement sought to accomplish this by colonizing and assisting with the development of Liberia. In Garvey's words, "our success educationally, industrially and politically is based upon the protection of a nation founded by ourselves. And the nation can be nowhere else but in Africa".
The Liberia programme, launched in 1920, was intended to build colleges, universities, industrial plants and railroad tracks among other things but the project was abandoned in the mid 1920's after much opposition from European powers with interests in Liberia.
In connection with the affairs of the Black Star Line Steamship Corporation, Garvey was charged with mail fraud in the United States and imprisoned in the Atlanta Federal Prison in 1925. On his release in November 1927, Garvey returned to his homeland, which was heavily celebrated.
He then worked to rebuild the membership of the UNIA in Jamaica and visited London, where he established a European headquarters.
In 1928 he presented the Petition of the Negro Race to the League of Nations in Geneva. The petition outlines the abuse of blacks around the world and sought redress through this Organization. One important aspect of the petition was its expose of the barbarities of the South African regime.
In September 1929, Garvey founded the People's Political Party (PPP), Jamaica's first modern political party. A 14 point manifesto -- the first of its kind in the island's electoral history -- was put forward by Garvey. The points contained in the PPP's manifesto were far-reaching and perceptive as illustrated by a few of them, such as an eight-hour work day, a minimum wage, a legal aid department for the poor, a land reform, etc. Some of Garvey's visions as expressed in his manifesto have been fulfilled. Others are yet to be realized.
Later, Garvey was elected Councillor for the Allman Town division of the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC) in 1929. He lost his seat, however, and was re-elected in 1930 and agitated for the adoption of some of the points outlined in the PPP's manifesto.
Marcus Garvey also was a poet, and many of his poems are important works of Afro-American literature.
During these last five years in London, Garvey remained active, keeping in touch with events in Ethiopia where war was being waged. In 1939, he set up a School of African Philosophy to train the leadership of the UNIA. He also continued to work on the magazine The Black Man. In June 1940,however, he died. His body was interred in the Kendal Green Cemetery, London. In November 1964, his remains were returned to Jamaica and re-interred in the National Heroes Park, Garvey having been proclaimed Jamaica's first National Hero.

Source: UNIA website ( text shortened by Alexander Gerund)