Marcus Garvey

On this day in Caribbean history, June 10, 1940, Marcus Garvey passed away in London, England. Garvey was a leader in the black nationalist movement by applying the economic ideas of Pan-Africanists to resources available in their urban communities.

In 1916, in New York, Garvey founded the Negro World newspaper, an international shipping company to provide transportation and encourage trade among the black businesses of Africa and the Americas, an international shipping company called the Black Star Line, and the Negro Factories Corporation. He concluded that the growing black communities in northern cities could provide the wealth and unity to end both imperialism in Africa and discrimination in the United States. He combined the economic nationalist ideas of Booker T. Washington and Pan-Africanists with the political possibilities and urban style of men and women living outside of plantation and colonial societies. During the 1920s his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) was the largest secular organization in African-American history.

Garvey aimed to organize blacks everywhere and achieved his greatest impact in the United States, where he enhanced the black aspiration for justice, wealth, and community within the UNIA, a million men and women from the United States, the Caribbean, and Africa belonged to it. His verbal talent and flair for the dramatic attracted thousands, but his faltering projects only augmented ideological and personality conflicts.

Garvey’s ambition and determination to lead his community inevitably collided with associates and black leaders in other organizations. In the end, he could neither unite blacks nor gain enough power to truly alter the societies in which the UNIA functioned. In 1923 the Justice Department, headed by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, sensing his imminent  demise, indicted Garvey for mail fraud. He was convicted that year, imprisoned in 1925, and deported to Jamaica after two years in 1927. Unable to resurrect the UNIA, he moved to London, where he remained for the rest of his days.

Marcus Garvey’s movement was the first major and often considered only black attempt to join modern goals of the urban community. Though most leaders since then have not tried to re-create black economic institutions, as Garvey had, the movement demonstrated to them that the urban, black, community were a potentially powerful force in the American struggle for black freedom.

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