This Day in History: Marcus Garvey was born

On this day, August 17, 1887, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, a Jamaican political leader, publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, and orator who was a proponent of the Black nationalism and Pan-Africanism movements, was born in St. Ann.

At 14 years old, Garvey became a printer’s apprentice. In 1903, he traveled to Kingston, Jamaica, and became involved in union activities. In 1907, he took part in an unsuccessful printer’s strike and the experience gave him a new found passion for political activism. Three years later, he traveled throughout Central America working as an newspaper editor and writing about the exploitation of migrant workers in the plantations. He later traveled to London where he attended Birkbeck College, now called the University of London, and worked for the African Times and Orient Review, which advocated for Pan-African nationalism.

Garvey was active in the United States from 1916-1925 and advocated for racial separation and emigration of American-Africans to Africa. He was the founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and founded the Black Star Line, a steamship company owned and operated by blacks to link black communities around the world. The Black Business Network is inspired by the vision and accomplishments of Garvey. 

By 1919, Marcus Garvey and UNIA had launched the Black Star Line, a shipping company that would establish trade and commerce between Africans in America, the Caribbean, South and Central America, Canada and Africa. At the same time, Garvey started the Negros Factories Association, a series of companies that would manufacture marketable commodities in every big industrial center in the Western hemisphere and Africa.

In August 1920, UNIA claimed 4 million members and held its first International Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Before a crowd of 25,000 people from all over world, Marcus Garvey spoke of having pride in African history and culture. Many found his words inspiring, however, some black leaders found his separatist philosophy to be one of controversy. W.E.B. Du Bois, a prominent black leader and officer of the NAACP called Garvey, “the most dangerous enemy of the Negro race in America.”

Marcus Garvey died in London in 1940. In 1964, his remains were exhumed and taken to Jamaica where the government proclaimed him Jamaica’s first national hero enshrined him in the National Heroes Park. His message of pride and dignity inspired many in the early days of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. In tribute to his many contributions, Garvey’s bust has been displayed in the Organization of American States’ Hall of Heroes in Washington, D.C. The country of Ghana has named its shipping line the Black Star Line and its national soccer team the Black Stars, in honor of Garvey.

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