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Marcus Garvey

Garvey, Marcus, 1887–1940, American proponent of black nationalism, b. Jamaica. At the age of 14, Garvey went to work as a printer's apprentice. After leading (1907) an unsuccessful printers' strike in Jamaica, he edited several newspapers in Costa Rica and Panama. During a period in London he took law classes and became interested in African history and black nationalism. His concern for the problems of blacks led him to found (1914) the Universal Negro Improvement Association and in 1916 he moved to New York City and opened a branch in Harlem. The UNIA was an organization designed "to promote the spirit of race pride." Broadly, its goals were to foster worldwide unity among all blacks and to establish the greatness of the African heritage. The organization quickly spread in black communities throughout the United States, the Caribbean, and Central America, and soon had thousands of members.

Garvey addressed himself to the lowest classes of blacks and rejected any notion of integration. Convinced that blacks could not secure their rights in countries where they were a minority race, he urged a "back to Africa" movement. In Africa, he said, an autonomous black state could be established, possessing its own culture and civilization, free from the domination of whites. Garvey was the most influential black leader of the early 1920s. His brilliant oratory and his newspaper, Negro World, brought him millions of followers. His importance declined, however, when his misuse of funds intended to establish a steamship company that would serve members of the African diaspora, the Black Star Line, resulted in a mail fraud conviction. He entered jail in 1925 and was deported to Jamaica two years later. From this time on his influence decreased, and he died in relative obscurity.

See Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, compiled by A. J. Garvey (2d ed. 1967, repr. 1986); biographies by E. D. Cronon (1955, repr. 1969) and C. Grant (2008); studies by A. J. Garvey (1963), T. Vincent (1971), E. C. Fax (1972), E. D. Cronon, ed. (1973), J. H. Clarke, ed. (1974), and J. Stein (1985).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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