Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey Biography

The Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey established the UNIA♦ACL on

Monday, July 20, 1914 in Kingston, Jamaica.

Early Years

Born to Marcus Garvey Sr. and Sarah Jane Richards, Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr. was the youngest of eleven children. Only he and his sister Indiana lived into adulthood. He was born on August 17, 1887 in St. Ann’s Bay in St. Ann’s Parish in Jamaica. Garvey’s background distinguished him from the typical peasant in that his father possessed a library among whose volumes Garvey developed an early taste of reading. Garvey’s father, a skilled tradesman, was a stonemason and traced his lineage to the Maroons, the group of Africans who fought and escaped from slavery and established free communities in the mountainous interiors of Jamaica. At the age of 14, by which time he had already become apprenticed to a local printer – Alfred Burrowes – Garvey left school. Two years later, August 1903, after a hurricane hit Jamaica wiping out all the crops in Garvey’s area, he moved to Kingston, Jamaica’s capital city, where he obtained work through a maternal uncle. By the time young Garvey was seventeen years old, he had already committed himself to uplifting the race. By eighteen, Garvey was a foreman printer. In fact, he was the youngest foreman printer in Kingston, at a time when many foremen were still being imported from Great Britain and Canada.

Intellectual & Political Life

In Kingston Garvey quickly immersed himself in the intellectual and political life of the city. There he was mentored by Dr. J Robert Love, who would expose Garvey to Pan-Africanism. By 1909 his political involvement had brought him into the National Club organized by lawyer, Sandy Cox, which sought to combat privilege and the evils of British colonialism on the island. In an effort to raise capital for the movement that he wanted to create, in 1910, Garvey embarked on the first of his many wanderings in foreign lands. He went to Costa Rica, where he worked for a while as a timekeeper on a United Fruit Company banana plantation and as a laborer on the pier at Port Limón, edited a paper, La Nación, harassed the British Consul concerning the non-protection of the many British West Indian laborers working there, was arrested for urging workers to fight for better conditions, and was eventually expelled from the country.

Travels Around The World

He continued, for the next year or so, to wander through Latin America, going to such places as Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, British Honduras, Venezuela and Ecuador where West Indian workers had migrated in large numbers in search of work. He observed the universal degradation of the Black race, worked intermittently to finance his travels, started another small paper in Colón, Panama – La Prensa – and agitated among Black workers. A Black worker in Colón at the time remembers meeting Garvey around 1912 as he addressed the predominantly Black Colón Federal Labor Union.

From Central America Garvey returned briefly to Jamaica and by the autumn of 1912, he was in England, where his only surviving sister, Indiana, was working as a governess. In England he indulged his love of public speaking at Hyde Park’s Speakers’ Corner, was a regular visitor to the House of Commons, and worked for the Africa Times and Orient Review, the foremost Pan-African journal of the day. There he was mentored by Dusé Mohammed Ali. He found the time to visit Scotland, Ireland, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Hungary and Germany. He also attended lectures in law at Birbeck College of the University of London. He left England on June 17, 1914.

Sojourn in England

Garvey’s first sojourn in England was of great importance to his career. The workings of British democracy made a lasting impression on him and, like later generations of visitors from the colonized world to the metropolis, he noted the contrast to the autocracy which the very same colonizers maintained in their tropical dependencies. England gave him an opportunity, too, to enhance his already wide knowledge of the worldwide sufferings of Black people. In the pages of the Africa Times And Orient Review there appeared regularly articles by and about such leading Black figures as Booker T. Washington, Edward Wilmot Blyden, John Edward Bruce, William Ferris, to name a few. Garvey also came into contact with Black seamen and students, whose sufferings he observed, and with the many people of color who visited the offices of the journal. And the fact that the journal combined a Pan-African outlook with wide coverage of Middle and Far Eastern nationalist struggles, and indeed all anti-colonial struggles, contributed further to Garvey’s growth and influenced his future outlook. However, it was Garvey’s research at the British Museum that would solidify his zeal to uplift the African race. Garvey read and studied the history of Egypt and concluded that until there is a self-reliant independent economic system, a people or a nation would never control its destiny. This is how ancient Egypt (Kemet)
became the world’s first global economy. Garvey would later use the image of Pharaoh Khafre (on the sphinx) as the logo of the Negro World newspaper.

Return to Jamaica

Garvey arrived back in Jamaica on July 15, 1914, his head bristling with ideas on making a living and founding a racial uplift movement. To secure the latter he formed, five days after his arrival, the Universal Negro Improvement and Conservation Association and African Communities (Imperial) League. The title bore testimony to the enlarged vision brought about by
his travels and the fear, which he never relinquished, that weak races were doomed to slavery and possible extinction. In this regard, he wrote: “For the last ten years I have given my time to the study of the condition of the Negro, here, there, and everywhere, and I have come to realize that he is still the object of degradation and pity the world over, in the sense that he has no status socially, nationally or commercially (with a modicum of exception in the United States of America)”…

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