Who was Marcus Mosiah Garvey? Why did he attract such a huge following?
I first heard about him in history class during my High school days, but that was about it.
The only thing I remembered then was that he was one of our national heroes…but for what, I could not tell you (so much for my immature mind back then).
…but, as I grew older and started questioning things, I was led to revisit his life.
What did he do to become a national hero..and why are the rastafarians always singing about him? What was it? What made him so special?
After all, he was a black man born in a time when blacks had absolutely ‘no’ power!…so how did he managed to distinguish himself from the crowd? Here’s the story…
Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born in St Ann’s Bay Jamaica on August 17, 1887. His mother was a domestic worker and his father a mason.
Born a slave and tired of being treated like one, Garvey’s father wanted respect! So, he withdraw himself from the family for days at a time and insisted that his wife and children address him as Mr. Garvey.
Young Garvey saw this and wondered.
As a boy, he imagined himself giving speeches to huge adoring crowds. He spent long hours reading and learning.
His closest childhood friends was a young white girl.
When they became teenagers, the girl’s father put an end to the relationship, send his daughter off to England, and told her never to speak to Garvey again because he was a “nigger.”
For the very first time in his life, Marcus realized what it meant to be black.
He felt shut out as if he was not ‘good enough.’ So, he would spend the rest of his life trying to prove to the world that he was, in fact, good enough.
Learning The Power of Controlling the written Word
Under the colonial education system, Garvey was forced to leave school at the age of 14. He became a printer’s apprentice and quickly earned the status of master printer.
In the print shop, he learned the power of controlling the written word! And would soon publish his first newspaper,”Garvey’s Watchman.”
In 1910, 23 year old Marcus Mosiah Garvey set out on a journey through Central America. Supporting himself and working as a journalist, he saw black people, working on plantations, loading ships, and building the panama canal.
To him, they were the power behind the economy, but in their isolation from each other, they were powerless.
In 1914, he discovered the book that would change his life forever…Booker T Washington’s “Up from Slavery.”
It opened his eyes to the fact that the situation facing black people was a global one.
He was determined that the black man would not continued to be kicked about as he saw in central America and read about in America.
“Where is the black man’s government?” “Where is his king and his kingdom?” “Where is his president?” “His country?” “His men of big affairs?” Marcus asked himself…he could not find them.
Then he declared…”I will help to make them.”
His Vision for himself and the world clicked into place
As he sailed home, his vision for himself and the world click into place…he would unify black people scattered across the globe…and he would be their leader!
Back in Kingston, he attended a debate and notice an attractive 17 year old named Amy Ashwood.
When she took to the stage and delivered a powerful political speech, he knew he had found a kindled spirit.
He approach her later that evening as they rode home on a trolley. “At last I have met the star of my destiny,” Garvey explained.
Her mother wanting to keep her away from Garvey pointed out to her that Garvey did not have a steady income therefore was not the one for her.
But, Garvey was a romantic! He told her that she was his Josephine and she responded, “if you be my Napoleon.”
That day, they made a pledge with each other that they would remain together and forge what would become the Universal Negro Improvement association (UNIA).
They launched it together in August of 1914!
With the motto: “One God One Aim One destiny,” UNIA stressed race pride and immediately sought backers for an industrial training school…modeled after Booker T Washington’s Tuskegee Institute in the United States.
Garvey and Ashwood attracted a small loyal following, but there was trouble from the beginning.
Garvey created enemies by attacking established leader, would not tolerate the slightest dissent from UNIA members, and was a disastrous money manager.
He used contributions for the school to pay for his own living expenses!
When his few supporters clamored for an accountant, he left the organization and Amy Ashwood behind and set sail alone for NY city.
His ideas had failed in Jamaica, but they were about to re-surface in America!
When he got the US, Harlem was a throbbing, bubbling, exciting place! Fantastic buildings,apartments, street lights in abundance…a fast moving an very affluent world. It’s a whole new world!
He quickly found lodging with a Jamaican family in Harlem and got a job as a printer.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey meets A Phillip Randolph
A Phillip Randolph, editor of the influential Messenger magazine, heard about the young Jamaican agitator arranged for him to deliver his first lecture in the United States.
Garvey painstakingly rehearsed his speech just like he did as a boy, but when he rose to give his speech, his confidence shattered. He spoke with a tremor and shook like a leaf.
At one point, he lost his balance and fell off the stage into the audience.
What he hoped would be a great coming out, turn into an utter humiliation.
Crushed by his failure, Marcus Mosiah Garvey wandered into the tabernacle church of Rev. Billy Sunday who attracted massive crowds to revival meetings.
He quickly adopted Reverend Billy Sunday (in picture below)speaking style.
With renewed confidence and the power to move an audience, he set out for a year long tour of 38 states. His mission? To raise money for a vocational school in Jamaica.
Along the way, he got a first hand look at the contradiction of race in America.
The stunning potential of the most affluent black population in the world…along side the horrors of poverty and lynching.
In July 1917, the city of St. Louis exploded in the worst racial riot the country had ever seen! Thirty-nine Whites and hundreds of Blacks were killed.
W.E.B. Dubois leader of NAACP and supporter of integration, led a silent march in response to the massacre.
But to Garvey, This was no time for silence! It was time for black people to pull together and fight back.
He spoke out an emergency meeting in Harlem. He is now sucked into the vortex of American race relations!
He is deeply suspicious of white liberals and their black peers talking about integration. He doesn’t think it will happen.
He does not believe that whites can represent the best interest of blacks.
…the story continues below…