Marcus Garvey’s Influence in North America
Marcus Garvey was a speaker and strong advocate of the Black Nationalism and
Pan-Africanism movements which had a significant impact in North America. Later on, he
founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League.
Marcus Garvey created a Pan-African philosophy which also inspired a global mass movement,
known as Garveyism. Garveyism is the 20th century racial and political term advocating black
separation and the formation of self-governing black nations in Africa. The idea of Garveyism is
to focus on the unification and empowerment of African-American people. Garveyism would
eventually lead to inspiring others, especially where his teachings of black self-empowerment are
what lead to the foundation of the Rastafari movement.
Rastafarianism was the second movement to emerge, lead by Leonard Howell during the
depression years of the 1930’s. Rastafarianism and Garveyism are both resistance movements
based on the same idea of embracing African culture. The founding of the Rastafari movement
also follow Garvey’s ideas, but were not members of the Universal Negro Improvement
Association (UNIA). Essentially, Garveyism provided the ideological foundation for the
Rastafari movement, and because of it, we see the Rastafari religion evolve.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr. was born on August 17, 1887, in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica.
Marcus Garvey was one of the 11 children born to Marcus Garvey, Sr. and Sarah Jane Richards.
His father was a stonemason, and his mother a domestic worker and farmer. According to A&E
Television Networks (2017), his father was a great influence on Marcus, and described him as
“severe, firm, determined, bold, and strong, refusing to yield even to superior forces if he
believed he was right.” His father had high hopes for Garvey. At age 14, Garvey became a
printer’s apprentice. In 1903, he traveled to Jamaica and became involved in union activities. In
1907, he took part in a printer’s strike and this experience lead him to a passion for political
activism. Then, three years later, he traveled throughout Central America working as a
newspaper editor and writing about the exploitation of migrant workers in the plantations. After,
he traveled to London where he attended Birkbeck College and worked for the African Times
and Orient Review, which advocated Pan-African nationalism.
These experiences inspired him so much that Marcus Garvey returned to Jamaica in 1912
and founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association as known as U.N.I.A. In an article
titled “The Negro’s Greatest Enemy”, published in Current History (September 1923), Garvey
explains the influence of the organization’s name. It all started where Garvey was speaking to
one of the passengers who was a “West Indian Negro”. He was from Southampton where he
learned all the horrors of life in Africa. Garvey stated, “He related to me in conversation such
horrible and pitiable tales that my heart bled within me.” After the conversation they had, a
thought came to him that he should name the organization the Universal Negro Improvement
Association and African Communities League. From here he thought that the name would
consolidate all black humanity. He assumed that uniting all the “negro” people into one great
body would create a country and government on their own.
Garvey had an influence on the United States which was when he launched several
businesses to promote a separate black nation. He came to New York City and formed a U.N.I.A.
in Harlem to promote “a separatist philosophy of social, political, and economic freedom for
blacks.” Garvey also began exploiting African culture in the newspaper called “Negro World” to
convey his message. The U.N.I.A. in NYC created a “Declaration of Negro Rights,” which
caused segregation in public transportation, job discrimination, and public schools. Garvey was
taught that blacks would only be respected only if they were wealthy. He wanted an independent
black economy that was within the framework of white capitalism. Marcus Garvey spoke of
having a huge pride in African history and culture.
U.N.I.A emphasized on racial pride and self-improvement all around the world,
especially in America. Nonetheless, Garvey had much greater goals, which included creating the
first black-owned shipping company in the United States known as The Black Star Line. He also
owned the Negro Factories Corporation and chains of restaurants, grocery stores, laundries, a
hotel, and a printing press. (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2000) The Black Star Line
could establish trade and commerce between Africans in America, the Caribbean, South, and
Central America, Canada and Africa. These companies would develop a series of manufacturing
marketable commodities in every big industrial center in the Western hemisphere and Africa.
The news over the existence of Black Star Line caused great excitement among black
Americans. Garvey organized huge parades to promote this and other UNIA projects.
Many found Marcus Garvey inspiring, but not all. In the biography of Marcus Garvey,
some black leaders found his separatist philosophy impracticable. Especially, W.E.B. Du Bois, a
respectable black leader and officer of the N.A.A.C.P. She called Garvey, “the most dangerous
enemy of the Negro race in America.” Garvey felt Du Bois was an agent of the white elite.
However, W.E.B Du Bois wasn’t the only enemy of Garvey. F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover
wanted to ruin his racial ideas because he felt threatened by the black leader. He feared that
blacks across the country would stand up in military defense. Hoover referred to Garvey as a
“notorious negro agitator” and for years he was trying to find personal information on him.
According to Winston James, they placed spies in the U.N.I.A. and ruined the Black Star Line. In
1922, Marcus Garvey and three other U.N.I.A. officials were charged with mail fraud involving
the Black Star Line. The trial records found several errors that had occurred in the prosecution of
the case. It didn’t help that the shipping line’s books contained many accounting irregularities. On
June 23, 1923, Garvey was convicted and sentenced to prison for five years.
Marcus Garvey and U.N.I.A. toured the United States moralizing black nationalism. His
efforts were successful and created over 1,100 branches in more than 40 countries. Most of these
branches were located in the United States, which had become the UNIA’s base of operations.
They also had branches in several Caribbean countries with Cuba having the most. It also existed
in places such as Costa Rica, Ecuador, South Africa, Venezuela, Ghana, and Panama. With the
Black Star Line in serious financial difficulties, the UNIA began to decline in popularity. Later,
Garvey had used the U.S. mail to defraud prospective investors and it eventually led to his
imprisonment. He was deported to Jamaica where Garvey continue to focus on Jamaican politics.
He began campaigning on a platform of self-government, judicial reform, land and minimum
Despite his wrongdoings, Marcus Garvey resembles the eminence of African people.
According to Rasidi (2014), he was considered as a mass leader, propagandist, organizer, and
activist. He was ranked the “greatest of the great”. Rashidi (2014) stated, “he spent his entire life
in the account of his people. “He could literally bring his audiences to a state of high energy with
his fiery rhetoric and truth.” Through his speeches, actions, and ambitions, Garvey emphasized
racial pride. He wanted compensation and liberation of the African people. In one of Garvey’s
powerful speeches, he quoted “Up! You mighty race. You can accomplish what you will!” which
lead him to gain several supporters and continues to resonate with the African American
community. His influence and long-term impact created a great vision for the African people.
The four main themes that the Garvey movement was built upon were Africa for Africans
at home, unity, self-reliance, and retaining their black pride in the presence of whites. Garvey
brought this ideology with him to the United States which is where he found an American branch
of the UNIA. It’s been about 100 years since the founding of Garvey’s Universal Negro
Improvement Association and African Communities League. Garvey founded the U.N.I.A. and
dedicated it to promote African-Americans and resettlement in Africa. Marcus Garvey became
an inspiration to black people all over the world and taught people to be proud of their race.
According to Rasidi (2014) Garvey, the leader of UNIA and ACL was the best-known African
leader in the Western Hemisphere. By 1920, the organization had hundreds of divisions in North,
South, and Central America including Africa, Europe, Australia and especially the Caribbean.
Marcus Garvey left his legacy and died in London in 1940. Nonetheless, his memory and
influence still remain. His message of dignity and pride inspired many in the early days of the
Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. However, Garvey was arrested because of mail
fraud because he was selling stock in a ship that had not yet been purchased for the Black Star
Line. He was deported back to Jamaica where he continued to work on his political activism and
the work of U.N.I.A. The country of Ghana has named its shipping line the Black Star Line in
memory of Marcus Garvey. No other organization like the UNIA and ACL are known for its
prestige and the impact on the African people.