Racial oppression was at its peak when Marcus Garvey started his Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism movement. Atrocities had been committed to the black community all over the world. He had become the beacon of hope and inspiration for millions of people with African-descent in America dreaming of governing their own African nation.
Marcus Garvey Facts
1. Garvey was the first Jamaican national hero
An interesting fact about Marcus Garvey is that he was given the distinct honor of being Jamaica’s first national hero. In 1969, he was conferred posthumously “The Order of National Hero”. It is the highest of the five Jamaican Orders of the Societies of Honour in Jamaica that was established through the National Honours and Awards Act that was passed by Parliament.
2. He founded the first significant and largest black movement
The Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League or UNIA-ACL were created in 1914 with Garvey as the President. It started in Jamaica but it attracted international following after he launched a chapter in the United States two years after. He claimed that his group had a membership of about 4 million people with different branches around the world.
3. Marcus Garvey revived the “Black is Beautiful” revolution
Postwar America was full of disillusion and discontent most especially to the black community. He may not have coined the iconic phrase “Black is Beautiful” or the first to use it to inspire black pride but he revived it by uplifting millions of black men and women during those oppressive times. They needed an anchor to save them from the drowning racial disturbances and violent riots. He encouraged them to be proud of their heritage as immortalized through one of his memorable quotes, “The Black skin is not a badge of shame, but rather a glorious symbol of national greatness.”
4. His popularity earned him the title “The Black Moses”
An interesting fact about Marcus Garvey is that his huge number of followers were moved by his compelling speeches and referred to him as The Black Moses or The Negro Moses. In 1920, the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) organized their very first International Convention. He was able to fill up Madison Square Garden in New York City with 25,000 people.
5. Garvey opened black establishments in America, West Indies and Africa
Through the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, he created the Negro Factories Association. Its primary objective was to establish factories that would create businesses for African-descent communities. He invested on grocery stores, laundry shops, restaurants, tailor shops and printing press. While it started good and gave hope to many, they had a hard time sustaining the businesses and they eventually closed down.
6. His belief in Racial Purity similar to Ku Klux Khan’s segregation views led Marcus Garvey to seek for an independent African-American State
Instead of pursuing equality with racial integration as other Black civil rights leaders have campaigned for, Garvey thought it would be better for the black community to govern their very own State. He believed that they should create their own opportunities for their economic and social growth, an interesting Marcus Garvey fact. He encouraged the African-Americans to go to Africa, their ancestral motherland and experience life on their own terms. However, he was unsuccessful in convincing the African government in Liberia to grant them land where they can settle.
7. Garvey established a shipping company Black Star Line in preparation for the back-to-Africa project
With 4 million members backing him up in 1919, he was able to invest on a shipping company and called it Black Star Line. This was in preparation for building an independent nation in Africa. Marcus Garvey knew that he needed a ship to transport his millions of followers when the time was right, as well as to speedily facilitate the products his factories are producing. He was able to purchase a ship successfully and called it S.S. Frederick Douglass.
8. J. Edgar Hoover Investigates Marcus Garvey
His public speeches were getting more militant and it naturally alarmed the government. J. Edgar Hoover of the Bureau of Investigation (BOI), this was pre-FBI, spied on his activities particularly his shipping company, Black Star Line. It was believed that the first black government agent was hired due to BOI’s interest on Garvey.
9. He was shot four times by an assassin sent allegedly by New York’s Assistant District Attorney
There was an assassination attempt on Garvey on October of 1919. He was shot four times wounding him on his scalp and right leg by George Tyler. Fortunately, his future wife, Amy Ashwood was there to deflect the shots by knocking down the perpetrator. Tyler was apprehended by the police but he died the next day while trying to escape by jumping through a window. It was rumored that he claimed that the New York Assistant District Attorney Edwin P. Kilroe ordered the hit. Although it was never proven, most of Garvey’s followers believed the allegation. They said that the Assistant District Attorney could not make any charges against the black civil rights leader stick so he resorted to just killing him. Garvey only suffered minor injuries and was still able to attend a speaking commitment the day after.
10. Garvey was charged with mail fraud and was sentenced for five years
An interesting fact about Marcus Garvey is that the government charged him with mail fraud in 1922. It was found out that Black Star Line was selling stocks of a ship that it does not own yet. They were handing out brochures with a photo of a new ship. It did not help that upon investigation the company had several accounting irregularities. His lawyer advised him to admit guilt to end up with just the bare minimum sentence. However, Garvey did not approve of his lawyer’s strategy and fired him. He defended himself but due to his lack of legal expertise, he lost the case and was found guilty by the jurors. He was sentenced to five years. Imprisoned, he appealed the verdict but it was denied.
11. Ghana’s National Flag was partly inspired by his Pan-Africanism movement
The national flag of Ghana was heavily influenced by the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. The colors red, black and green are the same colors used by UNIA-ACL’s flag while the black star on the middle was adopted from the Black Star Line, a shipping company that Garvey established.
Marcus Garvey dreamt of building an African empire and establishing an independent black economy. While he was not able to fulfill his dream for the African-descent community, his legacy of uplifting black pride lives on. Martin Luther King aptly described him, “He was the first man on a mass scale and level to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny. And make the Negro feel he was somebody.”
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