The Story of Marcus Garvey

Jamaican born “Marcus Garvey” was a Black activist and founder of the Pan-Africans movement which aimed to unite and interact with people of African origin around the world.

He was a well-known civil rights leader who established the Black Star Line, a shipping enterprise, the Negro World Newspaper, and the UNIA (United Negro Improvement Association) a friendly organization of Black supremacists.

They pushed for “separate – but – equal” rights for people of African heritage as an organization and aspired to build separate Black states around the world, most prominently in Liberia on Africa’s west coast.

Marcus Garvey’s Early Life

Marcus was born on August 17, 1887, at Saint Ann’s Bay, a community in Jamaica’s Colony to Sarah Jane Richards and Malchus Garvey. Garvey was classified at the bottom of a colorist social scale in colonial Jamaican culture, as a Black youngster who felt he was of complete African origin.

But, later on, the DNA testing proved that he had some Iberian origins. His biological grandfather was born into slavery in Jamaica previous to its freedom. His Irish surname had been passed down from his family’s prior slaves.

Malchus Garvey, his father, was a stonemason, and Sarah Richards, his mother, was a domestic worker and the daughter of peasant farmers. Previously Malchus had six children with two other partners prior to Sarah.

Marcus Garvey was the youngest of four children born to him by Sarah, two of whom died in early childhood. But these two children weren’t the only losses for Malchus as he lost children from the previous marriage as well and only two of his children lived a full life.

When Marcus moved to the island nation’s capital Kingston, he attended school in Jamaica just to the age of 14. He worked there as a trainee in a print business. Later he stated that he encountered racism in Jamaica in grade school notably from white teachers.

Garvey became interested in Kingston’s print trades union while serving in the printing business. This work paved the way for his advocacy later on.

Garvey spent time in Central America and had a family before making the journey to London in 1912.During his stay in the UK, he pursued his professional studies and joined the University of London’s Birkbeck College as a student. He chose the field of law and philosophy as his areas of education. 

He also conducted debates at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, London, which is still a popular place for public debate, and worked for a Pan-Africanism newspaper.

UNIA – Universal Negro Improvement Association

After his 2 years of stay in London, he completed an education that would have been denied to him in America due to his skin color. He then returned to Jamaica and founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.) with the purpose of unifying the African exile in order to “create a republic and absolute authority of their own.”

Garvey began communicating with an African American author, politician, and activist “Booker T. Washington” who was born into slavery. He founded Tuskegee Institute. In 1916, Garvey boarded a ship heading to the United States, where in the renowned St. Patrick’s Cathedral church he gave his very first lecture to a public gathering. Highly motivated, Garvey then planned a lecture tour as a dynamic speaker and went on to deliver his talks in 38 cities. The objective was to raise funds for a similar venture in Jamaica. 

He then settled down in New York. During his time in New York, he drafted the “Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World,” which was approved at the Universal Negro Improvement Association’s conference in Madison Square Garden in 1920. Garvey was also chosen “Provisional President” of Africa during this assembly.

Marcus Garvey Quotes

Marcus had strong opinions on African American rights and wasn’t shy in stating publicly. Below are a few of his famous quotes.

“The first dying that is to be done by the Black man in the future will be done to make himself free. And then when we are finished, if we have any charity to bestow, we may die for the white man. But as for me, I think I have stopped dying for him.”

In 1921, he also informed members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, “If you want liberty you yourselves must strike the blow. If you must be free, you must become so through your own effort … Until you produce what the white man has produced you will not be his equal.”

Some other notable quotes are:

“The ends you serve that are selfish will take you no further than yourself but the ends you serve that are for all, in common, will take you into eternity.”

Marcus Garvey

“If you haven’t confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life. With confidence, you have won even before you have started.”

Marcus Garvey

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”

Marcus Garvey

“God and Nature first made us what we are, and then out of our own created genius we make ourselves what we want to be. Follow always that great law. Let the sky and God be our limit and Eternity our measurement.”

Marcus Garvey

“Liberate the minds of men and ultimately you will liberate the bodies of men.”

Marcus Garvey

“Having had the wrong education as a start in his racial career, the Negro has become his own greatest enemy. Most of the trouble I have had in advancing the cause of the race has come from Negroes. Booker Washington aptly described the race in one of his lectures by stating that we were like crabs in a barrel, that none would allow the other to climb over, but on any such attempt, all would continue to pull back into the barrel the one crab that would make the effort to climb out. Yet, those of us with vision cannot desert the race, leaving it to suffer and die.”
― Marcus Garvey

Black Star Line

Garvey established a chapter in Harlem of U.N.I.A to promote the nationalist concept of social, political, and economic independence for Black people. In 1918, he began to produce the Negro World newspaper to spread his message.

Although he had started off in a calmer voice, his tone gradually took a turn for a harsher sound where he quite blatantly spoke on the injustice of the treatment of Black people. He raised serious questions on democracy in the United States.  

By 1919, Garvey and his friends established the shipping business “Black Star Line” a maritime firm that would develop trade and commerce between Africans in Central and South America, the Caribbean, Canada and Africa. It was done under the supervision of the Universal Negro Improvement Association which had grown to over four million members by then.

Simultaneously, Garvey established the Negros Factories Association a collection of enterprises that would produce competitive products in every major industrial city in the Western Hemisphere and Africa.

In August 1920, Madison Square Garden in New York made history through a gathering of 25, 000 people, at the first International Convention where Marcus Garvey spoke about his confidence in African culture and history.

The event was hosted by the United Nations International Association (U.N.I.A.) which proudly declared a membership count of 4 million members.

Many people found his words to be inspirational, but not all. His independence philosophy was deemed unsuitable by several established Black leaders. W.E.B. Du Bois, a famous Black leader, and N.A.A.C.P. official referred to Garvey as “the most dangerous enemy of the Negro race in America.” Garvey saw Du Bois as a white elite agent.

Marcus Garvey’s Speech

As his efforts bore fruit, he successfully expanded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), and by 1921 it was considered the largest existing Black organization.

The UNIA’s founder, Marcus Garvey, had already identified W.E.B. Du Bois and the NAACP as its main enemies. Garvey laid forth his vision of globally freed Africans in his closing night speech to the second UNIA conference in New York. Below is the exact speech that Garvey gave that night:

Marcus Garvey Speaks

May it please your Highness the Potentate, Right Honorable Members of the Executive Council, Deputies and Delegates to the Second International Convention of Negroes of the World, Ladies and Gentlemen: – We are assembled here tonight to bring to a close our great convention of thirty-one days and thirty-one nights.  Before we separate ourselves and take our departure to the different parts of the world from which we came, I desire to give you a message; one that you will, I hope, take home and propagate among the scattered millions of Africa’s sons and daughters.

We have been here, sent here by the good will of the 400,000,000 Negroes of the world to legislate in their interests, and in the time allotted to us we did our best to enact laws and to frame laws that in our judgment, we hope, will help solve the great problem that confronts us universally.  The Universal Negro Improvement Association seeks to emancipate the Negro everywhere, industrially, educationally, politically and religiously.  It also seeks a free and redeemed Africa.  It has a great struggle ahead; it has a gigantic task to face.  Nevertheless, as representatives of the Negro people of the world we have undertaken the task of freeing the 400,000,000 of our race, and of freeing our bleeding Motherland, Africa.  We counseled with each other during the thirty-one days….and out of all we did, and out of all we said, we have come to the one conclusion – that speedily Africa must be redeemed!  We have come to the conclusion that speedily there must be an emancipated Negro race everywhere; and on going back to our respective homes we go with our determination to lay down, if needs be, the last drop of our blood for the defense of Africa and for the emancipation of our race.

The handwriting is on the wall.  You see it as plain as daylight; you see it coming out of India, the tribes of India rising in rebellion against their overlords.  You see it coming out of Africa, our dear motherland, Africa; the Moors rising in rebellion against their overlords, and defeating them at every turn.  According to the last report flashed to this country from Morocco by the Associated Press, the Moors have again conquered and subdued the Spanish hordes.  The same Associated Press flashes to us the news that there is a serious uprising in India, and the English people are marshaling their troops to subdue the spirit of liberty, of freedom, which is now permeating India.  The news has come to us, and I have a cable in my pocket that comes from Ireland that the Irish are determined to have liberty and nothing less than liberty.”

The League of Nations

“The handwriting is on the wall, and as we go back to our respective homes we shall serve notice upon the world that we are also coming; coming with a united effort; coming with a united determination, a determination that Africa shall be free from coast to coast.  I have before me the decision of the League of Nations.  Immediately after the war a Council of the League of Nations was called, and at that Council they decided that the territories wrested from Germany in West Africa, taken from her during the conflict, should be divided between France and England – 608,000 square miles – without even asking the civilized Negroes of the world what disposition shall be made of their own homeland, of their own country.  An insult was hurled at the civilized Negroes of the world when they thus took upon themselves the right to parcel out and apportion as they pleased 608,000 square miles of our own land; for we never gave it up; we never sold it.  It is still our[s].  They parceled it out between these two nations – England and France – gave away our property without consulting us, and we are aggrieved, and we desire to serve notice on civilization and on the world that 400,000,000 Negroes are aggrieved.

And we are the more aggrieved because of the lynch rope, because of segregation, because of the Jim Crowism that is used, practiced and exercised here in this country and in other parts of the world by the white nations of the earth, wherever Negroes happen accidentally or otherwise to find themselves.  If there is no safety for Negroes in the white world, I cannot see what right they have to parcel out the homeland, the country of Negroes, without consulting Negroes and asking their permission so to do.  Therefore, we are aggrieved.  This question of prejudice will be the downfall of civilization, and I warn the white race of this, and of their doom.  I hope they will take heed, because the handwriting is on the wall.  No portion of humanity, no group of humanity, has an abiding right, an everlasting right, an eternal right to oppress other sections or portions of humanity.  God never gave them the right, and if there is such a right, man arrogated it to himself, and God in all ages has been displeased with the arrogance of man.  I warn those nations that believe themselves above human justice.  You cannot long ignore the laws of God; you cannot long ignore the commandments of God; you cannot long ignore human justice, and exist.  Your arrogance will destroy you, and I warn the races and the nations that have arrogated to themselves the right to oppress, the right to

circumscribe, the right to keep down other races.  I warn them that the hour is coming when the oppressed will rise in their might, in their majesty, and throw off the yoke of ages.

The world ought to understand that the Negro has come to life, possessed with a new conscience and a new soul. The old Negro is buried, and it is well the world knew it.  It is not my purpose to deceive the world.  I believe in righteousness; I believe in truth; I believe in honesty.  That is why I warn a selfish world of the outcome of their actions towards the oppressed.  There will come a day, Josephus Daniels wrote about it, a white statesman, and the world has talked about it, and I warn the world of it, that the day will come when the races of the world will marshal themselves in great conflict for the survival of the fittest.  Men of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, I am asking you to prepare yourselves, and prepare your race the world over, because the conflict is coming, not because you will it, not because you desire it, but because you will be forced into it.  The conflict between the races is drawing nearer and nearer.  You see it; I see it; I see it in the handwriting on the wall, as expressed in the uprising in India.  You see the handwriting on the wall of Africa; you see it, the handwriting on the wall of Europe.  It is coming; it is drawing nearer and nearer.  Four hundred million Negroes of the world, I am asking you to prepare yourselves, so that you will not be found wanting when that day comes.  What a sorry day it will be.  I hope it will never come.  But my hope, my wish, will not prevent its coming.  Al that I can do is to warm humanity everywhere, so that humanity may change its tactics, and warn them of the danger.  I repeat: I warn the white world against the prejudice they are practicing against Negroes; I warn them against the segregation and injustice they mete out to us, for the perpetuation of these things will mean the ultimate destruction of the present civilization, and the building up of a new civilization founded upon mercy, justice and equality.

I know that we have good men in all races living at the present time.  We have good men of the black race, we have good men of the white race, good men of the yellow race, who are endeavoring to do the best they can to ward off this coming conflict.  White men who have the vision, go ye back and warn your people of this coming conflict!  Black men of vision, go ye to the four corners of the earth, and warn your people of this coming conflict.  Yellow men, go ye out and warn your people of this coming conflict, because it is drawing nearer and nearer; nearer and nearer.  Oh! If the world will only listen to the heart-throbs, to the soul-beasts of those who have the vision, those who have God’s love in their hearts.

I see before me white men, black men and yellow men working assiduously for the peace of the world; for the bringing together of this thing called human brotherhood; I see them working through their organizations.  They have been working during the last fifty. years.  Some worked to bring about the emancipation, because they saw the danger of perpetual slavery.  They brought about the liberation of 4,000,000 black people.  They passed away, and the others started to work, but the opposition against them is too strong; the opposition against them is weighing them down.  The world has gone mad; the world has become too material; the world has lost its spirit of kinship with God, and man can see nothing else but prejudice, avarice and greed.  Avarice and greed will destroy the world and I am appealing to white, black and yellow whose hearts, whose souls are touched with the true spirit of humanity, with the true feeling of human brotherhood, to preach the doctrine of human love, more, to preach it louder, to preach it longer, because

there is great need for it in the world at this time.  Ah! If they could but see the danger – the conflict between the races – races fighting against each other.  What a destruction, what a holocaust it will be! Can you imagine it?

Just take your idea from the last bloody war, wherein a race was pitted against itself (for the whole white races united as one from a common origin), the members of which, on both sides, fought so tenaciously that they killed off each other in frightful, staggering numbers.  If a race pitted against itself could fight so tenaciously to kill itself without mercy, can you imagine the fury, can you imagine the mercilessness, the terribleness of the war that will come when all the races of the world will be on the battlefield, engaged in deadly combat for the destruction or overthrow of the one or the other, when beneath it and as a cause of it lies prejudice and hatred?  Truly, it will be an ocean of blood; that is all it will be.  So that if I can sound a note of warning now that will echo and reverberate around the world and thus prevent such conflict, God help me to do it; for Africa, like Europe, like Asia, is preparing for the day.”

Africa’s Possibilities

“You may ask yourselves if you believe Africa is still asleep.  Africa has been slumbering; but she was slumbering for a purpose.  Africa still possesses her hidden mysteries; Africa has unused talents, and we are unearthing them now for the coming conflict.  Oh, I hope it will never come therefore, I hope the white world will change its attitude towards the weaker races of the world, for we shall not be weak everlastingly.  Ah, history teaches us of the rise and fall of nations, races, and empires.  Rome fell in her majesty; Greece fell in her triumph; Babylon, Assyria, Carthage, Prussia, the German Empire – all fell in their pomp and power; the French Empire fell from the sway of the great Napoleon, for the dominion of the indomitable Corsican soldier.  As they fell I the past, so will nations fall in the present age, and so will they fall in the future ages to come, the result of their unrighteousness.

I repeat, I warn the world, and I trust you will receive this warning as you go into the four corners of the earth.  The white race should teach humanity.  Out there is selfishness in the world.  Let the white race teach humanity first, because we have been following the cause of humanity for three hundred years, and we have suffered much.  If a change must come, it must not come from Negroes; it must come from the white race, for they are the ones who have brought about this estrangement between the races.  The Negro never hated; at no time within the last five hundred years can they point to one single instance of Negro hatred. The Negro has loved even under the severest punishment.  In slavery the Negro loved his master; he protected his master; he safeguarded his master’s home.  “Greater love hath no man than that he should lay down his life for another.”  We gave not only our services, our unrequited labor; we gave also our souls, we gave our hearts, we gave our all, to our oppressors.

But, after all, we are living in a material world, even though it is partly spiritual, and since we have been very spiritual in the past, we are going to take a part of the material now, and will give others the opportunity to

practice the spiritual side of life.  Therefore, I am not telling you to lead in humanity; I am not telling you to lead in the bringing about of the turning of humanity, because you have been doing that for three hundred years, and you have lost.  But the compromise must come from the dominant races.  We are warning them.  We are not preaching a doctrine of hatred, and I trust you will not go back to your respective homes and preach such a doctrine.  We are preaching, rather, a doctrine of humanity, a doctrine of human love.  But we say love begins at home; “charity begins at home.”

We are aggrieved because of this portioning of Africa, because it seeks to deprive Negroes of the chance of higher national development; no chance, no opportunity is given to us to prove our fitness to govern, to dominate in our own behalf.  They impute so many bad things against Haiti and against Liberia, that they themselves circumvented Liberia so as to make it impossible for us to demonstrate our ability for self-government.  Why not be honest?  Why not be straight-forward?  Having desired the highest development, as they avowed and professed, of the Negro, why not give him a fair chance, an opportunity to prove his capacity for governing?  What better opportunity ever presented itself than the present, when the territories of Germany in Africa were wrested from her control by the Allies in the last war – what better chance ever offered itself for trying out the higher ability of Negroes to govern themselves than to have given those territories to the civilized Negroes, and thus give them a trial to exercise themselves in a proper system of government?  Because of their desire to keep us down, because of their desire to keep us apart, they refuse us a chance. The chance that they did give us is the chance that we are going to take.  Hence tonight, before I take my seat, I will move a resolution, and I think it is befitting at this time too pass such a resolution as I will move, so that the League of Nations and the Supreme Council of the Nations will understand that Negroes are not asleep; that Negroes are not false to themselves; that Negroes are wide awake, and that Negroes intend to take a serious part in the future government of this world; that God Almighty created him and placed him in it.  This world owes us a place, and we are going to occupy that place.

We have a right to a large part in the political horizon, and I say to you that we are preparing to occupy that spot.

Go back to your respective corners of the earth and preach the real doctrine of the Universal Negro Improvement Association – the doctrine of universal emancipation for Negroes, the doctrine of a free and a redeemed Africa!”


“Be it Resolved, That we, the duly elected representatives of the Negro peoples of the world, assembled in the Second Annual Convention, do protest against the distribution of the land of Africa by the Supreme Council and the League of Nations among the white nations of the world. Africa, by right of heritage, is the property of the African races, and those at home and those abroad are now sufficiently civilized to conduct the affairs of their own homeland.  This convention believes in the right of Europe for the Europeans; Asia for the Asiatics,

and Africa for the Africans, those at home and those abroad.  We believe, further, that only a close and unselfish application of this principle will prevent threatening race wars that may cast another gloom over civilization and humanity.   At this time humanity everywhere is determined to reach a common standard of nationhood.  Hence 4000,000,000 Negroes demand a place in the political sun of the world.”

Spy on Marcus Garvey by J. Edge Hoover

Later it was revealed that ‘Du Bois’ wasn’t Garvey’s deadliest enemy; in-fact F.B.I. Director ‘J. Edgar Hoover was. Garvey became his target because of his Black Nationalism and outspoken activism. Hoover was alarmed by the Black leader, thinking that he was inspiring Black people across the country to rise up in militant opposition.

Hoover referred to Garvey as a “notorious negro agitator” and spent several years aggressively attempting to get damaging personal information on him, even employing the first Black F.B.I. employee in 1919 to join Garvey’s ranks and spy on him.

The Bureau of Investigation (BOI) initiated an investigation against Garvey for mail fraud in relation to a Black Star Line leaflet that showed a photo of a ship before the firm really had a vessel in its fleet.

It wasn’t long before a pathway was found in 1923 to silence Garvey by convicting him on all counts for a maximum of 5 years jail time. The trial was already controversial and became even more controversial later when Garvey blamed the Jewish judge and jury for being biased and looking for revenge because of his meeting with the Ku Klux Klan a few months before the trial.

Garvey claimed that because he advocated for a separate state for African Americans, he and the K.K.K. had similar ideas on segregation.

In 1925, he began serving his imprisonment in Atlanta Prison. He wrote his famous paper “First Message to the Negroes of the World from Atlanta Prison” from there.

In his paper, he wrote, “After my enemies are satisfied, in life or death I shall come back to you to serve even as I have served before. In life I shall be the same; in death, I shall be a terror to the foes of Negro liberty. If a death has power, then count on me in death to be the real Marcus Garvey I would like to be. If I may come in an earthquake, or a cyclone, or plague, or pestilence, or as God would have me, then be assured that I shall never desert you and make your enemies triumph over you.”

After his Prison

In 1928, when Garvey was freed from jail after completing three years of his term. He traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, to speak before the League of Nations on race and the global abuse of people of color.

He founded the People’s Political Party, the country’s first contemporary political organization when he returned to Jamaica a few months later. This platform prioritized workers’ rights and the needy.

Marcus Garvey’s Death        

Garvey did not stay either in the US or Jamaica in the latter part of his life and returned to London in 1935 to spend the rest of his life there. He continued to work until a series of strokes resulted in his death on June 10, 1940 at the age of 52 in London. He was buried in St. Mary’s Roman Catholic cemetery in Kensal Green, London due to travel restrictions during World War II.

His remains were unearthed and transported to Jamaica on November 13th, 1964 when the government declared him the country’s first national hero and re-interred him at a shrine at the National Heroes Park in Kingston, Jamaica.

Garvey’s Legacy

The Garvey Movement was the most significant transnational movement of African peoples in contemporary history. The movement had almost eight million supporters at its peak, from 1922 to 1924. The movement’s youngest members were taken in at the age of five, and as they grew older, they progressed to the areas for older children.

Garvey emphasized the importance of believing in the One God, the God of Africa when seen through Black eyes. He urged Black people to learn about their ancient times and rich cultural heritage. He advocated for Black pride, for example, by making Black dolls for Black youngsters. His was the first obvious call for Black power. He was the one who stated, “A race without authority and power is a race without respect.”

Garvey’s admirers prefer to focus on his fundamental message, which was rooted in African American pride. After all, it is he who coined the expression “Black is beautiful.”

Perhaps the finest example of his philosophy is illustrated by the following quote: “We must canonize our own saints, create our own martyrs, and elevate to positions of fame and honor Black men and women who have made their distinct contributions to our racial history … I am the equal of any white man; I want you to feel the same way.”


Who was Marcus Garvey?

Garvey was well-known for founding the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) with the goal of achieving Black Nationalism via the celebration of African history and culture.

How did Marcus Garvey Die?

Marcus Garvey died because of two consecutive strokes on June 10, 1940 in London.

What did Martin Luther King say about Marcus Garvey?

Marcus Garvey was named the “first leader to give millions of Negroes a feeling of dignity and destiny” by Martin Luther King.


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