Marcus Mosiah Garvey, a son of Jamaica, came to the United States in the early part of the twentieth century at the age of 23. In the span of less than ten years, his accomplishments were nothing less than outstanding. Garvey was driven by his desire to unify and redeem the African world. His goal was to inspire and realize, “One God, One Aim, One Destiny”. There is significant irony in the history of Garvey and his efforts to establish the United Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA). Garvey tried to establish this organization based on economic empowerment and self-determination, twice in his native country of Jamaica and was not successful.
Yet when he put forth his vision here in the U.S. it was met with many willing participants. The late elder historian, Dr. John Henrik Clarke explains that at the time of Garvey’s arrival to America in 1916, blacks had been experiencing homegrown terrorism in the form of Jim Crow, lynchings, raids and race riots.
Garvey’s genius and determination made it so that he managed to mobilize and organize blacks in remarkable numbers. According to the website, Black History Studies, “The first UNIA division was formed in New York in May 1917. Within a month, the organisation had 2 million members all over the United States. By 1920, the U.N.I.A. had 1,100 chapters in 40 countries around the world such as UK, Cuba, Panama, Costa Rica, Ghana. By 1926, the membership of the U.N.I.A. had grown to over 11 million members. Marcus Garvey built the largest Black organization in history.”
Garvey was not only able to grow membership of the UNIA but also made strides in laying the foundation of cooperative economics. In 1919 the organization was able to purchase the first of several Liberty Halls in Harlem, N.Y. Later that same year the Association established two steam companies and a separate corporation. The organization’s accomplishments includes the founding of the weekly newspaper called The Negro World and the creation of The Negro Factories Corporation, which provided an estimated 700 jobs due to its numerous businesses: three grocery stores, two restaurants, a laundry, a tailor shop, a dressmaking shop, a millinery store, a printing company and doll factory. However, most were defunct by 1922. By 1925 Garvey would be convicted of mail fraud and then eventually deported to Jamaica. I will let you consider why such a successful mobilization of blacks to establish themselves and relocate to Africa would unravel so quickly. (insert side-eye here)
There is no question that Sir Garvey personifies the Kwanzaa principle of Ujamaa, cooperative economics, an important concept to impart to our youth. It is certainly never too early to introduce students to the concept and as we’ve said here before encourage your students to “buy black” and moreover, to only support businesses that employ people who look like us. Here a few resources for further study and lesson planning:
Despite the irony of Garvey’s UNIA failure in Jamaica, today his legacy is a part of the national curriculum of the island. You can peruse this curriculum document and find Garvey under the section,”Nation Builders”. He is a beloved hero and revolutionary who embodied the legacy of resistance and revolt in Jamaica. If you are a lover of reggae music than you will know that several reggae artists have paid homage to Garvey in their songs. I leave you with one of my favorites, “Worth His Weight in Gold” by Steele Pulse. Enjoy!