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AUGUST IS AN IMPORTANT MONTH in the worldwide African Liberation Movement. This is the month we pay tribute to the birthday and legacy of one of our greatest organizers and leaders who served the African World Community, the Honorable Marcus Garvey. This year will mark the 112th birthday of this great champion of Black redemption.

Each August that we celebrate Marcus Garvey’s birthday, we should revisit his contributions and study the works of this great hero. Garvey left a rich legacy of history for us to study and utilize in our continued quest for independence and liberation as a people.

The Provisional Government of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, the organization he founded in Kingston, Jamaica in 1914, will again pay tribute to Mr. Garvey.

Marcus Garvey was born August 17, 1887 in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, to Marcus and Sarah Garvey. Marcus Sr., his father, was a descendent of the Maroons. The Maroons were Africans who managed to escape slavery when they reached western shores by jumping from slave ships, or by fleeing slave plantations and establishing well fortified communities deep in the Jamaican interior. Garvey’s mother, Sarah, was said to be of extraordinary beauty and possessed a gentle personality. She was also said to have been a deeply religious person.

Garvey left school at the age of 14 and became an apprentice printer in Kingston. He worked for a private company and eventually became a foreman. At the age of 20, in 1907, Garvey, though a part of management, led a newly-formed printer’s union strike. The company promised Garvey big rewards and benefits if he would discontinue his union organizing. Garvey refused and was fired and "banned" by the private printing companies of Kingston.

This experience intensified Garvey’s political curiosity concerning the condition of Black people. It was at this point, 1909, that he formed the National Club and its publication Our Own. From this point forward, Garvey decided to devote his life to the upliftment of the race. He published his first newspaper, The Watchman, which gave him an opportunity to express his emerging political views on the plight of Black people.

While unable to gain support for his organization, Garvey began to travel. He spent time in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Columbia, and Venezuela. These travels gave Garvey an opportunity to observe, that whenever Black people and whites were in close proximity, Black people were on the bottom.

Garvey continued to travel and in 1911 he went to London. He was able to test out his speaking ability on the condition of Black people worldwide at the famous Hyde Park Speaker’s Corner. While in London, Garvey met Duse Mohammed Ali, editor of the African Times and Orient Review. Ali, an Egyptian scholar, introduced Garvey to many ideas that played an important role in Garvey’s future thinking.

This background gave Garvey the tools he needed to become one of our true 20th century freedom fighters. Garvey arrived in Harlem, New York, on March 16, 1916. By 1919, Garvey was well established as the President General UNIA/ACL which had a membership of over three million people with more than 300 branches throughout the African World Community.

Perhaps Garvey’s greatest contribution to the uplifting of our people was his ability to find a formula for organizing around the African principle: the greatest good for the greatest number. This was reflected in the first International Convention of Negro Peoples of the World in Madison Square Garden, in New York in 1920. Over 25,000 Black people from all over the world witnessed the choosing of red, black, and green as the colors of the Provisional Government.

In this context, Garvey and the UNIA/ACL had established an economic arm, the Negro Factories Corporations, with cooperative stores, restaurants, steam laundry shops, tailor shops, dressmaking shops, millinery stores, a doll factory to manufacture Black dolls, and a publishing house. Also, Garvey had formed a steamship corporation.

The goals and objectives of the UNIA had now become clear to the world. As Shawna Maglangbayan points out, "... the Garvey movement and UNIA had become a threat to the white world."

With the cooperation of "Negro leaders," on February 8, 1925, Marcus Garvey was arrested and convicted for mail fraud and imprisoned in Atlanta, Ga.

With a great movement of support by his followers, Garvey was released from prison in 1927, but immediately deported from the United States and sent back to Jamaica to continue his work. While in London, on June 10, 1940, Garvey lapsed into a coma and made his transition into eternity.

The Garvey movement was one of the greatest mass movements of African people in the world. Although the external and internal forces and enemies of Garvey caused his demise, the ideas of Garvey and the UNIA/ACL are still alive. We need to revitalize and resurrect the spirit of Marcus Garvey. It is needed now, more than ever before. A luta continua/The struggle continues!

(Dr. Worrill is the national chairman of the National Black United Front.. He can be reached at (708) 380-9929, or via email at nbufchi@allways.net)

Graphic: Arthur Muhammad


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