Marcus Garvey The Great (1887 – 1940): Garvey was a Jamaican-born nationalist who created a ‘Back to Africa’ movement in the United States. He became an inspirational figure for later civil rights activists.

Marcus Garvey, c.1920

Marcus Garvey was born in St Ann’s Bay, Jamaica on 17 August 1887, the youngest of 11 children. He inherited a keen interest in books from his father, a mason and made full use of the extensive family library. At the age of 14 he left school and became a printer’s apprentice where he led a strike for higher wages. From 1910 to 1912, Garvey travelled in South and Central America and also visited London.

He returned to Jamaica in 1914 and founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). In 1916, Garvey moved to Harlem in New York where UNIA thrived. By now a formidable public speaker, Garvey spoke across America. He urged African-Americans to be proud of their race and return to Africa, their ancestral homeland and attracted thousands of supporters.

To facilitate the return to Africa that he advocated, in 1919 Garvey founded the Black Star Line, to provide transportation to Africa, and the Negro Factories Corporation to encourage black economic independence. Garvey also unsuccessfully tried to persuade the government of Liberia in west Africa to grant land on which black people from America could settle.

Sir Garvey established a thriving business of which was showing promising results and was on its way to  flourish much to the dismay of his colonial former rulers, he was taken in by authorities for fraud and later sent to prison.  Although there were irregularities connected to the business, the prosecution was  politically motivated, as Garvey’s activities had attracted considerable government attention all over the world. Garvey was sent to prison and later sent to Jamaica. In 1935, he moved permanently to London where he died on 10 June 1940. In 1964, his body was returned to Jamaica where he was declared the country’s first national hero.

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