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Marcus Garvey – a Negro Moses

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Garveyism was a movement way ahead of its time. Jamaican born, Marcus Garvey was responsible for the American Black Nationalist and Pan Africanism Movement in the 1920s. Garvey’s mother Sarah Jane Richardson was a great influencer in Garvey’s young life, she wanted more for him than being a common laborer. She had tremendous hopes for him and spoke greatness over his life, calling him Moses she knew he was going to do great things throughout his life. As a young boy in Jamaica Garvey loved to read and would imagine himself delivering speeches to mass audiences. The young Garvey had ambition and would constantly imagine himself being a great leader in the world. But his grand ambition was interrupted by reality. In the community of St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, it was mixed with blacks and whites so children played as children should play, with no regard for the color of their skin. One of Garvey’s neighbors, a little white girl was one of his closest friends and as they became teenagers the girl’s father put an end to the friendship. At the age of fourteen, she was sent away and told: ‘never to speak to him because he was a nigger’. That was the first time that Garvey heard and became aware of the idea of what it meant to be black to those who weren’t. This left Garvey feeling shut out, different and made to feel not good enough so for the rest of his life he attempted to prove the world wrong and that he was just as good as anyone else in the world.

In 1910, 23-year-old Garvey set sail to Central America. He saw black workers harvesting plantations, loading ships and building the Panama Canal. You would think to see these workers it would be some sense of power, after all, they were the ones building and maintaining the economy. Sadly, the truth was that being in isolation from each other they were powerless.

Garvey like Thoreau became rebellious about the shameless acts of the government to create a society that he wanted for African Americans to live in. Thoreau presupposed that each individual was responsible for creating the society they want to live in. Both Thoreau and Garvey believed that organizing civil movements and demonstrating civil disobedience in the refusal to comply with any unjust laws of the government would defeat the injustice behaviors of the government. However, these two needed citizens to want to see a change in the system just as the way they have envisioned. As Garvey has stated, “Before you have a government you must have the people. Without the people, you can have no government. The government must be, an expression of the people”. He went on to help organize and stage protests for the workers of the United Fruit Company in Panama against their unfair work conditions in his younger years. All in all, despite the color of your skin, Garvey felt that there was a place for each and every living being and neither the white man nor government had a righter way.

Garvey knew he had to create a movement for black people to unite and believed that white society would never accept black Americans as equals. He called for self-development and committed to the belief that African Americans needed to secure financial independence from the white-dominant society. He led the largest black mass movement of black people in the world. The Garvey movement was centered on self-reliance and the redemption of Africa. Many people summarize his movements ‘The Back to Africa Movement’, however, his intention was not to take every black person back to Africa. His goal was to bring Africa to the modern age as a global contender for power by and for black people in Africa and around the world.

Garvey was the founder of the Black Star Line. This shipping company was created to ship goods and hopes of voyaging African Americans to Africa. Colonizing nations who ran Africa at that time such as France, Great Britain, Germany, Belgium, etc. It was made so that Garvey could never step foot in Africa. In 1923, Garvey was convicted of mail fraud for selling stock on a ship that had not been purchased and was imprisoned in 1925. This was all an attempt that might have shut down the Garvey movement but didn’t end his fight for there were many more Marcus Garvey that came after him. Garvey was one of the greatest black leaders of the last 100 years. Without him, there would not be a Malcolm X, MLK, or any of our other black leaders who organized respective movements.

Works Cited

  • Garvey, Marcus Mosiah, et al. The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, or Africa for the Africans. Cass, 1977.

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