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Marcus Garvey and His Impact on Jamaica and Africans' Rights

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Born in St Ann’s Bay, Jamaica in 1887, Marcus Garvey grew to be the founder of the Universal Negro Improvement and Conservation Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) after travelling many times and seeing first-hand how “Negroes lived, politically and otherwise”. Garvey led one of, if not the largest African-based political movements through his vision of Pan-Africanism where the slogan “Africa for the Africans” was derived. Marcus Garvey’s Pan-African movement moulded a post-colonial Caribbean identity through the manifestation of African politico-economic independence, racial consciousness, African-based religious and educational institutions as well as literary works.

Pan-Africanism energized a political independence for Garveyite Africans not only in Jamaica, but also internationally, mainly through the UNIA. The UNIA, which had almost 100 divisions within the Caribbean, was political driven since its creation. African political emancipation was exhibited when delegates of the UNIA-ACL framed the Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World at a convention in 1920. The declaration protested against all wrongful acts and practices done on or against black people internationally, like lynching and shaving the heads of African women, and sought the rights for these acts to be claimed and dealt with in all jurisdictions. Garvey dreamed of creating a political force in Africa and tried to carry this out through the establishment of a UNIA division in Liberia. However, this did not take place as the US government stopped any efforts Garvey took to achieve a base in Liberia since Liberia was “a client state of the United States, and dependent on its capital”. The UNIA did have other divisions in other African countries and Garvey’s message for the Africans was spread through the Negro World newspaper.

Garvey made an even more powerful political affect in Jamaica when he launched the People’s Political Party in 1928. He promised to create similar parties in the French and British territories in the Caribbean. Three electoral victories, to the Kingston, St Andrew Corporation and the legislative council in by-elections, were registered by the party. Garvey’s party caught the public’s attention as it sought to help the working people and the middle classes, and identified their economic needs. He clearly stated his disagreement to the colonial policies and economic practices of big landowners. He also campaigned for judicial fairness to be maintained by the court stenographers and for the protection of persons to be rightfully represented in court if they were financially or otherwise unable to have representation. The first political manifesto and constitution in Jamaica, and possibly in the Caribbean, was created by the PPP. Garvey pushed for better wages, education and working conditions to benefit the Jamaican workers. His words motivated others throughout the Caribbean, although he was specifically speaking of Jamaica, as the 1930s brought labour riots and protests due to the conditions of poverty faced by persons within the entire region. Garvey’s political party was not victorious in the 1930s elections due to most of the middle class supporting Britain while the rest of the electorate supported the United Fruit Company.

The creation of the Black Star Line was symbolically a means for economic independence and enterprise for Africans throughout the world. The ACL was “the business arm of the UNIA and it had legal authority to raise capital”. The Black Star Line provided a means for which the African diaspora could return to Africa without racial discriminatory aspects from white-owned ships. There was a White Star Line owned by white men, hence Garvey decided to name the black men’s own the Black Star Line. In 1919, the Black Star Line was certified and registered and soon after its first ship was purchased, the S.S. Yarmouth later renamed S.S. Frederick Douglass. The ship sailed between America, the West Indies and Africa. All the Black Star Line’s ships had problems like conflicts between officers and crew and there was corruption due to Garvey’s misjudgement with poor hiring decisions and lack of business experience. In 1922, The Black Star Line was suspended, although it was potentially a good commercial African-based enterprise, it did however lack proper business prospects that would have prevented its downfall.

Economic independence was also achieved through the Negro Factories Corporation (NFC) that Garvey set up which owned grocery stores, chains of restaurants, Laundromats, publishing magazines, pamphlets and newspapers. The NFC also manufactured appliances and devices and dealt with clothing and it purchased and sold products. The NFC was set up to employ blacks and produce for black consumers, thereby achieving a black-owned enterprise. In 1920, the corporation had taken ownership of a Harlem Laundromat and later the Universal Steam Laundry, with a Universal Tailoring and Dress Making department was created and here the UNIA uniforms and insignia were made. The Kingston UNIA division owned a bakery and a bank and the shares were only available to members. UNIA businesses helped to provide hope for hundreds of blacks who had been unemployed although the NFC did not reach the level of influence Garvey wished it did and adversely closed in 1921.

Marcus Garvey and the UNIA helped to raise racial consciousness and bring about race redemption to the Africans globally as white supremacy was vivid post-colonization in the twentieth century. Garvey was exposed to racism at a young age as he had a white friend whose parents discontinued their friendship eventually. “White supremacy was institutionalized in law and Africans were regarded as sub-human”. After colonization the notion that blacks were property was still engrained in the minds of the whites. Racism and Classism was seen after the First World War when the West Indian soldiers realized that there were European workers and farmers and not just plantation owners. The soldiers were promised the right to vote and receive land but those promises were not fulfilled which led to the veterans joining Garveyism and creating their own labour organizations in the US and the West Indies. Garvey was not against whites as he would also include their struggles in his speeches as well and he also spoke to a lot of white leaders. Garvey admitted that his early education on racial consciousness was from Dr Robert Love who was a Bahamian-born Pan-Africanist that portrayed his works through his Jamaica Advocate newspaper. Dr T.E.S Scholes, a Jamaican thinker and author, also influenced Garvey’s race views.

In his time in America, Garvey was exposed to riots due to interracial couples. Blacks were being killed if rumours of interracial unions were heard of and so the African-Americans believed that miscegenation would prevent their oppression. Garvey however argued that the blacks should take pride in their race through acceptance and keeping it pure. Garvey realized that racial prejudice limited the blacks even if they were wealthy and successful and so he believed the only way for Africans to be treated fairly was to create a government in the African continent that was strong enough to demand the respect of everyone around the world. This shows how far Garvey’s vision for racial equality and redemption of Africa went.

Garveyism contributed to the formation of religious and educational institutions with the help of the UNIA that had the motto “One God, One Aim, One Destiny”. Religiously, Nation of Islam and Rastafarianism were strongly influenced by Garveyism. Although Garvey was particularly critical of religious-based movements, he had a strong belief in God so much so he would frequently quote from the Bible during some of his speeches, particularly Psalms 68:31, “Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God”. Garvey spread his message of a black Jesus and Mary to show his African beliefs and he would give speeches in churches. Rastafarianism came about through Prince Ras Tafari Makonnen who called himself Haile Selassie, although Garvey was not fully a supporter of Selassie he is regarded as a prophet in their religion. To this day, Nation of Islam’s core values imitate that of Garveyism where their revised version of the Muslim faith shows a significant African influence and believes in the segregation from whites.

The School of African Philosophy was designed as a training ground for graduates to become representatives of the UNIA. Garvey replace the Eurocentric philosophy and give students a different view that would allow them to become proud black people. The English stenographer of Garvey’s organization would mail out lessons to the school. The school had forty-two subjects which were based off of the UNIA and the ACL’s work over the past two decades of the organization’s existence.

Garvey’s literary works was a great factor that in turn benefitted his mission. Marcus Garvey was not only known as a political leader but he was also an accomplished poet, publisher and journalist. From a young age Garvey was exposed to publishing as he became the apprentice to a compositor at the age of fourteen. He published Garvey’s Watchman, a weekly newspaper that discontinued. He edited bilingual newspapers in Costa Rica and Panama on his travels since he had learned Spanish from working and living in Spanish countries. Garvey’s speeches and newspaper editorials became centralized around the struggle for African democracy.

When Garvey was sentenced to jail for mail fraud in 1923, he wrote many essays and poems including his most popular poem “Keep Cool” and many articles were published in the Negro World. “The Tragedy of White Injustice” is a long poem about the enslavement and genocide of Africans which resulted from white colonization and enterprise and this showed how vast Garvey’s historical knowledge was. In the poem Garvey wrote, “Shall there be freedom of liberal thought?”. He also wrote letters to his wife, Amy Jacques Garvey, in which he expressed his love and affection towards her during his tough imprisonment. “First Message to the Negroes of the World from Atlanta Prison” was also authored by Garvey where 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” which served to explain his feelings about his time in prison and his determination to continue on with his mission regardless of being imprisoned. When Garvey was released from prison, Negro World was banned in Cuba and the UNIA was declared an illegal organization. This was one of the many ways the colonial authorities tried to cage Garvey from continuing to pursue his movement in the Caribbean. Garvey began publishing his Blackman newspaper in 1929 which helped to promote his political party and was “the organ to the UNIA”. He said that he wanted to have a daily newspaper in every important West Indian island. Although the police tried many ways of delaying deliveries to prevent the sales, the newspaper still managed to circulate fifteen thousand copies. After the Blackman newspaper, Garvey had the New Jamaican (1932-1933) and in the early 1930s he wrote and created seven plays. Bob Marley took parts of Garvey’s 1937 speech, at the regional UNIA conference, and later made it into his very popular “Redemption Song” which shows how Garvey’s literary works captured the minds of others and is still doing so. In the speech he said, “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind”. Throughout all his works, Garveyism was always portrayed and so “Garvey was a pan-Caribbeanist who had a view of the region as a whole” which ultimately helped to shape the Caribbean identity into what it is today.

Ultimately, Garvey assisted in the formation of a post-colonial Caribbean identity through his mission to liberate Africa and its diaspora and bring about self-realization and reliance. Garvey was not just a political Jamaican, he was a publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, poet, playwright and visionary. Though all his plans did not work out, he faced all his problems head-on and successfully managed to pull through all his trials and tribulations which fortunately benefitted and drove him even more towards the development of a prosperous pan-Caribbeanist identity. His motivation and admirable self-determination towards African empowerment and his struggle for a flourishing Jamaica allows him to still be significant to this day. As Garvey said, “the new Negro is also thinking in terms of perpetual motion; the Negro is also thinking in terms of the hidden mysteries of the world; and you do not know what the oppressed and suppressed Negro, by virtue of his condition and circumstances, may give to the world as a surprise”.

Works Cited

  • Lewis, Rupert. Marcus Garvey. The University of the West Indies Press, 2018.
  • Magaziner, Dan. “Marcus Garvey’s Africa.” Africa Is a Country, 3 July 2013,
  • Finch, Mike. ‘Religious Influences on Marcus Garvey.’ Synonym, 29 September 2017,
  • “Contributions Of Marcus Garvey And Malcolm X History Essay.”,
  • “The Negro Factories Corporation – PBS.” KOLUMN, 13 June 2017,
  • “Marcus Garvey People’s Political Party – Jamaica’s First Modern Party -.” DiG Jamaica, 16 Aug. 2018,
  • “Marcus Garvey: The Avowed Father of Modern Political Movement.” News | Jamaica Gleaner, 6 Dec. 2018,
  • Editors, “Marcus Garvey.”, A&E Television Networks, 9 Nov. 2009,
  • “The Final Call.” Garvey and Economic Independence,
  • “School of African Philosophy Collection.” School of African Philosophy Collection, 1 Jan. 1970, 

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