Marcus Garvey
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Marcus Garvey

The Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) | Conflict with the NAACP | Corruption and Scandal | Historical Significance | Bibliography
Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born in St. Anne's Bay, Jamaica on August 17, 1887. A self-educated man, Garvey created the largest African American organization to date, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), challenged the most prominent black leader of the time, and helped shape Harlem into the center of social and cultural achievements during the 1920s. As leader of the UNIA, Garvey promoted economic independence for African Americans and the formation of an all-black nation in Africa for African Americans. Garvey also created major businesses like the Black Star Steamship Line to help achieve his goals of black colonization. Scandal and corruption by Garvey would ultimately lead to his downfall. One of the most important African American figures of the early twentieth century, Marcus Garvey influenced life in the 1920s as well as the Civil Rights Movement later in the century.



The Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA)

Displeased with the status of African Americans in the United States, Garvey set out to create an organization that focused on African Americans looking out for their own interests, rather than incorporating themselves into American society.[1] In 1914, Marcus Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association, or the UNIA. The two stated goals of the UNIA were to establish economic independence by creating successful black owned and
operated businesses and to establish an independent nation in Africa where blacks from the Americas could move to achieve the political independence they are denied.[2] "Back to Africa" became the slogan for the UNIA and membership soared to nearly 2 million people.[3]

In order to achieve the end goal of returning to Africa, Garvey and his followers had to have the economic resources. Garvey himself owned a number of businesses, most notably, the Black Star Steamship Line. When Garvey launched the Black Star Steamship Line in 1919, he gave the following message to observers,

"They said that the Negro had no initiative; that he was not a business man, but a laborer; that he had not the brain to engineer a corporation, to own and run ships; that he had no knowledge of navigation, therefore the proposition was impossible. Oh! ye of little faith. The Eternal has happened."[4]
The intention of the Black Star Line was to transport raw materials and manufactured goods from black business throughout the Americas and Africa.[5] The S.S. Yarmouth made its maiden voyage in November 1919. As revenue from the UNIA increased, the Black Star Line added two other ships in 1920. As significant as the company was for recruiting new members to the UNIA, the company ultimately went under due to expensive repairs, unhappy crew members, and mismanagement at the top levels of the company.



Conflict with the NAACP

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W.E.B. Du Bois

Garvey and the UNIA's "Back to Africa" movement garnered support from a large amount of the African American community, however some of the established black leaders were not convinced that this was the best way to advance the cause of African Americans. The most notable conflict was with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP) and their leader, W.E.B. Du Bois. While Garvey pressed African Americans to separate from white America, Du Bois offered integration as a better option.[6]

The conflict between the two black leaders began from the first meeting between the two. Garvey tried to hand-deliver an invitation to Du Bois to attend his first rally, but when he went to the office of Du Bois, the only people working there were white. Garvey was furious. Garvey would later call Du Bois, the great negro misleader.[7] While Du Bois referred to Garvey as, "the most dangerous enemy to the Negro race in America."[8] The two would continue their mistrust and hatred for each other throughout their lives.



Corruption and Scandal

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UNIA Leaders

The popularity of Garvey along with the early success of the Black Star Line provided significant donations to the UNIA. Some estimates report that the UNIA accumulated close to $10,000,000.[9] Unfortunately, the success of the UNIA and the Black Star Line would not last.

Due to its militaristic and separatist views, the FBI watched the UNIA very closely and in 1923 pressed charges against Garvey. The charges were for mail fraud, but it was found that Garvey had embezzled hundreds-of-thousands of dollars from the UNIA. Garvey was imprisoned from 1925 to 1927, where upon being released from prison, he was forced to leave the country. With Garvey gone and much of the economic success of the UNIA diminished, the organization collapsed.[10]



Historical Significance


The importance of Marcus Garvey on the topic of the Civil Rights Movement cannot be understated. During the 1920s, Garvey was one of the most prominent individuals advocating for black rights. Providing an antithesis to W.E.B. Du Bois, Garvey gave African Americans another avenue to have a voice and provided enthusiasm to young African Americans across the country. With his headquarters in New York City, Garvey changed the political and social landscape of Harlem in the 1920s and helped contribute to the Harlem Renaissance. The extreme pride and self-promotion of Garvey and the UNIA left a lasting impression on black America and the 1920s.


Bibliography


  1. ^ Ayers, Edward L. et al. American Anthem: Modern American History. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2007. p. 304-305.
  2. ^ Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Primary Source Library CD-ROM: United States History. "Marcus Garvey and the UNIA." New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2007.
  3. ^ Ayers, Edward L. et al. American Anthem: Modern American History. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2007. p. 304-305.
  4. ^ Farrel, Nancy. "The Black Star Line." American Experience: Marcus Garvey. PBS. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/garvey/peopleevents/e_blackstar.html (accessed Jan 17, 2012).
  5. ^ Garvey, Marcus. "The Black Star Line." American Experience: Marcus Garvey. PBS. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/garvey/peopleevents/e_blackstar.html (accessed Jan 17, 2012).
  6. ^ Farrell, Nancy. "W.E.B. Du Bois: 1868-1963." American Experience: Marcus Garvey. PBS. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/garvey/peopleevents/p_dubois.html (accessed Jan 17, 2012).
  7. ^ Farrell, Nancy. "W.E.B. Du Bois: 1868-1963." American Experience: Marcus Garvey. PBS. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/garvey/peopleevents/p_dubois.html (accessed Jan 17, 2012).
  8. ^ "Marcus Garvey." Biography.com. http://www.biography.com/people/marcus-garvey-9307319 (accessed Jan 17, 2012).
  9. ^ Purvis, Thomas L. A Dictionary of American History. Malden, Mass: Blackwell Publishing, 1997.
  10. ^ Ayers, Edward L. et al. American Anthem: Modern American History. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2007. p. 304-305.