theGrio reflects on the life of Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey with NBC Learn.
Marcus Garvey was born into the racial inequities of the colonial system of Jamaica. He decided to fight for change when he read the autobiography of Booker T. Washington, an educator, whose message was self-reliance and self-help through education and economics.
In 1914, while in Jamaica, Garvey organized the Universal Negro Improvement Association, the UNIA, to build up racial pride and develop educational and economic opportunities for blacks.
Two years later Garvey came to the United States and established the UNIA in New York City’s Harlem.
He spoke boldly about self-respect and pride in African heritage, a message that appealed to many African Americans frustrated with the violence and disenfranchisement they faced in the United States.
Garvey and his followers held demonstrations and parades in Harlem to encourage a sense of dignity and identity as a noble people.
Shunning integration, he preached a separate African community, complete with black businesses and institutions.
Part of Garvey’s plan was for some African Americans to return to Africa and create a nation there. It was known as the “Back to Africa” movement.
He started a steamship line, called the Black Star Line, for trade with Africa and the Caribbean and as transportation for people returning to Africa. The business failed and brought trouble for Garvey.
He was convicted and sentenced to serve time in a federal penitentiary. President Calvin Coolidge later commuted his sentence, and Garvey was deported from the United States in 1927. He returned to Jamaica as a hero.
Marcus Garvey’s ideas inspired future black nationalist movements like Nation of Islam, Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, and the Black Panthers.