Marcus Garvey

Historians familiar with Garvey's career generally regard him as the preeminent symbol of the

insurgent wave of black nationalism that developed in the period following World War I.

Although born in Jamaica, Garvey achieved his greatest success in the United States. He did so

despite the criticism of many African-American leaders and the covert opposition of the United

States Department of Justice and its Bureau of Investigation (forerunner of the FBI). As a young

man, Garvey had preached accommodation and disavowed political protest, advocating loyalty

to the established colonial government. His views, however, underwent a radical transformation


after he arrived in the United States in 1916. The emergence of the radical New Negro

movement, which supplied the cultural and political matrix of the celebrated Harlem

Renaissance, to a large extent paralleled Garvey and his post-World War I "African

Redemption" movement.

Garvey established the first American branch of the UNIA in 1917--1918 in the midst of the

mass migration of blacks from the Caribbean and the American South to cities of the North. It

was also a time of political awakening in Africa and the Caribbean, to which Garvey vigorously

encouraged the export of his movement. In the era of global black awakening following World

War I, Garvey emerged as the best known, the most controversial, and, for many, the most

attractive of a new generation of New Negro leaders. Representative Charles B. Rangel of

New York has noted that "Garvey was one of the first to say that instead of blackness being a

stigma, it should be a source of pride" (New York Times, 5 April 1987).

Black expectations aroused by participation in World War I were dashed by the racial violence

of the wartime and postwar years, and the disappointment evident in many black communities

throughout the U.S., Africa, and the Caribbean allowed Garvey to draw dozens of local leaders

to his side. Their ideas were not always strictly compatible with Garvey's, but their sympathy

with his themes of "African redemption" and black self-support was instrumental in gathering

support for the movement from a vast cross-section of African-American society. Similarly,

Garvey's message was

adopted by a broad cross-section of educated and semi-literate Africans and West Indians

hungry for alternatives to white rule and oppression.

The post--World War I years were thus a time when a growing number of Africans and West

Indians were ready for change. In most colonial territories, Africans, like African Americans,

were disappointed when expected postwar changes failed to materialize. The Garveyist

message was spread by sailors, migrant laborers, and travelling UNIA agents, as well as by

copies of its newspaper, the Negro World, passed from hand to hand.

In the Caribbean, what has been termed the "Garvey phenomenon" resulted from an encounter

between the highly developed tradition of racial consciousness in the African-American

community, and the West Indian aspiration toward independence. It was the Caribbean ideal of

self-government that provided Garvey with his vocabulary of racial independence. Moreover,

Garvey combined the social and political aspirations of the Caribbean people with the popular

American gospel of success, which he converted in turn into his gospel of racial pride.

Garveyism thus appeared in the Caribbean as a doctrine proposing solutions to the twin

problems of racial subordination and colonial domination.

By the early 1920s the UNIA could count branches in almost every Caribbean,

circum-Caribbean, and sub-Saharan African country. The Negro World was read by thousands

of eager followers across the African continent and throughout the Caribbean archipelago.

Though Caribbean and African Garveyism may not have coalesced into a single movement, its

diverse followers adapted the larger framework to fit their own local needs and cultures. It is

precisely this that makes Garvey and the UNIA so relevant in the study of the process of

decolonization in Africa and the Caribbean. As if

in confirmation of the success with which Garveyism implanted itself in various social settings,

when Garvey himself proposed to visit Africa and the Caribbean in 1923, nervous European

colonial governors joined in recommending that his entry into their territories be banned. Many

modern Caribbean nationalist leaders have acknowledged the importance of Garveyism in their

own careers, including T. Albert Marryshow of Grenada; Alexander Bustamante, St. William

Grant, J. A. G. Smith, and Norman Washington Manley of Jamaica; and Captain Arthur

Cipriani, Uriah Butler, George Padmore, and C. L. R. James of Trinidad.

Before the Garvey and UNIA Papers project was established, the only attempt to edit Garvey's

speeches and writings was the Philosophy & Opinions of Marcus Garvey, a propagandistic

apologia compiled in two successive volumes in the early 1920s by his second