Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr. was born in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica, on August 17, 1887. He was the youngest of eleven siblings born to Marcus Mosiah Garvey Sr., a mason, and Sarah Jane Richards, a house-wife and farmer. Marcus and his sister Indiana were the only ones to reach maturity. Garvey attended elementary in St. Ann's Bay, and at the age of fourteen moved to Kingston, the nation's capital, to work as a printer. Soon after, he became involved with public activities and helped design Jamaica's first trade union, the Printers Union. He then participated in printers strikes, where workers refused to do any labor until their demands were met. This experience had great impact on both Garvey's political passion as well as his journalistic passion.
In 1910, Marcus Garvey embarked on a journey through Central America; a journey that completely changed him from a typical person concerned with the less fortunate's well being, to someone disposed to free the black race from subjugation. During his travels, he visited Panama, Costa Rica, and Ecuador and edited for many fundamentalist newspapers. Soon after returning to Jamaica for a short while, Garvey advanced to England, where exposure to African nationalists stroked in him a great interest in Africa as well as in black history. In every nation he frequented, Garvey noticed that the black man was always treated with inferiority and fell victim to stronger race's standards. He concluded that the only way to improve the black man's situation was to unite the black race.
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Around that time, Garvey had been tantalized by Booker T. Washington's "Up from Slavery" writings. He had also worked with the Sudanese-Egyptian nationalist Duse Mohamed Ali, and initiated writing for Ali's magazines, where he was later introduced to other black activists. In 1914, upon departing England and returning to Jamaica, Garvey assembled the Universal Negro Improvement Association and the African Communities League (UNIA-ACL). Their moral was "One God, One Aim, One Destiny" with an intent to reclaim to Africa and to uplift Black people world-wide. These associations became the nucleus for Garvey's efforts throughout his life.
In 1916 Garvey went to the United States at Booker T. Washington's invitation to raise funds that would help continue the work of his ground organizations. Branches of the UNIA had been formed in New York, as well as in Central and South America, and in the Caribbean. The development of the UNIA was broadcasted by the Negro World, a newspaper circulated in English, Spanish, and French. Negro World was printed in New York City between 1918 and 1933, and was followed by Black Man, a magazine which was circulated through the 1930s and published in London after 1934. Black people all over the globe had access to Negro World; it was even introduced to the interior of Africa, even though it had been banned there by white leaders. In a very short amount of time, Marcus Garvey had become the most active, daring, bold and engaged African leader in the western half of the world. To aggrandize his movement, in 1920 Garvey contemplated and materialized a shipping line called Black Star Line. It would serve as UNIA's instrument to advocate worldwide exchange between black communities. Unfortunately, it was the lack of success of this venture that allowed Garvey's adversaries to disestablish him. Those who had invested in the shipping company were out of their money, and in 1925 Garvey was sentenced to 10 years in prison. After serving 2 years and ten months of his sentence, Garvey was deported to Jamaica. Consequently, the land that had been assigned to Garvey's organization people relocating to Africa, was given to Harvey Firestone, a white American industrialist.
After his return to Jamaica, Garvey tried to participate in local politics, but because of limitations for blacks at the time, he was not allowed to vote. In 1935, Garvey moved to England where he remained active in his works of social protest and freeing of Africa. He passed away in London on June 10, 1940. He had two sons by his second wife, Amy Jacques, whom he had married in 1922.
No other organization has had such great influence as the UNIA and ACL did. From 1922 to 1924 there were more than eight million followers. These members joined the organization at five years of age and progressed into divisions for older children.
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Garvey preached to black people that they would familiarize themselves with their history and heritage; that they would take great pride in the black race. He was the first leader to strongly impose black power. In his own words: "A race without authority and power is a race without respect." He was a determined and uncompromising leader who emphasized the necessity to have black institutions under black command. The red, black, and green Black Liberation Flag, which he made well-known, continues to motivate young generations of Black nationalists and activists to this day.