On August 17, 1887, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr., Jamaica’s first National Hero, was born in St. Ann’s Bay, St. Ann. Garvey was a journalist, publisher, orator, and black nationalist, a leader in the Pan-Africanism movement, and the founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL). Garvey was also the founder of the shipping and passenger line, the Black Star Line, that was instrumental in promoting the return of the African Diaspora to its ancestral lands.
Garvey’s father was a mason and his mother was a domestic worker. He inherited his love of reading from his father who had a large library. He attended elementary schools in St. Ann’s Bay, and it was during these years in had his first experiences of racism. When he was 14, he was apprenticed to a printer, traveled to Kingston, and became involved with union activities.
Garvey left Jamaica in 1910 and traveled throughout Central America, including Costa Rica and Panama. He was influenced by many civil rights activist during this period and came to combine the economic nationalist thought of Booker T. Washington and the Pan-Africanists with the urban political style and potential of individuals who lived beyond plantations and colonial societies.
Garvey left the Caribbean for London and lived there from 1912 to 1914, attending Birkbeck College to study law and philosophy. He also worked for the African Times and Orient Review, published by Dusé Mohamed Ali, who had a strong influence on him. Garvey would sometimes speak at Hyde Park’s Speakers’ Corner.
Garvey developed political positions and activism that drew many followers, but his Black Star Line went bankrupt and he was put in prison for mail fraud related to selling its stock. After these setbacks, his movement fell apart. While others before him had advocated a return of the African Diaspora, Garvey was unique in promoting a pan-African philosophy designed to ignite a worldwide movement. This philosophy was known as Garveyism and was based on economic empowerment that centered on Africa.
Garveyism wanted the European powers on the African continent to leave and for individuals of African descent to “redeem” the African nations. UNIA promoted his ideas as a movement of African Redemption, Several organizations were inspired by Garvey’s work, including the Nation of Islam and the Rastafarian movement, which considered him a prophet.
Garvey married his first wife, Amy Ashwood, in 1919, who was also a founder of the UNIA-ACL and a social worker and women’s rights activist. They were divorced in 1922. He then married Amy Jacques who was working as his secretary general. They had two sons, Marcus Mosiah Garvey III and Julius Winston Garvey. His wife became important in Garvey’s movement and carried on teaching Garveyism after his death in 1941.