Black Nationalism. Pan-Africanism. These were the anchors of what Marcus Garvey believed in and what he fought for. Marcus Garvey was a Jamaican who fought for the freedom of the blacks in Jamaica and also in the United States of America.
Marcus Garvey’s influence through his ideas and activities had a tremendous significance that even include the birth of a new religion, Rastafarianism. During his time, Blacks were oppressed, but they were fighting for racial equality. Garvey first realized the gravity of racism at the age of 14 when he was referred to as a ‘nigga’ by whites. Garvey grew up in impoverished conditions, conditions were blacks were frowned upon. He decided to leave Jamaica and go to other countries to see if the blacks there were treated the same way they were treated in Jamaica.
During his stay in England, Garvey identified closely with the Pan-African movement there and the main principle of this movement was to unify people of color against imperialism all over the world” (McKissack 79). Garvey returned to Jamaica in 1914 and founded the United Negro Improvement Association. The UNIA reflected Garvey’s beliefs and it was the tool he used to promote them. The objectives of the UNIA included:
- To establish a universal confraternity among the race.
- To promote the spirit of race pride and love
- To promote a conscientious Christian worship among the native tribes of Africa.
- To establish universities, colleges and secondary schools for the further education and culture of the boys and girls of the race
- To conduct a worldwide commercial and industrial intercourse
Garvey’s doctrine centered on the ideas of uniting the black race, educating all blacks, creating a strong economy that blacks could count on and promoting Christianity to all blacks. The focus was on self-help.
After 1916 when Garvey moved to the United States his ideas did not change much but he was now advocating for blacks to return to Africa in order to protect Africa from imperialism. Garvey took action to begin to take blacks back to Africa. He started the Black Star Shipping Company in 1919. The company took two boatloads of people to Liberia, but had to stop after management problems. This has been coined the “back to Africa” movement. (UCLA) However, Garvey’s intent with the “back to Africa” movement was not to lead all blacks back to Africa. Rather, he thought that a strong African center of black power would protect blacks all over the world from imperialism.
In the United States the UNIA gained more traction especially with the working-class blacks who really felt that they were oppressed in gross, unimaginable and unspeakable levels.
The religious content of the UNIA also appealed very strongly to people. UNIA meetings were structured like church services with prayers, services, and singing. Garvey told followers to “reject the white image of Jesus and God.” The religion gave followers an even stronger sense of brotherhood and pride. The UNIA also had a women’s chapter, so it attracted a strong women’s following as well. The UNIA appealed broadly across the African-American community through the use fraternity, religion, ideology, and an appeal to women.
Marcus Garvey grew up in poverty, surrounded by the struggle of blacks to gain political, economic, and social equality. He devoted his life’s work to end of these struggles. He developed a set of beliefs that influenced many people and encouraged many blacks to put forth extra effort to get ahead. Marcus Garvey and the UNIA is the largest African-American movement to date.