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[[image - black & white photograph of militia consisting of 9 African-American male soldiers]]
[[caption]] JAMES VANDERZEE/GARVEY MILITIA, 1921/G.G.G. STUDIO [[/caption]]

[[image - black & white photograph of militia consisting of 8 African-American women in the foreground and 5 African-American men in the background]]

[[image - black & white photograph of group of 16 African-American nurses]]
[[caption]] JAMES VANDERZEE/BLACK CROSS NURSES, c. 1924/G.G.G. STUDIO [[/caption]]

MARCUS GARVEY: The Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA)

Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) was a West Indian by birth and a revolutionary by disposition. Garvey dedicated his life to what he called the "uplifting" of the Negro peoples of the world through the creation of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and the African Communities League. Like Malcolm X of a later generation, he believed that Negroes could never achieve equality unless they became independent—founding their own nations and governments, their own businesses and industrial enterprises, their own military establishments—in short, those same institutions by which other peoples of the world had risen to power.

The youngest of 11 children, Garvey was apprenticed to a printer at the age of 14. He moved to Kingston in 1903 after a severe hurricane destroyed the last remaining piece of land on his mother's estate. Once in the Jamaican capital, he found work as a foreman in a print shop, and soon became acquainted with the abysmal living conditions of the laboring classes. He participated in the first Printers' Union strike on the island, but came away so disillusioned by its total failure that he accepted a post with the Government Printing Office. At the same time, he developed a private political organization (The National Club), and began publishing a house organ entitled "Our Own."

Finding it impossible to maintain both his job and his outside interests, Garvey left government service and founded a more ambitious newspaper called "The Watchman." With funds failing, however, he found it necessary to leave Jamaica in hopes of earning enough money abroad to finance his projects at home. While visiting Central and South America, he amassed ample evidence to support his thesis that colored peoples everywhere were victims of discrimination.

Back again in Jamaica in 1911, he founded the organization to which he was to devote his life: the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). The organization did not immediately catch fire, inasmuch as many Jamaicans were opposed to the idea of an organized black majority, or else feared the consequences of offending the strongly entrenched, European-based power structure on the island. Undaunted, Garvey left for England in 1912 in search of additional financial backing for his schemes. While there, he worked for an Egyptian scholar, and learned much of the history of Africa—particularly with reference to the exploitation of black peoples by colonial powers. But his earnings were meager, and so in 1914, he returned to Jamaica, where he intensified his campaign to recruit supporters and spread his ideas, though with little immediate success.

In 1916, acquainted with the work of Booker T. Washington, he came to the United States, where he formulated what he called the "Back to Africa" program for the resettlement of the Negro in his ancestral homeland. In New York City particularly, his ideas attracted popular support, and his oratory convinced thousands to enroll in the UNIA. After having founded a newspaper ("The Negro World"), he toured the United States preaching Negro nationalism to popular audiences. In a matter of months, he had founded over 30 branches of the UNIA.

Garvey's most ambitious business venture during this period involved the founding of a Negro steamship company — "The Black Star Line." By encouraging the more than 1.5 million UNIA members to purchase shares in the company, he was able to acquire three vessels and put them into service between New York, Central America and the West Indies.

It was not long before he became embroiled in a dispute with the New York District Attorney's office, which threatened to sue him for criminal libel after he had published a highly critical article on the methods it had used in investigating his company. During this time, to complicate matters even further, an unsuccessful attempt was made on his life.

In 1920, Garvey and his followers convened a 31-day international conclave in Madison Square Garden in New York City, where they presented a policy statement on the "Back to Africa" program, and proclaimed a formal "Declaration of Rights" for Negroes all over the world. Following this, Garvey set himself the task of negotiating for the repatriation of Negroes in Liberia (West Africa). Rumors quickly began to circulate that Garvey's real intention was to seize power in Liberia and build a personal empire there. Liberia eventually withdrew all support from the venture, leaving Garvey stunned from the realization that he had actually been rebuffed by a black African nation.

With the Black Star Line in serious financial difficulties, Garvey soon found himself obliged to work doubly hard. Under his promotion, two new business organizations were set up—the African Communities League and the Negro Factories Corporation. He also tried to salvage his colonization scheme by sending a delegation to the League of Nations with instructions to appeal for the transfer to the UNIA of those African colonies taken from Germany during World War I.

Finally, in a last effort to save the Black Star Line from bankruptcy, Garvey went abroad where he somehow managed to raise the funds needed to save the venture. Upon his return, however, he found himself unable to re-enter the United States for more than five months. Taking advantage of this situation, some of Garvey's most trusted aides extorted large sums of money from the firm, accumulating such enormous debts that, by the time Garvey did finally manage to get back into the country, the UNIA was on the verge of complete financial ruin.

A host of ensuing legal entanglements, based on charges that Garvey had used the U.S. mails to defraud prospective investors, eventually led to his imprisonment in the Atlanta federal penitentiary for a term of five years. In 1927, his half-served sentence was commuted, and he was deported to Jamaica by order of President Calvin Coolidge.

Garvey left on a world tour the very next year, still stubbornly convinced that he could enlist the necessary support for his schemes. Upon his return to Jamaica, he organized still another international convention, at which various delegates reported on the deplorable conditions under which Negroes the world over were forced to live. Despite a groundswell of enthusiasm for his ideas, Garvey found himself plagued by an assortment of now-familiar financial woes, including payment of back salaries to members of his former New York staff. As a result of judgments against him, the assets of the Jamaica branch of the UNIA were almost totally depleted.

At this point, Garvey turned his energies to Jamaican politics, agitating in particular for the enforcement of already-existing British laws which were designed to protect the rights of plaintiffs against possible connivance between judges, lawyers and businessmen. For his pains, Garvey was convicted of libel and forced to serve a jail sentence of three months.

Upon his release from prison, Garvey ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the Legislative Council. In his campaign, he called for self-government in Jamaica, a minimum-wage law, land and judicial reform, the promotion of local industry, and the creation of both a national university and an opera house. Most of Garvey's followers, however, did not have the necessary voting qualifications, and he was thus soundly defeated at the polls.

Nevertheless, he continued to struggle for a political foothold in Jamaica and, ultimately, did manage to win a seat in a local council. By the mid 1930's, however, the Negro inhabitants of the island had found their economic and political position so improved that they paid less and less heed to Garvey's proposals.

In 1935, Garvey left for England where, in near obscurity, he died five years later in a cottage in West Kensington.

Critics of Garvey are quick to label him a pretentious crank, whereas his supporters are equally disposed to calling him an unqualified genius. From a more historically impartial viewpoint, however, he must be regarded as a kind of fanatic visionary—a utopian who undertook enormous and grandiose schemes, a man literally driven by the notion that the Negro's sole means for achieving a unique culture in the 20th century was through the foundation of a unified, separatist empire in Africa. Although his ideas, in their ultimate form, may have been rejected by most of the people of his day, it is clear that, since then, these very same ideas—in a different perspective—have had a favorable influence on the policies of many Negro leaders the world over.

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