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Marcus Garvey

Marcus Garvey in uniform.
Marcus Garvey in uniform. (Credit: Toussaint Studios, New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection)

Marcus Garvey, best known for his aggressive nationalist activism, was also a man of the sea.

In the early 1900s, Garvey began to sign up recruits who were willing to travel to Africa and “clear out the white invaders.” He formed an army, equipping them with uniforms and weapons. Garvey appealed to the new militant feelings of Africans in exile that followed the end of the first major European tribal War, and asked those Africans in America who had been willing to fight for democracy in Europe to now join his army to fight for equal rights.

In 1919, Garvey formed the Black Cross Navigation and Trading Company. With $10,000,000 invested by his supporters, Garvey purchased two steamships, Shadyside and Kanawha, to take African-Americans to Africa.

At a Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) conference in August, 1920, Garvey was elected provisional president of Africa. He also had talks with the Ku Klux Klan about his plans to repatriate African-Americans and published the first volume of Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey.

Marcus Garvey, 1887-1940.
Marcus Garvey, 1887-1940. (Credit: Library of Congress )

After making a couple of journeys to Africa by sea, the Black Cross Navigation and Trading Company ran out of money. Garvey was a poor businessman and although he was probably honest himself, several people in his company had been involved in corruption.

Garvey was arrested and charged with fraud, and in 1925 was sentenced to five years imprisonment. He had served half of his sentence when President Calvin Coolidge commuted the rest of his prison term and had him deported to Jamaica.

In 1928 Garvey went on a lecture tour of Britain, France, Belgium, Switzerland and Canada. On Garvey's return to Jamaica he established the People's Political Party and a new daily newspaper, The Blackman. The following year Garvey was defeated in the general election for a seat in Jamaica's colonial legislature.

In July, 1932, Garvey began publishing the evening newspaper, The New Jamaican. The venture was unsuccessful and the printing presses were seized for debts in 1933. He followed this with a monthly magazine, Black Man. He also launched an organization that he hoped would raise money to help create job opportunities for the rural poor in Jamaica.


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