Marcus Mosiah Garvey built a mass organization that went beyond mere civil-rights agitation and protest and based itself upon a definitive, well-thought-out program that would lead to the total emancipation of the race from foreign dominion. As per Garvey, “The world has made being Black a crime, and instead of making it a crime, I hope to make it a virtue.”
It was over 100 years ago that when traveling from England back to his land of birth — Jamaica — that Marcus Garvey asked himself a most profound set of question: where is the Black man’s government, where are his king and kingdom, where are his president, his country, and his ambassador, his army, his navy and his men of big affairs? In other words, where on the planet could any African be considered free and independent? At that time in June 1914, only three African states could be considered independent: Ethiopia, Haiti and Liberia. In July 1915, Haiti would be subjected to a 19-year-long brutal and violent occupation under the hands of the U.S., Liberia would always be under the guise of the colonial masters in West Africa, and while Ethiopia in East Africa was a free and sovereign state, it had to expend many resources to continue to remain free from the colonial masters. As Garvey stated, “I could not find them, and then I declared, I will help to make them.”
This would become the starting point in Marcus Garvey’s quest to uplift and free the entire African race, those at home and those abroad. Consequently, he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and African Communities League (ACL) on July 20, 1914, in Jamaica. Ultimately, Marcus Garvey was able to organize more than 12 million Africans worldwide in 38 states of the US and 41 countries on the planet. He came along and pronounced that “The Black skin was not a badge of shame, but a glorious symbol of national greatness.” No Black leader had ever espoused those words and had ever captivated Black people such as him. As he was a student of history, Garvey used history to inspire and educate, and not to dwell in it. In the end, Garvey sold the Black Man to himself so that he believed that a better day is coming.
Garvey would go on to purchase and own three ships: SS Yarmouth, SS Shadyside and SS Kanawa. He would go on to own 11 buildings just in Harlem: Grocery Store #1, #2, and #3 at 47 West 135, 646 Lenox Avenue, and 552 Lenox Avenue, respectively; Universal Restaurant #1 and #2 at 114 West 138 Street and 75 West 135 Street, respectively; Black Dolls Factory at 36-38 West 135 Street; Universal Printing House at 2305 Seventh Avenue,; Universal Mart Industry at 62 West 142 Street; UNIA HQ at 56 West 135 Street; Black Star Line Steamship Corp HQ at 54 West 135 Street; and the Phyllis Wheatley Hotel at 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13 West 136 Street. All of this as a result of Black people believing in his vision of a free and united race.
Possibly the greatest propaganda at his disposal was the Negro World newspaper. It was the world’s most successful international weekly publication with a subscription of over 500,000. It was so successful that the British empire banned the newspaper in most of its colonies. It was single-handedly responsible for the education of African people worldwide as it had Black history, arts, culture and women’s pages starting in 1918.
Motivated to upend the song, “Every Race Has a Flag But the Coon,” Garvey built an economic empire and established a Declaration of Rights (August 1920) resulting in the creation of a government (in exile) so as to secure the rights for all Africans worldwide. Subsequently, he instituted that the colors of the Black race are to be Red, Black, and Green.
Garvey’s idea of racial pride was not a matter of envy towards other races. Rather, he advocated self-discipline as the basis of pride and was severely critical of complainers. As Garvey said, “Up you mighty race; you can accomplish what you will.”