Marcus Garvey: A Giant of Black Politics

Marcus Garvey: A Giant of Black Politics

Directed by Howard Johnson (2008)

Film Review

This film is about Black journalist, entrepreneur, and activist Marcus Garvey, as remembered by those who worked with him in the Universal Negro Improvement Association.

Garvey was born in Jamaica in 1887, 50 years after slavery ended in that country. Sharing his father’s love of books and learning, he played an important role in educating Blacks in Jamaica and the US about advanced civilizations in ancient Africa.

Essentially the first Black nationalist, Garvey played the dual role of teaching former slaves (in Jamaica and the US) self-love and racial pride and campaigning to create a homeland in Africa for the African diaspora.

He ran into major resistance in Jamaica, where British colonists granted lighter skinned “mulattos” with special status and authority. The latter, direct descendants (usually via rape) of white slave masters, preferred to identify as “British,” rather than Black, and viewed Garvey’s teachings as a threat to their privilege.

In 1916, Garvey left Jamaica for the US, where he also received a mixed reception. African Americans who saw no future for themselves in the US championed his campaign for a new African homeland. Other Black leaders, driven by a deep seated desire to “be white,” viewed native Africans as “savages” and favored integration into mainstream society.

In Harlem, Garvey who was dark skinned faced the same bigotry of light skinned descendants of plantation owners as he did in Jamaica.

In the early 1920s, J Edgar Hoover’s newly formed FBI began investigating Garvey with a few to deporting him. They eventually charged and convicted him for mail fraud (over the failed Black Star Line*) and tax evasion. After 2 1/2 years in US prison, he was deported to Jamaica, where he quickly rebuilt the Universal Negro Improvement Association.

He had a massive following among poor Jamaicans, even after he left Jamaica for England. He died there in 1940.

*Garvey envisioned the Black Star Line as a Black owned shipping company to facilitate the transportation of goods throughout the African economy. Garvey’s initial arrest and conviction centered around the distribution (by mail) of a photo of a ship the company had yet to purchase.

4 thoughts on “Marcus Garvey: A Giant of Black Politics

  1. 1 December 2016 Edition

    Marcus Garvey and 1916
    An inspiration to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, inspired by Sinn Féin and the Rising

    » Ray Bassett

    Garvey named all the buildings belonging to his six-million-strong Universal Negro Improvement Association ‘Liberty Halls’, after James Connolly’s HQ in Dublin

    Former Ambassador to Jamaica, RAY BASSETT, on the Caribbean island’s national hero and his affinity with Ireland


    WHILE there had been insurrections before 1916 against the British and French empires in many of their territories, the events of Easter week 1916 in Dublin had much greater international significance as they occurred closest to the centre of the imperial power.

    It was also at a time when there was a huge gathering of the world press nearby in London, covering the First World War. The New York Times carried the uprising as its main lead story every day for over two weeks. It was talked and written about right across much of the globe.

    For those who wished to resist colonialism throughout the world, Ireland had become the cause célèbre

    Nationalists in places such as India, Egypt and Africa strongly supported the Irish quest for independence. This was also true in the Caribbean and particularly so with a young Jamaican activist, Marcus Garvey, who was to go on to become the country’s most influential historical figure. Political leaders such as Martin Luther King Jnr, Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad and leaders of the African Liberation movement, including former President Nkrumah of Ghana, all claimed to have been strongly influenced by Garvey.

    Marcus Garvey had an amazing career by any standard. He was Jamaica’s first ever designated national hero who today lies buried in the National Heroes Park in Kingston, the capital. Here in Ireland – and indeed in Jamaica – there is little popular knowledge or appreciation of how this major Jamaican figure was so strongly influenced by Ireland, and especially by the Easter Rising.

    As Irish Ambassador to Jamaica, I was first drawn to Garvey by his Irish surname and also when I learned that he had named one of the most prominent buildings in Kingston, Liberty Hall.

    Despite the Irish surname, the Garveys acquired their family name from an Irish slave owner. The plantation Garveys were from Ireland. In 1922, Marcus Garvey said:

    “An Irish slave-master gave my forbear the name Garvey. He was not allowed to pass his African name to us.”

    Despite this initial malevolent linkage to Ireland, Garvey remained, throughout his career, a true friend of the country.

    Marcus Garvey grew up in a lower-middle-class background and developed a great love of books from his uncle and ready access to his father’s large library. His family lived in the north of the island at St Ann’s Bay, where he first encountered the evil of racism. Jamaica was a very racist society at the time, with a small white minority holding a dominance of power and wealth.

    Garvey moved to Kingston and soon became involved in trade unionism. In 1907, he was elected as Vice-President of the compositors’ branch of the Printers’ Union. He subsequently led his members in a protracted strike which, unfortunately, led to the collapse of the union.

    Despite this setback, he quickly turned his attention to political activism and civil rights. He joined the National Club of Jamaica, the first overtly nationalist organisation on the island. He rapidly became its Assistant Secretary. Even at this early stage, there were echoes of Irish nationalism present: the club’s publication was entitled Our Own, an approximate translation of the Irish Sinn Féin.

    Garvey spent the years 1912 to 1914 in London at the height of the Home Rule crises. At this time, the British Army suffered its largest-ever mutiny when the officer corps in Ireland simply refused to enforce the law by failing to move against the Ulster Volunteer Force and their illegal importation of arms, thereby signalling that any degree of autonomy for Ireland was clearly going to be resisted by entrenched interests.

    After that period in London, Garvey returned to Jamaica full of new concepts and ideas picked up in the British capital. He was incensed by the unfair treatment of black people and saw parallels between discrimination against them and the Irish.

    Garvey had a magnetic personality and soon found himself in a leadership role.

    He established the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1914. Its aim was the advancement of the position of black people in Africa and in its diaspora. Its slogan was “Africa for the Africans, at home and abroad”, which was based on the Irish slogan of the time “The Irish race at home and abroad”. When he moved to America, he also established the UNIA there. It was a huge success and it soon had branches in over 30 US cities.

    Garvey particularly liked the Sinn Féin policy of the local community relying on its own strength, decrying the old approach of looking to an outside benefactor, often an aristocrat, to carry forward the cause. He also identified with Irish nationalism’s strong connections with its diaspora, regarding himself as a member of the African diaspora. Throughout his life, he was a strong advocate of Pan Africanism.

    It was the 1916 Rising which totally captivated Marcus, however.

    To Marcus, the blood sacrifice to revive the national and patriotic spirits of a people colonised, denigrated and deprived of its cultural heritage had huge resonance. While he had been interested in and sympathetic to the Irish cause in the past, post-1916 it became one of the main determinants in the development of what was to become “Garveyism”.

    Marcus Garvey wanted black people to emulate Easter 1916. He expounded on this topic on 27 July 1919:

    “The time has come for the negro race to offer up its martyrs upon the altar of liberty even as the Irish has given a long list, from Robert Emmet to Roger Casement.”

    In 1919, he named the new HQ of the UNIA Movement in Harlem “Liberty Hall”, after the destroyed HQ of the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union and the Irish Citizen Army in Dublin. In fact, he named all 30 buildings operated by the UNIA in the USA as Liberty Halls.

    Garvey’s UNIA went from strength to strength and soon had over two million members. It spread internationally and was estimated to have reached, at its height, a membership of six million. It was the biggest black organisation in history.

    • Martin Luther King Jnr and Malcolm X said they were influenced by Marcus Garvey

    Garvey never strayed far from Irish matters. Just as the 1916 Rising had inspired him, Garvey also had great respect for Irish prisoners on hunger strike.

    As Terence MacSwiney’s hunger strike went on and world media attention turned to it, Garvey sent a message to Father Dominic, MacSwiney’s confessor, asking him to pass on to the hunger striker the sympathy of 400 million negroes. He also sent a telegram to the British Prime Minister, asking him to intervene and save MacSwiney’s life. Garvey also understood the powerful symbolism of a man sacrificing his life for a cause through a hunger strike. When MacSwiney died after 74 days on hunger strike, Garvey said:

    “Hundreds of thousands of Irishmen have died as martyrs to the cause of Irish freedom . . . I believe that MacSwiney did more for the freedom of Ireland today than probably anything they did for 500 years prior to his death.”

    As the Tan War in Ireland grew intense, Garvey continued his efforts to support the Irish side.

    After meeting an Irish-American delegation in New York, he sent one of his lieutenants, Reverend Selkridge, to the New York docks, asking black longshoremen to join their Irish-American colleagues in boycotting British ships. This cemented Garvey’s relationship with Irish republican leaders.

    The forerunner of the FBI also had their eyes on Marcus Garvey.

    Garvey developed a strong relationship with Éamon de Valera, the political leader on the Irish side. Garvey organised a joint meeting in 1920 where both men were due to speak. Garvey was advertised as “Provisional President of Africa” and de Valera as “Provisional President of Ireland”. Unfortunately, the meeting was cancelled. When de Valera returned to Ireland and the Truce was announced, Garvey cabled Dev:

    “We, the representatives of 400,000,000 negroes of the world . . . send greetings and pray that you and your fellow countrymen will receive from the hands of the British your merited freedom.”

    At the same time, Garvey sent a message to Britain’s King George V:

    “On principle, nothing would please the 400,000,000 negro peoples of the world more, except the freedom of Africa, than the granting of freedom to the four and a half million people of Ireland.”

    • Marcus Garvey’s links with Irish republican leaders drew the attention of the early FBI

    Garvey’s relationship with Dev survived the former’s support for the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Garvey viewed it as much less than what he would have liked but believed that it contained the potential to be developed further, the same argument as Michael Collins’s.

    In 1932, Garvey said about Dev:

    “We have watched his career for several years both in Ireland and the USA where he carried on a relentless propaganda in the interests of Irish republicanism. We understand him and the spirit of the people he represents.”

    Garvey’s connection with Ireland contributed to his expulsion from the United States. His ability to mobilise huge numbers of the black population and his growing links with Irish republicans caused the US Government and its agents anxiety.

    When Garvey established a new shipping company, the Black Star line, a copy of the long-forgotten Green Star line founded by Irish-Americans, it ran into trouble and foundered. The ambitious young J. Edgar Hoover purportedly used the bankruptcy to frame Garvey on trumped up charges of mail fraud and saw him deported to Jamaica. (The Jamaican Government is currently campaigning for a posthumous pardon. Should the Irish Government support that request?)

    Garvey also created a flag for the UNIA in 1920 at the height of the Tan War. The colours are black, red and green. The green was to signify support of the Irish cause. The flag formed the basis of the national flags of several African and Caribbean countries. It is also carried by members of the “Black Lives Matter” movement at demonstrations in the USA but I doubt if many of the participants know about the Irish linkage.

    The history of Irish/black relations on the east coast of the United States is often characterised by a lack of empathy on either side. It’s nice to look back at a time when Marcus Garvey was at the height of his powers and there was a strong personal relationship at leadership level.

    Today there are parks, bridges and buildings named after Marcus Garvey in the USA, Canada, England and several African countries – but in the country which featured so strongly in his life, he has no monument or memorial. It is time we rectified that omission. The current redevelopment of SIPTU’s HQ at Liberty Hall offers an ideal opportunity to rectify that omission.

    To those who would seek to belittle the importance of the 1916 Rising, the powerful effect it had on Jamaica alone should be ample enough evidence for second thoughts.

    Garvey named all the buildings belonging to his six-million-strong Universal Negro Improvement Association ‘Liberty Halls’, after James Connolly’s HQ in Dublin
    An Phoblacht
    44 Parnell Sq.
    Dublin 1


      • Yo Bro,
        Ireland 1845-1850:The Perfect Holocaust and Who Kept it Perfect
        Mr Chris Fogarty 900 North Lakeshore Drive Condo 1507 Chicago Illinois 60611
        $20 , Add $3 in state postage within Illinois email:

        Is Britain’s cover-up of its 1845-1850 Holocaust in Ireland the most successful Big Lie in all of history?
        The cover-up is accomplished by the same British terrorism and bribery that perpetrated the genocide. Consider: why does Irish President Mary Robinson call it “Ireland’s greatest natural disaster” while she conceals the British army’s role?

        (President Robinson’s preface in the Strokestown “‘Famine’ Museum” book).

        Potato blight, “phytophthora infestans”, did spread from America to Europe in 1844, to England and then Ireland in 1845 but it didn’t cause famine anywhere. Ireland did not starve for potatoes; it starved for food.

        Ireland starved because its food, from 40 to 70 shiploads per day, was removed at gunpoint by 12,000 British constables reinforced by the British militia, battleships, excise vessels, Coast Guard and by 200,000 British soldiers (100,000 at any given moment) The attached map shows the never-before-published names and locations in Ireland of the food removal regiments (Disposition of the Army; Public Record Office, London; et al, of which we possess photocopies). Thus, Britain seized from Ireland’s producers tens of millions of head of livestock; tens of millions of tons of flour, grains, meat, poultry & dairy products; enough to sustain 18 million persons.

        The Public Record Office recently informed us that their British regiments’ Daily Activity Reports of 1845-1850 have “gone missing.” Those records include each regiment’s cattle drives and grain-cart convoys it escorted at gun-point from the Irish districts assigned to it. Also “missing” are the receipts issued by the British army commissariat officers in every Irish port tallying the cattle and tonnage of foodstuff removed; likewise the export lading manifests. Other records provide all-revealing glimpses of the “missing” data; such as: …

        From Cork harbor on one day in 1847 2 the AJAX steamed for England with 1,514 firkins of butter, 102 casks of pork, 44 hogsheads of whiskey, 844 sacks of oats, 247 sacks of wheat, 106 bales of bacon, 13 casks of hams, 145 casks of porter, 12 sacks of fodder, 28 bales of feathers, 8 sacks of lard, 296 boxes of eggs, 30 head of cattle, 90 pigs, 220 lambs, 34 calves and 69 miscellaneous packages. On November 14, 1848 3, sailed, from Cork harbor alone: 147 bales of bacon, 120 casks and 135 barrels of pork, 5 casks of hams, 149 casks of miscellaneous provisions (foodstuff); 1,996 sacks & 950 barrels of oats; 300 bags of flour; 300 head of cattle; 239 sheep; 9,398 firkins of butter; 542 boxes of eggs. On July 28, 1848 4; a typical day’s food shipments from only the following four ports: from Limerick: the ANN, JOHN GUISE and MESSENGER for London; the PELTON CLINTON for Liverpool; and the CITY OF LIMERICK, BRITISH QUEEN, and CAMBRIAN MAID for Glasgow. This one-day removal of Limerick’s food was of 863 firkins of butter; 212 firkins, 1,198 casks and 200 kegs of lard, 87 casks of ham; 267 bales of bacon; 52 barrels of pork; 45 tons and 628 barrels of flour; 4,975 barrels of oats and 1,000 barrels of barley. From Kilrush: the ELLEN for Bristol; the CHARLES G. FRYER and MARY ELLIOTT for London. This one-day removal was of 550 tons of County Clare’s oats and 15 tons of its barley. From Tralee: the JOHN ST. BARBE, CLAUDIA and QUEEN for London; the SPOKESMAN for Liverpool. This one-day removal was of 711 tons of Kerry’s oats and 118 tons of its barley. From Galway: the MARY, VICTORIA, and DILIGENCE for London; the SWAN and UNION for Limerick (probably for transshipment to England). This one-day removal was of 60 sacks of Co. Galway’s flour; 30 sacks and 292 tons of its oatmeal; 294 tons of its oats; and 140 tons of its miscellaneous provisions (foodstuffs). British soldiers forcibly removed it from its starving Limerick, Clare, Kerry and Galway producers.

        In Belmullet, Co. Mayo the mission of 151 soldiers 5 of the 49th Regiment, in addition to escorting livestock and crops to the port for export, was to guard a few tons of stored meal from the hands of the starving; its population falling from 237 to 105 between 1841 and 1851. Belmullet also lost its source of fish in January, 1849, when Britain’s Coast Guard arrested its fleet of enterprising fishermen ten miles at sea in the act of off-loading flour from a passing ship. They were sentenced to prison and their currachs were confiscated.

        The Waterford Harbor British army commissariat officer wrote to British Treasury Chief Charles Trevelyan on April 24, 1846; “The barges leave Clonmel once a week for this place, with the export supplies under convoy which, last Tuesday, consisted of 2 guns, 50 cavalry, and 80 infantry escorting them on the banks of the Suir as far as Carrick.” While its people starved, the Clonmel district exported annually, along with its other farm produce, approximately 60,000 pigs in the form of cured pork.

        Official British intent at the time is revealed by its actions and enactments. When the European potato crop failed in 1844 and food prices rose, Britain ordered regiments to Ireland. When blight hit the 1845 English potato crop its food removal regiments were already in Ireland; ready to start. The Times editorial of September 30, 1845, warned; “In England the two main meals of a working man’s day now consists of potatoes.” England’s potato-dependence was excessive; reckless. Grossly over-populated relative to its food supply, England faced famine unless it could import vast amounts of alternative food. But it didn’t grab merely Ireland’s surplus food; or enough Irish food to save England. It took more; for profit and to exterminate the people of Ireland. Queen Victoria’s economist, Nassau Senior, expressed his fear that existing policies “will not kill more than one million Irish in 1848 and that will scarcely be enough to do much good.”6 When an eye-witness urged a stop to the genocide-in-progress, Trevelyan replied: “We must not complain of what we really want to obtain.”7 Trevelyan insisted that all reports of starvation were exaggerated, until 1847. He then declared it ended and refused entry to the American food relief ship Sorciére. Thomas Carlyle; influential British essayist, wrote; “Ireland is like a half-starved rat that crosses the path of an elephant. What must the elephant do? Squelch it – by heavens – squelch it.” “Total Annihilation;” suggested The Times leader of September 2, 1846; and in 1848 its editorialists crowed “A Celt will soon be as rare on the banks of the Shannon as the red man on the banks of Manhattan.” The immortal Society of Friends, the “Quakers,” did all in their power to save lives. But in 1847 they despaired and quit, upon learning that the Crown planned to perpetuate the genocide’s pretext; the British claim of “ownership” of Irish land. Quakers refused to facilitate the genocide by pretending (as Concern does re African genocides) it was an act of nature. In the 1870s; too late; British laws were enacted allowing the Irish to buy back the land of which Britain had robbed them. Twice-yearly payments were extracted from Ireland’s farmers until that “debt” was paid off in the 1970s. Ireland’s diet, since pre-history, has been meat, dairy products, grains, fruit and vegetables; latterly supplemented by potatoes. Central to its ancient legends are its livestock, reaping hooks, flails,8 querns, and grain-kilns and -mills.

        That’s what Garvey liked about the IRISH, they never gave up and fought for every inch they got & didn’t go around shouting IRISH LIVES MATTER; they made their live matter and fought against WHITE RACISM, the WASPs – WHITE – ANGLO- SAXON – PROTESTANTS.
        Irish Nuns looked after the dying Elijah Muhammad, who said they were BLUE-EYED DEVILS.
        The IRISH broke their CHAINS, whereas the BLACK hugs his and still has a PLANTATION mentality!
        There are some great Black Americans who are called COONS by those Blacks like Hawk Newsome. who is a newer version of Al Sharpton:
        Professor Thomas Sowell, Larry Elder, Tommy Sotomayor, Candace Owns etc.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.