Marcus Garvey: A Giant of Black Politics
Directed by Howard Johnson (2008)
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.