Today is the 135th anniversary of the birthday of The Right Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey, a political leader and National Hero. He was appointed posthumously in 1969 by the Jamaican Government. In remembrance of a hero for the ages, this article reflects on Garvey’s life and legacy.
Early Years and Personal Life
The Right Excellent Marcus Garvey was born on August 17, 1887, at 32 Market Street in St. Ann, Jamaica, to parents Marcus Garvey and Sarah Richards. His parents were landowners, an uncommon accomplishment for people of African descent in the 19th century. Of the 11 children born to his parents, Marcus and his sister Indiana were the only two who survived beyond childhood.
Until age 14, Garvey attended elementary school in Jamaica, thereafter he was instructed privately by tutors. As a young man, he had a talent for public speaking and his efforts, along with his charisma, would later serve him well, when he addressed thousands of people and stirred them to action in support of his movement – Garveyism, so named by his followers. It was and remains the largest movement for African descendants in history.
In 1919, Garvey married Amy Ashwood, however, the union ended in divorce in 1922 and produced no children. Later that year, he married Amy Jacques and they had two sons, Marcus Junior and Julius.
Professions and Activism
In 1900, Garvey became an apprentice to his godfather, Alfred Burrowes, who was a printer in St. Ann’s Bay. He later worked, as a printer at P. A. Benjamin in Kingston, and became so proficient at his job that he was made foreman in 1905 at the age of 18.
Throughout the course of his life, Garvey also worked as a journalist, a publisher, a businessman and an orator.
While working at the printery, he became involved in politics and trade unionism. He started a trade union for printers and rose to the rank of vice-president of the now defunct Kingston Typographical Union. As an activist, he helped various categories of workers and formed organisations to assist factory and farm workers.
As Garvey travelled internationally, he observed the poor living and working conditions and treatment meted out to people of African descent. The suffering of his beloved people grieved Garvey, and he felt compelled to address their problems.
His work morphed and expanded into two international organisations which he founded in Jamaica in 1914 – the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and the African Communities League (ACL). These organisations aimed to:
• establish a universal brotherhood of Africans and their descendants
• develop independent African communities and nations; and
• establish a central nation for people of African descent.
The Right Excellent Marcus Garvey died in June 1940 in London, England, of stroke complications. He was buried there, but two decades later was re-interred in a shrine, at the National Heroes Park in Jamaica in 1964.
For additional information, contact:
Liberty Hall: The Legacy of Marcus Garvey
76 King Street
Social Media: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @garveylh