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6 Absolute Facts of Marcus Garvey’s Back To Africa Movement


“ A people without the knowledge of their past, history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.” That’s one of the quotes that powered Marcus Garvey’s Back to Africa Movement. Starting in 1914 in Jamaica, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A) sought to empower black people in America, Europe, and worldwide.

Through its leader Marcus, the movement sought to call Africans to embrace their race and color and seek self-improvement. Besides, it emphasized black-owned manufacturing plants, businesses, and shipping lines. The black community was encouraged to improve spirituality, culturally, and politically.

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The movement had goals, dreams, and aspirations for the Black people to return to Africa and develop it. Much was achieved, and much didn’t succeed. Here are 6 absolute facts about Marcus Garvey’s Back to African movement.

1. It was the Greatest Black community Political movement

There had been other Black community movements in the 20th century. But none was as strong as this one. It managed to have 700 chapters in America’s 38 states and Canada by 1921. Throughout the world, it has more than 1000 chapters. They were also established in the Caribbean, Central and South, and Africa.

They had a following of close to 2 million black men and women, the exact number was rarely known. While these branches were in major urban areas such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, they were also established in smaller towns.

No movement or organization dedicated to changing and uplifting people of African heritage recorded a global membership close to what U.N.I.A did. 

At one time in 1920, the movement presided over an international Convention of Negroes. It had delegates from 25 countries. During this meeting, The Declaration of the Rights of Negro People was written. At the end of the convention was a parade of 50,000 black people walking through Harlem streets led by Garvey. 

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2. It was a one-man Show

Although he was a popular leader, Garvey never consulted anyone. Through his teaching, he could pull huge parades all by himself. At one time, some black leaders who were his rivals denounced him as a lunatic.

When he was young, Marcus accompanied his father to his grave-digging assignments. One day, his dad dug a grave and had Marcus continue working on it. The father, however, removed the ladder and left young Marcus to seek his way up alone. His father had taught him never to trust anyone in his life. He took it with him.  

Although he managed to work with Amy Ashwood, he went to be alone after a few years. He made his own decisions; his rise and fall were on his terms. Even though he was celebrated as charismatic and visionary, he was also secretive.

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3. Booker T. Washington’s Book inspired the Movement

up from slavery book cover page

Up from the slavery book cover page. Image Source: Wikimedia. Licenced Under CC BY 2.0

Although Marcus had a dream while young and an aspiration to liberate Africans, Booker T. Washington’s autobiography fueled his desires. He had written on the power of developing self-reliance and self-help through reading and education.

In his book, Up From Slavery,  Washington shared his journey from being a slave to a national figure. Marcus picked on these lessons and preached on black seeking education, engaging in personal development, and investing in their businesses. 

The writer summarizes his book by reflecting on the Tuskeegee  industrial training institute, its growth, and Legacy. He also shares his hope for the Black in the future.

Whenever he travelled, he realized that most blacks were on the lower end of society. They were filled with self-hatred and self-loathing imposed by colonial systems. He learned from Booker’s book how to instil the self-help philosophy to raise their living standards.

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4. Played a Role in the Establishment of Several Successful Black Businesses

Garvey taught how Black people would only be recognized when they were economically and spiritually strong. He continued to preach about an independent Black economy within the structure of white capitalism. He introduced a black spiritual leader, a flag, and a black national anthem. 

From the teachings, black people realized the need to create their own spaces. Having own businesses and other establishments was a  tool for freedom. 

They were reading the Negro World, printed by Marcus. This paper had clients close to 200,000 from four continents. It was published in English, Spanish, and French. To be recognized by the white community, they were to be economically and spiritually strong. They were able to build an independent black economy.

The UNIA established the Negro Factories Corporation, the Black Star shipping Line (1919), and a chain of businesses, including: 

  • Grocery shops, 
  • Restaurants, 
  • A printing press, 
  • Laundry shops
  • A hotel.

5. Inspiration to Reknown Black Leaders

Nelson Mandela seated with a female

Nelson Mandela seated with a white female. Image Source: Wikimedia. Licenced Under CC BY SA

The movement’s ideas inspired future black nationalist movements such as: 

  • Nation of Islam 
  • Black Panther
  • The Student NoViolent Coordinating Committee
  • Negritude Intellectuals
  • ANC youth league

It’s the origin of modern back-to-Africa movements. It was an inspiration to the anti-colonial movement and Black Nationalists Leaders. Some of the leaders who were inspired by this movement were:

  • Malcolm X
  • Kwame Nkurumah
  • Nelson Mandela
  • Martin Luther King Jr
  • Minister Louis Farrakhan

6. Vanished Quickly

The movement’s fall is linked to the leader’s meeting with the Ku Klux Clan leader Edward Young Clarke in 1922. Black civil rights activists were outraged by his remarks during this meeting. He was haunted and prisoned.

His advocacy and revolutionary messages to black Americans didn’t sit well with the American government. One of the then Federal Bureau of Investigations officers, J. Edgar Hoover, purposed to haunt him. They were seeking grounds for his arrest and deportation. 

Ultimately, he was arrested and charged with mail fraud with the Black Star Line. He was sentenced to five years. But, the then-American president, Calvin Coolidge, gave him a pardon after two years. He was deported and never allowed to return to America. 

Although he tried resuscitating the movement in 1935 when he moved to London, his efforts didn’t bear fruit. By the time he died in 1940, the movement was a shadow of its former self.

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