Centennial of United Negro Improvement Association; birth of Marcus Garvey

Black-and-white photo of seated adult Marcus Garvey

Today, Rastafari and followers of Marcus Garvey celebrate his birth anniversary; this year, many also mark the centennial of the organization Garvey founded, the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, AUGUST 17: Global celebrations, this summer, mark the centennial anniversary of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Exhibits in his name, lectures and events are drawing Rastafari devotees as well as families of Jamaican heritage and those interested in African-American history. In the midst of that observance, today marks the August 17, 1887, birth of Marcus Garvey.

Regarded as a prophet the likes of St. John the Baptist in the Rastafari religion, Garvey was born in Jamaica. During his lifetime, Garvey attracted millions of followers and built an enormously popular organization that honored African heritage in the Americas. Though his politics and viewpoints were regarded as controversial by many, Garvey earned the title of Jamaica’s first national hero and left an undeniable imprint on history.

LIFE AND TIMES:
THE STORY OF MARCUS GARVEY

Born the youngest of 11 children, Marcus Garvey developed a devotion to reading during childhood. After departing from Jamaica in 1910, Garvey worked as a newspaper editor, and began traveling; he attended college and, in 1914, organized the UNIA. As the organization grew, Garvey’s popularity soared—although opposition to his philosophies and ideas accompanied his success.

When the UNIA’s business, the Black Star Line, drew charges of mail fraud, the consequences would later haunt Garvey. Nonetheless, during that same time, the UNIA’s membership continued to grow—surpassing 4 million members. (Wikipedia has details.) Garvey tried to develop Liberia as a permanent homeland for the African Diaspora and spoke frequently on education, economics and independence.

During speeches in the 1920s, Garvey often spoke of looking to Africa for a black king who was to be crowned. When Haile Selassie I was crowned emperor of Ethiopia, many regarded Garvey as a prophet. The followers of this philosophy, who call themselves Rastafari, still believe Garvey to be a prophet.

In 1940, Garvey died in London, at age 52. Primarily, Garvey is memorialized globally for advancing a global mass empowerment focused on Africa and blacks of the Diaspora. Martin Luther King commented, in a speech in 1965, that Garvey “was the first man on a mass scale and level to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny. And make the Negro feel he was somebody.”

IN THE NEWS:
UNIA CENTENNIAL

Last month, the Jamaican Embassy in Washington, D.C., praised the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the UNIA, duly noting Garvey’s heroic status in Jamaica and the continuing influence of his life in the lives of people in the Diaspora. (Atlanta Black Star reported.) This month, the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., will be exhibiting a gallery of original photos, magazines, books and posters dedicated to Garvey’s cause and the UNIA. The exhibit will also showcase the UNIA’s current membership and activities. (Read more in this article.)

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