Brother Leader Mbandaka, UK representative of the UNIA-ACL and Spiritual Leader of the Alkebulan Revivalist Movement, profiles the life and achievements of the Most Eminent Prophet and King Marcus Mosiah Garvey.
On the 17th August, 1887, the ‘Black Star’ of hope rose, when a son was born in the parish of St Ann’s, Jamaica to Sarah (Richards) Garvey and Marcus Garvey. Upon his birth his proud father, an Ashanti (‘Maroon’) descendant, held him aloft and proclaimed: “Your name shall be ‘Mosiah’ and you shall be a Moses!” This echoed the premonition of his mother, that she had conceived a Prophet, one who shall lead his people to the Promise-land.
As a boy, Marcus Mosiah Garvey was a little wonder. His mature demeanour and profound utterances made many elders see in him an ancient spirit reborn: “Im com ya aredy!” His academic excellence earned him the role of ‘pupil teacher’ and his physical prowess made him a leader amongst his peers.
Close to the bosom of his mother he grew; a kind, deeply religious and gentle spirited woman, whose loving hands and tender heart fed and comforted many hungry mouths and troubled souls; leading him to Eulogise: “She was too good for her time.” Thus, was the seed of love and compassion for his people sown deeply in his soul, favouring the most down-trodden and dispossessed.
At his father’s feet – a master stone mason; strong, robust and fearless and renowned for his rages against injustice – he received vital lessons: “Boy, Call no man master! Fear no one! he often commanded. Thenceforth, young Marcus was imbued with enmity for the precepts of white supremacy, feigning normality in this British colony.
Reading was the young master’s favourite hobby, as he strove to feed his avaricious appetite for knowledge. History, language and vocabulary were his great inspirations; beyond which only the word of God took precedence. As such, the comprehensive libraries of his father and godfather, Mr Alfred Borrows, were his havens, as were: listening to the enrapturing sermons of charismatic preachers, pumping the pipe organ for the local Methodist church and spending hours before the mirror emulating the oratory that had inspired him.
At the age of 14, Marcus became an apprentice printer under the guardianship of his godfather, exposing him to a range and depth of social and political views. At 16, he moved to his maternal uncle in Kingston where his achievements in English, Arithmetic and Religious Knowledge earned him employment with the P. A. Benjamin Printery. Within 2 years he became foreman – a phenomenal accomplishment for one of his sable hue and tender years.
Wages were low, conditions poor and the workers were crying out. Alas, none but Marcus Garvey heard their agony. His appeals to higher offices, however, only yielded patronage and bribes. But this young leader of ‘men’, driven not by personal ambitions, but by human compassion, rejected all favours and led a strike for justice, resulting in his ejection from the firm.
Adversity, however, is fuel to the forthright and tenacious spirit. Seeking the tutelage of Nationalist pan-Afrikan activists – clergyman, Dr. Robert Love (MD) and Attorney Sandy Cox – He began public speaking and joined their ‘National Club’, ‘to combat the evils of British colonialism’.
By 1910, young Marcus Garvey published his first newspaper, ‘Garvey’s Watchman’, and started travelling to South and Central America. He found a job as time keeper on a plantation in Costa Rica, where he complained to the British Consul about poor conditions for Black workers and where he started the newspaper, ‘La Nacionale’. In Panama, he found the same conditions as in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Chile and Peru before returning to Jamaica in 1912.
Between 1912-1914, the young man’s restless spirit took him to Britain, with the financial help of his sister Indiana, where he attended Birkbeck College studying Law and Politics; frequented the House of Commons to observe the functions of this colonial institution; worked at the Liverpool and Cardiff docks, where Afrikan students and seamen enlightened him as to the vicious realities of Colonised Afrika (which greatly destressed him); met Black Nationalist, Duse Mohamed Ali, and wrote for his ‘Afrikan Times and Orient Review’ journal; ventured through half of Europe witnessing further Black sufferings.
On returning to Britain, the now well-travelled, well-informed young activist, read Booker T Washington’s, ‘Up from Slavery’, which prompted him to ask:
“Where is the Black man’s government, where is the Black man’s kings and kingdoms? Where is his president, his countries, his ambassadors, his army, his navy, his men and women of big affairs? I saw none. Then I said: I will help make them.”
The youthful Garvey decided to return to Jamaica “a man possessed”, a prophet – now conscious of his calling. Soon after, he met Amy Ashwood, aged only seventeen, but mature in wisdom and a level of consciousness beyond her years. Already adept in the art of elocution, she was equally possessed by the call of duty to her people. On 1st August, 1914, The Prophet pronounced the birth of the ‘Universal ‘Negro’ Improvements Association – And ‘African’ Communities League’ (UNIA-ACL) – aimed to restore racial pride, nation building, economic self-reliance and Afrikan-centred spiritual consciousness – with the motto:
“One God! One aim! One destiny!
Inspired by Booker T Washington’s Tuskegee Institute, an industrial and educational establishment (USA), he planned to launch a USA fundraising speaking tour, towards replicating the building of such an institution in Jamaica. After Booker T’s untimely death (1915), he corresponded with his successor Robert Moton, declaring:
“I am a man with a mission from The Most High God.”
He arrived in Harlem (1916) and soon found more viable grounds to re-establish his headquarters there, even as the forces of colonial-evil moved against him and sought to sabotage his Jamaican mission. By 1918, its newspaper, the ‘Negro World,’ was founded which was to become the most popular international black journal, despite banning orders in various countries. At its peak it published two hundred million copies per week, in three different languages: English, with parts in French and Spanish.
In 1919, the UNIA-ACL established the Black Star Line Steamship Corporation – which owned 4 ships – to facilitate social intercourse and trading between Afrikans in Afrika, the Caribbean and the USA. This proved to be a tremendous mobilising mechanism, prompting a massive influx of new members. That year Marcus Garvey also married Amy Ashwood, but this was to be short lived.
The UNIA established a chain of businesses culminating in the founding of the Negro Factories Corporation in 1920. Its highly successful economic ventures, including grocery stores, launderettes, a printing press, restaurants, hotels, a trucking company and factories: black doll making, tailoring, dressmaking, millinery, a printing press and more. In fact, NFC businesses employed over one thousand people in Harlem alone.
In that said year (1920), Papa Garvey also convened the first ‘International Convention of the Afrikan People of the World’. Over 25,000 delegates attended. Here, he was elected ‘Provisional President of The United States of Afrika’ and a Declaration of Rights, the red, black and green flag and the Universal Ethiopian Anthem were adopted as national symbols. News of this galvanised over one-hundred thousand people march in a parade under the banner of the Red, Black and Green.
Sometime thereafter, its religious leaders established the Afrikan Orthodox Church, headed by Bishop Alexander McGuire, the UNIA-ACL’s Chaplin General. Members were required to remove white religious and ‘royal’ images from their walls; UNIA-ACL artists were commissioned to replace them with black images; white dolls were prohibited and cultural artistes were charged to write poetry, songs, stories and plays “for the uplift of the race”.
In addition to these outstanding, unparalleled accomplishment of its time, the ‘Black Cross Nurses’ was created to provide health care and to coordinate social welfare programmes; the Universal Afrikan Legions (male) and Universal Motor Corps (female), were its military wings; and the Booker T Washington and Liberty Universities were among its Afrikan-centred educational institutions.
Papa Garvey soon became known for his powerful oratory.
“UP YOU MIGHTY RACE! YOU CAN ACCOMPLISH WHATEVER YOU WILL!”
“AFRIKA FOR THE AFRIKAN, THOSE AT HOME AND THOSE ABROAD!”
Were amongst his utterances that scintillated the millions who came under the awesome, liberating spell.
But as his influence soared, so did the vicious intents of the Global White Supremacists (USA, Britain and the Jewish lobby). Close behind were the Communist/Socialist and integrationist forces – the latter led by the Jewish controlled ‘National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People’. Communist sympathisers, like CLR James and George Padmore, disrupted UNIA rallies with missiles, whilst they and WEB Dubois (NAACP spokesman and USA Government agent) attacked and hounded the Prophet from platforms and the NAACP newspaper, The Crisis. In October 1919, one George Tyler attempted to assassinate Papa Garvey, by firing several shots at him.
In 1922, Papa Garvey married Amy Jacques – his deeply devoted, highly principled and thoroughly efficient secretary – who remained his anchor, closest companion, co-organiser and comforter for life. That said year, the American Government trumped up charges against him for mail fraud and an all-white, mainly Jewish and catholic jury, convicted him in 1923. The false claim was that he used the US mail to promote a business that was insolvent and the Jewish judge, Justice Julian Mack imposed the maximum sentence: 5 years imprisonment, a £5,000 fine and all the cost of the trial.
In 1924, whilst on bail, pending appeal, Papa Garvey sent £50,000 of equipment to Liberia (West Afrika) to aid with industrial, agricultural and technological development. This was a precursor to his plans to relocate UNIA-ACL headquarters, but this too was sabotaged by the USA and British Governments. Nonetheless, the UNIA-ACL membership peaked at around 13 million, with over 1,000 branches, in over 40 countries – in Afrika, the Caribbean, the Americas, Europe, Asia and Australia.
Although his appeal exposed the fraudulent charges brought against Papa Garvey and that of USA jurisprudence: ‘Evil hath no ear for the voice of right and truth; nor doth injustice for the petitions of the innocent’. In 1925, it was denied and the Prophet was imprisoned, causing 150,000 Afrikans to jam the streets of Harlem in protest. Unrelenting public pressures forced the Government to commute the 5yr sentence in 1927, but Papa Garvey was deported to Jamaica to the ‘mercies’ of a demonic British colonial establishment, whilst internal schisms and power struggles, fomented by USA government infiltration, shredded the USA based headquarters.
Notwithstanding the American experience, Papa Garvey hit the ground running on his return to Jamaica. Thousands of people poured on to the streets to welcome him in an unprecedented road block scene. He took on the colonial establishment by engaging in political activities designed to hold them to account to the Black masses. In 1929, he founded the Blackman newspaper and the People’s Political Party (PPP): the first modern political party founded in the Caribbean. Its platform included:
“Black Majority Rule, Self-government for Jamaica; an eight hour working day; Land reform; improvement of urban areas by companies making huge profits in these areas; a law to “impeach and imprison” unjust judges; A federation of the West Indies; Full adult suffrage.”
In Mosiah (August) that year, the UNIA-ACL convened its sixth International Convention of the Negro People of the World. Some 25,000 people marched in its parade, as over 90,000 more lined the streets of Kingston – a scene never witnessed before in Jamaica. The event evoke the wroth of the British Governor, the elite classes and the media. The daily Gleaner, then Jamaica’s largest newspaper, unleashed a most venomous assault on Papa Garvey’s character, to which he replied, by labelling them, “the mouthpiece of special privilege and cold blooded capital.”
After being imprisoned twice, numerous death threats, constant harassment and sabotage of his efforts, especially the International Convention of 1934, he returned to Britain in 1935. In 1937 he convened an International Convention in Canada where he founded ‘The School of Afrikan Philosophy’, training selected officers for race Leadership. At his behest, whilst incarcerated, Mama Amy Jacques Garvey published the book: ‘Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey’, as the “guide” for future generations. They had 2 sons, Marcus Jr (1930) and Julius (1932) and Marcus Jr.
On 10th June 1940, whilst living in Britain, the soul of the prophet ascended into the higher realms of the Ancestors. Indeed, he had pledged that in death, to, “I will continue to serve you”, and to “be a ‘TERROR’ to the foes of Afrikan Liberty”.
Notably, Padmore, James and Dubois lost favour with their respective European handlers and did pay homage, albeit posthumously, to Papa Garvey, in some way or form. Ironically, despite having made mockery of his “Back to Afrika” programme, both Padmore and Dubois repatriated and were employed by the government of the professed Garveyite president of Ghana, Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah. Dubois, in fact, dying in Ghana – demonstrating the indomitable spirit of the most Eminent Prophet and King – His Excellency Marcus Mosiah Garvey and the power of truth.
Thus, the ‘Black Star’ continues to shine, with his message of hope and will do so forever, persistently urging all Afrikans:
“LET AFRIKA BE YOUR GUIDING STAR; YOUR STAR OF DESTINY!”
Bro Leader Mbandaka (Spiritual Leader – Alkebu-Lan Revivalist Movement
This article was originally written in Mosiah (August), 6245 (2005), for the Whirlwind newspaper. Brother Leader has since made some amendments, but it is substantially the same.
It has been published on the QM Pan-African Blog with the kind permission of Brother Leader.
Garvey Lives! Mosiah Lives!