back to africa movement

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August 17th 1887: Marcus Garvey born

On this day in 1887, black activist Marcus Garvey was born in Jamaica. The youngest of eleven children, the young Garvey was a keen reader, but left school aged fourteen to begin working as an apprentice. In his early twenties, Garvey traveled extensively around Central and Southern America, writing about the exploitation of migrant labour, and attended university in the United Kingdom. In 1914, once back in Jamaica, Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), and, after corresponding with Booker T. Washington, moved to New York City to promote the movement. Marcus Garvey was a passionate and electrifying speaker, touring the United States eloquently arguing for pride in African-American heritage and promoting black nationalism. He is best known as an advocate of the ‘Back to Africa’ movement, which urged African-Americans to return to their ancestral homeland to strive for economic and social freedom, facilitated by Garvey’s Black Star Line company. He was also a proponent of pan-Africanism, a movement which calls for the unity of the African diaspora to empower and uplift people of African descent. By 1920, the UNIA claimed four million members from around the world. Garvey’s actions provoked the ire of white Americans and the United States government, and in 1922 he was arrested for alleged mail fraud. In what was likely a politically-motivated case, Garvey was imprisoned and later deported to Jamaica. Marcus Garvey died in London in 1940, aged fifty-two, but is remembered today as the inspiration for the Nation of Islam and Rastafari movements, and as a major black civil rights leader.

“We have a beautiful history, and we shall create another in the future that will astonish the world”