|"Marcus Garvey and the Politics of Revitalization" by
Lawrence W. Levine
The Garvey Phenomenom:
- In 1916 Garvey arrived in the United States from
Jamiaica, and by the early 1920's he had built the
largest and most influential African-American
movement in American history.
- By the end of the 1920's Garvey's organization
(the United Negro Improvement Association) had
Formative Influences: Black Experience in British Empire
- b. 1887 in British West Indies
- age 16: formal education: learns printing trade
in Kingston and also sets out to train himself as an
- by age 23, Garvey had traveled throughout South
America: Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, Spanish
Honduras, Colombia and Venezuela
- In his travels Garvey wrote about the
exploitation of blacks in fields, mines, and cities
throughout the British colonies.
- age 25-27, Garvey lives in London.
- age 27, Garvey returns to Jamaica and founds the
UNIA which seeks:
- to establish industrial colleges for
- to promote black commerce and
- to promote bonds of unity and
brotherhood among blacks throughout the
- to create an international
pan-African political movement in
opposition to European colonialism
- age 29 (1916), Garvey arrives in the United
States and establishes the New York Division of UNIA
Receptivity to Garvey's Black Nationalist message:
- disillusionment with Washington's brand of
accommodationism and with DuBois call for
assimilation with whites: neither strategy had
induced whites to accept blacks
- rebuff of black soldiers despite their service
- 1919: lynchings continue in the South, race
riots in Northern cities
- Blacks had played by the rules and discovered
that the rules did not apply to them
- Blacks were therefore receptive to the new
militancy Garvey preached against white oppression
and to his call for blacks to look within their own
community for protection, understanding and
Garvey's Black Revitalization Movement:
- Blacks should stop emulating whites and instead
look to their own people for heroes, martyrs and
- Blacks should celebrate their own ancient
African roots and be great again.
- Blacks should celebrate the beauty of black
women, should give their children black dolls to
play with. Blacks should celebrate their kinky hair
and 'take the kinks out of their minds instead'.
- Garvey criticized the black leadership in the
United States for being beholden to white
philanthropists' money. He visited the NAACP's New
York offices and noted that it seemed like everyone
there was trying to pass as white.
- Garvey urged black soldiers returning from
Europe and WWI to never be exploited again: "We will
only shed our blood to make ourselves free."
Garvey's Mastery of Political Spectacle:
- Garvey preached black revitalization in a style
which could be understood and embraced by the black
masses (farmers and workers).
- He made use of spectacle in political rallies,
parades and ceremonies with military uniforms,
banners, song, and speeches.
- Garvey's speeches took on a quasi-religious
tone: he evoked conversion experieinces similar to
those in black churches; he presented himself as a
new Moses, even likened himself to Jesus; he
described blacks as a chosen people and urged his
followers to conceive of God as black.
Garvey's Economic Program:
- Garvey envisioned black businesses uniting in a
vast conglomerate that would end the people's
dependence on whites: self contained production,
distribution and consumption.
- He founded the Black Star Lines: a fleet of
ocean liners that would eventually carry the blacks
of the New World home to a new nation in Africa
- Effective propaganda but a business failure:
purely symbolic and not pragmatic
Garvey's Racial Policies Tread Close to Fascism:
- Garvey's Call for Black Separatism
- He hoped to build an independent African nation
which would be powerful enough to unite Black people
throughout the world and oppose European
- Garvey was pessimistic about whites and blacks
ever being able to live together in harmony.
- Garvey even reached out to the Ku Klux Klan's
platform of racial separatism.
- Garvey expressed respect for the fascist
movement led by Mussolini that had taken power in
Italy during the early 1920's
- ultra-nationalist program reaching
back to folk roots and a heroic past
- racist/ social-Darwinistist platform