Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr. was not born an American, but the ideas he propagated about Black racial unity across borders, regardless of homeland and current land, left a lasting imprint on the consciousness of African-Americans, and forged the movement that came to be called Black Nationalism. It was Garveyism that inspired the rise of Black political autonomy and power in the United States, power that made it possible for politicians like Barack Obama to rise, lifted by a strong Black base. Even more, Garvey’s global outlook is echoed not only in Obama’s international worldview, but in Obama’s very blood.
Marcus Garvey, Jr. was born in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica on August 17th, 1887 to father Marcus Garvey Sr. and mother Sarah. His father was a stonemason with an extensive library of books. He served as an apprentice to his godfather’s printing business, where he became a master printer by his teens. With the power of the pen, Garvey began a career as an outspoken journalist and organizer. In 1914, he moved to American and founded the United Negro Improvement Association, whose foundation was Garvey’s motto of universal fate for Black across the diaspora. Garvey made an argument for the rise of lower classes, and exhorted Blacks everywhere to seek self-governance to repair the wounds of colonialism and slavery. Garvey was a fierce orator, relentless publisher, and capable entrepreneur whose vision may have been best realized after he passed on. This kind of grassroots organizing was a hallmark of Garvey’s life, which gained him admiration and notoriety at once.
After reading Booker T. Washington’s “Up From Slavery,” Garvey became inspired by the American’s rhetoric of building a self-reliant community. His plan to create an intercontinental transport called the Black Star Line to reach Africa was dangerously ambitious and, eventually, his financial problems caught up to him when he was incarcerated for mail fraud in 1925 and sent to prison in Atlanta. While his vision of a United States of Africa never came to fruition, Marcus Garvey understood the grave challenge of Black sovereignty and his legacy is carried on in all Black heads of state, especially President Barack Hussein Obama.