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Marcus Garvey: The Two USAs


Marcus Garvey is featured on a New York Subway mosaic

When African American soldiers returned from World War I, they were disappointed. The sort of freedom they had defended on the other side of the ocean was not available to them in the U.S.A. In only one year since the end of the war, 70 African Americans were lynched in the U.S. The poor blacks cried out for justice, but didn't find any.

This sort of situation was the same in many different countries around North and South America where Blacks lived. One man from Jamaica decided it was time to change things. His name was Marcus Mosiah Garvey. Born in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica, Garvey had to work from a young age to support his family. His job in a fruit company made him travel through Central and South America. This is when he saw how poor blacks did not get any justice.

Marcus Garvey thought that blacks of the world should all be a part of one nation. He thought that since they were such a large part of the population, they should have more control over the money, the businesses, and the laws. He decided it was best for blacks to separate from white ruled society to form their own nation. He formed the Universal Negro Improvement Association in order to get support for his ideas.

Shops selling African textiles are popular in Harlem
With his association, Garvey led many plans for improvement of life for blacks. He helped to start black owned and black run business, a newspaper, a black version of the red cross, grocery stores, restaurants, even a steamship line.


Woes of a homeless historian

However, many people in the United States were unhappy with Garvey's plans. Some of them were powerful white men, like J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the CIA. However, some of them were rich black people. They felt it was a better idea to live alongside white people, rather than to try to be separate from them. Many black people became very upset with Garvey and his ideas when a racist group of white southerners called the Ku Klux Klan said that Garvey had good ideas. Because the Ku Klux Klan was racist and hated blacks, they also wanted blacks to be separate from whites. It is amazing that they agreed with Garvey, but it made people angry.

Stephanie gazes at beautiful mudcloths and textiles from Mali
Unfortunately for Marcus Garvey, he was sent back to Jamaica by the United States because of legal troubles with his steamship business. The U.S. thought he had been dishonest with his business. The good thing is that Garvey helped many black people feel proud about their African heritage. Because of Garvey, many people agree that "black is beautiful." Because of Garvey, we see people wear beautiful traditional African clothing in America. Because of Garvey, many black people are in touch with their pasts.


Please email me at: stephanie@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Stephen - "I'm African! No, I'm American! No, I'm African!" No, I'm American!
Stephanie - Poetry to stir the soul and inspire a nation
Nick - How the government ground down a community