Influence of Marcus Mosiah Garvey on Black Nationalism, Black Power Movement, and Rastafarianism

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In the year 1887, the year of Marcus Mosiah Garvey’s birth, many living knew enslavement. Emancipation occurred in 1834, and even though the more severe features for the formerly enslaved were no longer present many persisted. There was rampant poverty. Many formerly enslaved and their descents worked on plantations. Immigrants came, mostly from India, but also other contents as new, controllable and cheap labor for the planter. Most could not vote. Education was limited. High school education was accessible to a handful of black students. Illiteracy was high. There was no university education in the British West Indies. The wealthy, the few exceptionally brilliant attended university abroad. The highly ambitious worked their way through school, usually in North Afro-American colleges (Martin, 1983, pp. 1-8). They would not be likely to be 'hired in commercial establishments except as cleaners, laborers and suchlike’’ (Martin, 1983, p. 5). There were 'three major racial groups' (Martin, 1983, p. 4) which had “rigid walls of prejudice” (Martin, 1983, p. 4). White people did not allow coloreds and Blacks into their social and sports clubs. Similarly, colored persons did the same to Black persons (Martin, 1983, p. 4). Marcus Garvey would be shaped by the conditions of the formerly enslaved in Jamaica. He undoubtedly would become one of the most important figures in West Indian history. The ideologies and movements influenced by him remained relevant close to the end of the twentieth century in the British West Indies.

Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born in St. Ann Bay, Jamaica. He was the last of eleven children all who died during childhood, with the exception of one sister (Martin, 1983, p. 8). He lived with both parents and the family was “reasonably comfortable” (Martin, 1983, p. 8). His father was a stonemason by profession. He was “well-informed” (Martin, 1983, p. 8) and “a respected figure in the community” (Martin, 1983, p. 8). Marcus Garvey, “proudly claimed to be a descendant of the Maroons” (Martin, 1983, p. 8). This was on his father’s side. He was well liked as a child and did various hobbies with his friends. One of the two white families in the neighborhood owned the adjoining property, so his childhood friends included some white children. However, they would shun and pretend not to know him as he grew older, his first introduction with racial divisions (Martin, 1983, p. 9). Garvey reflected in an autobiographical essay: “Her parents thought the time had come to separate us and draw the color line. They sent her and her sister to Edinburgh Scotland, and told her that she was never to write or try to get in touch with me again, for I was a ‘nigger” (Lewis, 1987, p. 21). He was fortunate to attend primary school and received private lessons in secondary school. Also, he was able to read widely from his father’s library (Martin, 1983, p. 10).

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“Garvey moved to Kingston, found work in a print shop, and became acquainted with the abysmal living conditions of the laboring class. He quickly involved himself in social reform, participating in the first Printers’ Union strike in Jamaica in 1907 and in setting up the newspaper The Watchman. Leaving the island to earn money to finance his projects, he visited Central and South America, amassing evidence that black people everywhere were victims of discrimination” (Bracks, 2012).

He wanted to liberate “his people” from ignorance and poverty. “His Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), founded in Jamaica in 1914 and re-established in the United States around 1917, in the process became the largest Pan-African movement in history. By the mid-1920-s it boasted approximately 1,120 branches in over 40 countries” (Martin, 1996, p. 359). One of his more successful ventures was the Black Star Shipping Line. At that time was a symbol of hope for Black people to own a steamship corporation. This would be his beginning and rise (Bracks, 2012).

In the years to come, the organization would begin to decline in its popularity. The Star Black liner would run into financial trouble. There would be “financial betrayal by trusted aides and a host of legal entanglements based on charges that he had used the U.S. mail system to defraud prospective investors” (Bracks, 2012). “Garvey would be imprisoned for a five-year term”(Bracks, 2012). He served half his sentence, “he was then deported to Jamaica by order of President Calvin Coolidge” (Bracks, 2012).He would focus on Jamaican politics but would lose in the polls. However, this is due to many of the Black population not having the qualifications to vote (Bracks, 2012).

Garvey had people and focuses that inspired. He had an interest in African civilizations and politics opposing colonialism, including the works of Edward Wilmot Blyden and Booker T. Washington. This helped Garvey with his own ideologies. They would be referred to as Garveyism, “a Black nationalist social and political movement and Pan-African philosophy that emerged through Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) between the world wars, is often viewed as part of the “New Negro” manhood politics that transfused Black radical culture and intellectual life in that period” (Blair, 1998). Black Nationalism, “advocacy of or support for unity and political self-determination for black people, especially in the form of a separate black nation” (Lexico).

Pan-Africanism is “the idea that peoples of African descent have common interests and should be unified. Historically, Pan-Africanism has often taken the shape of a political or cultural movement… Envision a unified African nation where all people of the African diaspora… People of African descent who have been scattered from their ancestral homelands to other parts of the world… The sentiment that people of African descent have a great deal in common, a fact that deserves notice and even celebration” (Britannica Academic). “Garvey championed the cause of African independence, emphasizing the positive attributes of black people’s collective past. His organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), boasted millions of members, envisioning and then making plans for a return 'Back to Africa’ (Britannica Academic).

Garvey was influential in many movements. This includes the Black Power Movement, Nation of Islam and Rastafarianism. Black power is an “umbrella term used to describe the more militant aspects of the late 1960s civil rights movement. The term gained popularity in 1966 when Stokely Carmichael, a leader of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, used it in a series of speeches” (Brown-Rose, 2008). Many young urban black males felt alienated from the ideology of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. His non-violent approach, many found was too dependent on the generosity of the white establishment. The focus on eliminating segregation and gaining the right to vote in Southern America ignored the economic problems of blacks in the Northern urban ghettos (Brown-Rose, 2008).

As a political idea, Black Power derived from a long tradition of Black Nationalism started with figures such as Marcus Garvey in the 19th Century. There was a “critical change that the Black Power Movement brought about was the use of the word “Black” instead of “Negro” to identify African Americans” (Brown-Rose, 2008).

Malcolm X, who was a “prominent leader of the Nation of Islam” and presented a foundation for the Black Power Movement. His mother, of Caribbean heritage. “Malcolm X’s insistence on self-defense, and on the maintenance of black cultural values, traditions, and history were a point of reference for the younger generation of African Americans in the 1960-s” (Brown-Rose, 2008). This culture was relatable among the Black people in the British West Indies, having a shared history.

“The leaders of the Black Power Movement asserted the need for equal rights today, not tomorrow, and they were willing to pursue that goal” (Brown-Rose, 2008). Malcolm X declared “by any means necessary” (Brown-Rose, 2008). In the perception of white society black power represented a “call to violence”, but “Black Power mostly referred to black self-reliance, racial pride, and economic and political empowerment” (Foner & Garraty, 2014). Both Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X are highly influenced by Garvey. These movements, even though occurring in the United States would create drastic changes for the African Caribbean person. The “New World” identity, culture and society would be forever altered, especially due to media which allowed this to be viewed by those of African origin as well as white society.

The Nation of Islam is a 'movement and organization, founded in 1930 and known for its teachings combining elements of traditional Islam with Black Nationalist ideas. The Nation also promotes racial unity and self-help and maintains a strict code of discipline among members' (Britannica Academic). Rastafarianism saw as a religious movement but also it developed into a ”social, cultural and political movement that became more inclusive, attracting adherents from different ethnic groups and economic strata” (Chawane, 2014).

A major “similarity between the movements is that both are liberation theological movements that seek to empower Blacks by providing them with a positive self-identity” (Barnett, 2006). These religions challenge the notions of White superiority and Black inferiority, addressing “the vicious cycle of false identity and self-hatred” (Barnett, 2006). Both religions are highly patriarchal and believed in a messiah. A major difference is the “greater degree of individualism that is expressed and exhibited by members of the Rastafari movement specifically in terms of their ideological orientation, style of dress, and theological perspectives, in contrast to the members of the Nation of Islam where there is greater consistency” (Barnett, 2006).

The immediate reason for its emergence was in the 1930s when Haile Selassie who was to become their god was crowned king of Ethiopia. This coronation coincided with Marcus Garvey’s prophesy when he told people to look to Africa when a black king shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is near, an extract taken from the Bible that confirms its religious origin.” It was a movement that spread all over the world, where people felt “oppressed and exploited.” This was particularly so in countries with persons of African origin (Chawane, 2014).

Garvey had some views which were quite unpopular at the time. Within Black Nationalism, he believed in radical separation. He wanted complete separation between the two races, appearing to not view behavior in a spectrum. His belief, that all white persons had no difference to the degree of bigotry. The UNIA worked with the Ku Klux Klan stating “the Klan has helped us a great deal by driving the Negro to thoughts of Africa as their only hope” and Southern whites should be thanked for having “lynched race pride into the Negro' (Vincent, 1971).

Integrationist wanted to gain acceptance by the white population and enter mainstream society. They worked alongside interracial organizations. The most powerful was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The major spokesperson for the NAACP was Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, who was free colored (Martin, 1983, pp. 106-109). Garvey disapproved of the miscegenation of races. Marcus Garvey believed colored person derived from the rape of enslaved women. “Du Bois and Garvey were two of the most significant Pan-Africanist of that century and their antipathy Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois felt for one another has been well documented' (Thompson, 2010). Du Bois, in his 1923 Century article “Back to Africa,” calling Garvey a “little fat black man, ugly but with intelligent eyes and a big head”. The “misleader” of the NAACP was described in 1923 The Negro World rejoinder as “a little Dutch, a little French, and a dozen other things. Why, in fact, the man is a monstrosity” (Thompson, 2010).

They had very different approaches towards the advancement of the Black Diaspora. Garvey’s anti-socialism was also unpopular at the time. His claim was that economic power would be the only thing to bring power and “an independent black economy within the framework of white capitalism” (Britannica Academic). “Garveyism was equally a new womanhood movement. Structures of leadership and membership activity in the UNIA mirrored those of the Black church: women formed the backbone of the population (Blair, 1998).

It stated in the literature that Garvey never went to Africa. It can appear that had no interest or that he idealized the content. Rather 'Colonial governments ensured that Garvey never set foot in Africa, and Grant does not extend his gaze far beyond the UNIA's halting steps in Liberia. But Garveyism left a deep imprint on the continent, and charting its lines of influence again shifts the discussion away from the spectacle of the movement and towards the “silence and proper organization” that emerged as its legacy” (Ewing, 2011).

Marcus Mosiah Garvey was undisputedly an influential figure in the British West Indies. However, his impact was felt throughout the world, forever enhancing Black identity within the African diaspora. He influenced a movement that would be known as Garveryism and encouraged the ideologies of Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism. The Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) would become the largest Pan-African Movement in the world. Garvey advocated for unity and political self-determination. He influenced civil rights movements known as the Black Power Movement which took place in the 1960s. Many based in the United States but heavily impacted global culture regarding accepted race relations. Two religious movements came about through Garvey which was the Nation of Islam and Rastafarianism. These are two religions often embraced by the Black community. The Nation of Islam includes many influential figures including Malcolm X. Rastafarians in the British West Indies is a lifestyle and identity, symbolic of Black resistance and self-love. It is acknowledged of an influential part of modern Caribbean culture, inspiring art, food and music.

He had some views which were more unpopular which were criticized mainly radical separatism and disapproving of colored people. He was often in contrast to and disagreement with other famous Pan-Africanist W.E.B Dubois, who was an integrationist and who was free colored. The UNIA sometimes worked with the Ku Klux Klan as he saw them as straightforward white racists. These views may appear radical from a modern-day context and may be disregarded among his wider contributions. He was anti-socialist and vouched for capitalism. He saw this as the way for the Black community to gain economic empowerment, which may now be viewed as sensible. Also, opportunities were given to Black women within the organization. Marcus Mosiah Garvey can sometimes be viewed as controversial. However, his ideas were still relevant close to the end of the twentieth century in the British West Indies. The global impact his ideas had on black empowerment and identity, it is reasonable to say, it influenced the lives of persons with African heritage in different parts of the world today.


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Influence of Marcus Mosiah Garvey on Black Nationalism, Black Power Movement, and Rastafarianism. (2023, February 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from
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