Words by Rishi Bonneville
In London, 61 years ago today, Marcus Garvey, founder of the pioneering United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), died. Garvey, a Jamaican, was alone, having been deported from the United States, where J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI were determined to stop his attempt to link Africa and African-Americans by sea via the Black Star Line. Recently, Geoffrey Philp, a Jamaican writer and blogger based in Florida, started a petition to clear Marcus Garvey of the mail fraud charges that caused his deportation and his downfall. Philp’s goal is to collect 10,000 electronic signatures, and deliver them to US President Barack Obama. Philp, whose writing appears in the Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories, says he started this petition out of “love and respect for Marcus Garvey” and after watching other similar initiatives fail.
At its pinnacle, the UNIA claimed millions of members and had chapters in 40 countries. Martin Luther King Jr. called Garvey the “first man of color to lead and develop a mass movement.” His vision of Africans united across continents influenced many, including Malcolm X, whose father was a local UNIA leader, and Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah, who named the national shipping line of Ghana “Black Star Line.” Rastafarians consider Marcus Garvey a prophet, although he was a practicing Roman Catholic who clashed on occasion with early Rastafarian leader Leonard “Gong” Howell.