In the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn lies Marcus Garvey Blvd, a street named after the late iconic figure in the African-American struggle for civil rights in the United States and abroad. The native son of Jamaica and former resident of London, England, made his name famous on the streets of Harlem, New York through the formation and activities of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). The organization’s purpose to build up the moral, economical and social status of Black Americans, combined with his “back to Africa” movement, remain defining movements in the African-American experience. At the time of his death on June 10, 1940, Garvey was a shadow of his former self after several severe strokes had taken their toll on his aging body. His death dealt a sever blow to the strengthening movement for equality. And 76 years after his death, his writings, speeches and life, are still remembered, quoted and analyzed for they remind us of the importance of standing up for what we believe in. Garvey remains one of most magnetic figures of the 20th century.
The rise and fall of the Black Start Line is often the focus of many articles about Garvey. And while the history of the line is unfortunate, the real Marcus Garvey typically remains hidden in the shadows. But who was Marcus Garvey and why is his story so important to the history of the United States and the movement for civil rights? Colin Grant presents to us the definitive biography of the late icon and his controversial and tragic life. Born in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, on August 17,1887, to the late Malchus Garvey, he would leave his native Jamaica many times throughout his life, making his mark across the world. Grant takes us back in time to witness the rise of the most gifted orators to speak directly to the soul of African-Americans. Garvey’s fiery rhetoric and inviting personality, earned him a legion of believers, intent on following him all the way back to Africa by way of Liberia.
But behind the speeches and mass congregations, the personal life of Marcus Garvey was nothing short of complex, filled with stress, fear, disappointment & violence. As leader of the UNIA, he would face continuous battles with other leaders such as W.E.B. DuBois. His success and influence also earned him the watchful eye of the Bureau of Investigation, the predecessor of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, headed by a young J. Edgar Hoover. Once shot and wounded and suspected in the violent deaths of others, Garvey was no stranger to violence and death. Grant has carefully researched the episodes and revisits them here showing the behind the scenes movements that helped Garvey rise to fame and which also caused his demise. At many points throughout the book, the reader is forced to confront the fact that Garvey, for all of his good deeds and intentions, was also a seriously flawed person at heart. But his shortcomings in no way detract from his vision for the complete freedom of Black Americans from the brutal system of racial injustice.
To the youth of today, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement and even apartheid are old terms relating to an era to which they could never relate. But for many older Americans and people abroad, the dark periods that exemplified some of the worst actions humanity has ever witnessed, remain fresh in the mind as if they happened yesterday. While it will be rare to find someone alive today from Garvey’s generation, there are those among us who can relate to us the importance of his life. Many years after his death, he was named a national hero in his native Jamaica and across the world his name is still remembered. He is no longer with us, but left us many writings and speeches to remind us of the importance of self-preservation, respect and the well-being of all of our brothers and sisters from all backgrounds. For those interested in Garvey’s life to see who the man behind the speeches was, this book is an excellent place to start.
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