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Marcus Garvey (1887−1940)

A-Level, IB
AQA, Edexcel, IB

Last updated 2 Jun 2020

The Jamaican political theorist Marcus Garvey is the most prominent figure within the pan-Africanism movement.

Marcus Garvey promoted a pan-African philosophy to generate a sense of empowerment amongst descendants of the African diaspora. This is more widely known as Garveyism – a form of African redemption which encourages Africans to be proud of who they are. Garveyism calls upon people of African ancestry in the diaspora to redeem the nations of Africa and force colonial powers to leave the continent. Highly active within political life, Garvey founded the Black Star Line which favoured the return of the African diaspora to their ancestral home. Garvey also created the Universal Negro Improvement Association to promote unity amongst African Americans.

Garveyism was a highly influential political idea that later shaped the nascent Nation of Islam. This militant approach may be contrasted with the non-violent philosophy advocated by Martin Luther King. Garveyism was also influential within the Rastafari movement. According to Rastafarianism, true believers are held captive in Babylon (Western society) waiting for salvation from Haile Selassie to lead them home to Zion (Ethiopia). Garvey himself had prophesised the emerge of Selassie when he told his followers “Look to Africa when a black King shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is near.” At its peak, Garveyites numbered in the millions with members in the Caribbean, Central America, North America and Africa. It offered a message of empowerment and unification amongst those who have faces centuries of discrimination and prejudice.

Garvey also offered several insights into a communist economic system. For instance, he reasoned that it would be more beneficial for white people as it enabled them to solve their own political and economic issues. However, it offered nothing whatsoever to black people. Garvey even claimed that the Communist Party sought to manipulate the African-American vote to overthrow the capitalist system. Garvey concluded that communists were just white men seeking to control the black population and keep them subjugated. Communism would merely place power into the hands of ignorant whites, and would therefore maintain a structure of oppression against blacks.

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