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Marcus Garvey

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Marcus Garvey

Historians familiar with Garvey's career generally regard him as the preeminent symbol of the insurgent wave of black nationalism that developed in the period following World War I. Although born in Jamaica, Garvey achieved his greatest success in the United States. He did so despite the criticism of many African-American leaders and the covert opposition of the United States Department of Justice and its Bureau of Investigation (forerunner of the FBI). As a young man, Garvey had preached accommodation and disavowed political protest, advocating loyalty to the established colonial government. His views, however, underwent a radical transformation shortly after he arrived in the United States in 1916. The emergence of the radical New Negro movement, which supplied the cultural and political matrix of the celebrated Harlem Renaissance, to a large extent paralleled Garvey and his post-World War I "African Redemption" movement.

Garvey established the first American branch of the UNIA in 1917--1918 in the midst of the mass migration of blacks from the Caribbean and the American South to cities of the North. It was also a time of political awakening in Africa and the Caribbean, to which Garvey vigorously encouraged the export of his movement. In the era of global black awakening following World War I, Garvey emerged as the best known, the most controversial, and, for many, the most attractive of a new generation of New Negro leaders. Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York has noted that "Garvey was one of the first to say that instead of blackness being a stigma, it should be a source of pride" (New York Times, 5 April 1987).

Black expectations aroused by participation in World War I were dashed by the racial violence of the wartime and postwar years, and the disappointment evident in many black communities throughout the U.S., Africa, and the Caribbean allowed Garvey to draw dozens of local leaders to his side. Their ideas were not always strictly compatible with Garvey's, but their sympathy with his themes of "African redemption" and black self-support was instrumental in gathering support for the movement from a vast cross-section of African-American society. Similarly, Garvey's message was adopted by a broad cross-section of educated and semi-literate Africans and West Indians hungry for alternatives to white rule and oppression.

The post--World War I years were thus a time when a growing number of Africans and West

Indians were ready for change. In most colonial territories, Africans, like African Americans, were disappointed when expected postwar changes failed to materialize.
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