Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born the youngest of eleven children in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica. He and his sister Indiana were the only ones to survive into adulthood. His father was a Stonemason and his mother, a domestic worker and farmer. Marcus's father had a large library where he learnt to read. After a stint as a printer's apprentice Marcus moved to Kingston as a young adult where he got involved in union activities and awakened his passion for political activism. After a few years, he visited an uncle in Central America, where he worked as a traveling editor reporting on the exploitation of migrant workers on the plantations. He later moved to London, attended Birkbeck College (University of London), and worked for the African Times and Orient Review which advocated Pan-African nationalism.
Mr. Garvey moved back to Jamaica in 1912, where he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association to the end of uniting all of the African diaspora to establish an absolute country and government of their own. His philosophies threatened the status quo of the upper class and they made it difficult for him to organize in Jamaica. He was in correspondence with Booker T. Washington and traveled to the US in 1916 ostensibly to raise money to build an institution modeled after Tuskegee, in Jamaica. In 1917, Marcus and thirteen others formed the first branch of UNIA outside of Jamaica. In 1918 Garvey began publishing The Negro World, a platform to promote his philosophy of social, political and economic freedom for Blacks.
In 1919, with membership at approximately two million, the UNIA set up its first business, the Black Star Line, a shipping company that would establish trade relations between Africans in America, the Caribbean, South and Central America. In the same year, Garvey started the Negroes Factories Association, a series of companies that would manufacture marketable commodities in every big industrial center in the western hemisphere and Africa. Toward the goal of economic freedom, he also established restaurant and grocery chains, laundries, a hotel, and a printing press. During this period, he also launched the Liberia program, intended to repatriate Africans to their homeland and to build an economic base of colleges, industrial plants and railroads. This program had to be abandoned due to the strenuous opposition of European interests in Liberia.
Garvey and the UNIA's rapid advancements and accomplishments increased unwanted attention from the FBI. His separatist politics and willingness to work with white separatists like the KKK raised the ire of many Black leaders. UNIA was repeatedly investigated and in 1922 Garvey and four others were charged with mail fraud in connection with sales of the stock of the Black Star Line. He was sent to prison for two years after which he was deported to Jamaica. Marcus continued his work. He traveled to Geneva in 1928 to present the Petition of the Negro Race. He formed the Edelweiss Amusement Company to help artists earn money from their work. He moved to London in 1935, opened another chapter of UNIA and promoted a reparations scheme to deport 12 million African-Americans. The Greater Liberia Act of 1939 failed in Congress and Marcus lost the bulk of his remaining support from African-Americans.
Marcus Garvey died in London in 1940 after suffering two strokes. His body was exhumed to Jamaica where he was named their first National Hero. His message inspired many in the Civil Rights movement. Some Rastafarians revere him as a prophet. He is honored in busts and monuments all over the world and many institutions currently bear his name.