This Day in Black History: August 17, 1887

Marcus Garvey, an impassioned leader of the Black Nationalist and Pan-African movements, was born in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica.

Posted: 08/17/2012 07:00 AM EDT

Marcus Garvey, an impassioned leader of the Black Nationalist and Pan-African movements, was born in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica, on Aug. 17, 1887.  His career in political activism started when he was just 14, when he left Jamaica to travel to South Africa as a journalist and newspaper editor. It was that trip that inspired him to form the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1912. Garvey's vision was to instill self-determination and empowerment into all people of African descent, encouraging a pilgrimage back to their African homelands. Garvey's Pan-African message of unity eventually spread to the United States, and by 1916, UNIA’s membership has swelled to 4 million worldwide.

He was also the head of several successful trade and commerce businesses under the UNIA.  At the peak of his influence, however, Garvey was investigated for mail fraud, convicted in 1923 and later deported to London. He again came under fire after he pledged his support for The Greater Liberia Act of 1938, a controversial bill calling for the deportation of 12 million African-Americans to Liberia to relieve unemployment. In his final days, the political leader suffered several strokes and died in London on June 10, 1940. Garvey’s legacy would later inspire the formation of the National of Islam and notable civil rights leaders including Malcolm X in the 1950s and 60s.

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(Photo: Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

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