Born in 1887, in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, Garvey had been employed as a journalist, printer and labor organizer in the Caribbean and England before returning to Jamaica to establish the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), an organization rooted in the notion that black people throughout the world should have the right to self- determination.
Garvey, by asserting “race first” Pan-Africanism, sought to create a separate sphere of community progress for African Americans, responding to the systematic exclusion of Black people from economic and political power.
Garvey initiated a series of enterprises that captured the imagination of the black masses: the Black Star Line, a steamship company; the Negro Factories Corporation; the Black Cross Nurses; and the African Legion.
While Garvey’s “Back to Africa” movement was little more than an idea, for his followers, “Africa for the Africans” was an important link for black Americans who were denied both citizenship and a history in their own communities.
Garvey’s notions of Black Nationalism and self-determination would later influence American figures like Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael, as well as African independence leaders Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta.