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What did migration back to Africa mean for Marcus Garvey and his disciples?





 "We are men, we have souls, we have passions, we have feelings, we have hopes, we have desires, like any other race in the world. The cry is raised all over the world today--Canada for the Canadians, America for the Americans, England for the English, France for the French, Germany for the Germans--do you think it is unreasonable that we, the Blacks of the world, should raise the cry of Africa for the Africans?"


"We have a beautiful history and we shall create another in the future that will astonish the world."



          Before I started this class, I had never heard of Marcus Garvey. But I knew one thing--if I were an African American living in the United States in the 1920's-60's, I certainly would not have been enamored with this country. Sitting in the back of the bus? Separate restaurants, toilets, and drinking fountains? Seriously?

There is a saying—“America, love it or leave it." If I were black living in America during this period, I would have been the first to say "I'm outta here," if only I could find a way.

          I had often thought, why didn't any black person ever say, "This stinks. Surely there must be some place on this vast planet where African-Americans would not be treated as second class citizens. Let's join together and find that place."

          I always wondered why no African American had ever said during that time, "What are we doing here? Let's go."

          Again, I had never heard of Marcus Garvey.


     Marcus Garvey was the leader of the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).  He was considered a redeemer, a "Black Moses" and most of all, a champion of the "back to Africa" movement.


Castles Theories of Migration and Three Articles Pertaining to Race in general and African Americans in particular


Article One: Marcus Garvey:  “The Negro Moses”


          In this article by Robert A. Hill, Mr. Hill discusses both the elevation of Marcus Garvey as a political redeemer for African Americans (hence the nickname “Negro Moses,” ) and also questions his motives.  Was he sincere when he preached that the only way for African Americans to find equality was to leave the United States and reclaim Africa?  Or was he simply another in a long line of brilliant orators, who used his gift of speech in the hopes of obtaining fame and personal wealth? Hill also discusses at length some of Garvey’s successes, such as turning the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA)  chapter in Harlem, New York into the “cultural center of the black world.”   Hill also talks about the creation of “Garveyism”—a “religion of success, inspiring millions of blacks worldwide who sought relief from racial dispossession and colonial domination.” 

          I found this article most pertained to Castles description of Refugees, where “a person residing outside of his or her country of nationality is unable or unwilling to return because of a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.” Garvey wanted African Americans to return to Africa because of personal persecution in America. Besides giving a general background of Marcus Garvey, this article also contained some surprising facts about the man, such as despite being the main voice for the return to Africa and the goal of building a new African empire, Garvey himself never set foot in Africa in his entire life.

          I chose this article on Marcus Garvey because the title “The Negro Moses” immediately caught my attention. It is the perfect description of this man; based on my research so far. Garvey was one of the first African-Americans to start a movement for black people in America to return to Africa. He was one of the first to really impress upon African Americans that they didn’t deserve to be treated as second class citizens, and as Robert Hill writes in this essay, he helped to free African Americans from “the bondage of racial inferiority.”  After reading about the psychological abuse Africa Americans had to withstand in The Warmth of Other Suns this was no small feat. Within a few years of his arrival in America, the word “Garveyism” soon became synonymous with racial pride.

The Dream

            Garvey believed Africa had lost its place in the world as a country of economic and creative importance, and believed African Americans should return to Africa and return the country to its former greatness. He started a chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (the UNIA) in Harlem, and it became “the cultural capital of the black world.” 

            The political program of the UNIA was African Redemption—the territorial redemption of Africa from colonial rule and the spiritual and psychological redemption of the black race. It was a tall order to be sure, but Garvey was a talented writer and speaker, and at one point in the early 1920’s, the UNIA had over one thousand chapters world-wide.  Marcus Garvey started the “Black Star” shipping line, which gave African Americans a source of pride as well as a “tangible symbol” of black enterprise. Garvey  gave African Americans hope, self-esteem and allowed them to dream of a better life.

            Unfortunately, Garvey did not succeed.  The Black Star shipping line had questionable financial irregularities that J. Edgar Hoover found serious enough to send Garvey to prison. His dream of black Americans returning to Africa never came to fruition. As a matter of fact, Garvey never even made it to Africa himself once in his lifetime.

Possible Castles Theory of Migration: Temporary labor migrants: (also known as guest workers or overseas contract workers) men and women who migrate for a limited period (for a few months to several years) in order to take up employment and send money home (remittances.)        

          This article on Marcus Garvey does not support Castles theory of migration known as temporary labor migrants. Garveyism did not support migrating to Africa for a temporary period of time; he wanted a complete return of black people to Africa to build up the country as an economic and creative force in the world, never to return to the United States. Garvey wanted black people to reject America completely, as America rejected them. So Castles theory of “temporary labor migrants” does not fit into the concept of Garveyism at all.


Hill, Robert A. (2011) Marcus Garvey, “The Negro Moses.” Africana Age African 

     and African Diasporan Transformations in the 20th Century. Schomburg Center  

     for Research in Black Culture.                        




Article Two: Three Pernicious Premises in the Study of the American Ghetto


           In this article by Loic Wacquant, Wacquant discusses three common misconceptions about the American ghetto. Specifically they are (1): Identifying a ghetto simply as an urban area of widespread and intense poverty, without discussing the basis of the poverty, which renders the definition useless in terms of historical and sociological significance. (2): The idea that a ghetto is a disorganized social formation based solely on lack and deficiencies rather than identify the principals that underlie its internal order, and (3): To “exoticize”  the ghetto by highlighting only the extreme and most unusual aspects of ghetto from the outside.  These premises paint a very limited picture of a ghetto with very broad strokes, which does a disservice to historians and also to the people who live there. Wacquant breaks all the stereotypical definitions of ghetto by stating that “a ghetto does not have to be poor, not that it has to be uniformly deprived. And conversely, not all low-income areas are ghettos, however extreme their destitution.” He cites depressed rural counties of the Mississippi delta and Native American reservations as examples. 

           It was tricky to link this article to a category of Castles migration; I would link it to Family Reunification Migrants, migrants who have come to join family members who have already entered an immigration country, and also Temporary labor migrants, men and women who migrate for a limited period in order to take up employment and send money home.  I think this article is important to this paper, because it emphasizes the misconceptions of ghetto life; and it shows how Marcus Garvey was correct in the mistreatment of black Americans, in the sense that they were looked down upon as being “lower class” because they lived in American ghettos.


Possible Castles Theory of Migration: Family Reunification Migrants, migrants who have come to join family members who have already entered an immigration country, and also Temporary labor migrants, men and women who migrate for a limited period in order to take up employment and send money home.         

           I chose "temporary labor migrants" for this article, because I feel people who are not born in a ghetto probably live there because it is the only place they can afford, and on some level tell themselves that it is only temporary; that as soon as they can afford to live somewhere else they will uproot their family and move someplace better.


Wacquant, Loic J.D. (1998.) Three Pernicious Premises in the Study of the

     American Ghetto.  International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.

     Volume 22, issue, 3 pages 507-510.


Article Three: White On Arrival: Italians: Race, Color and Power in Chicago, 1890-1945


            In this article by Thomas A. Guglielmo, he tells how Italians (and other European immigrants) arrived in the United States “with privileges that most African Americans could only dream of.”  European immigrants were apparently welcomed into America with open arms, with the full opportunity to enjoy the fruits of their labor and be heraled into white social and political arenas, whereas African Americans were still looked upon as second class citizens; “destined to remain in depressed, restricted neighborhoods without hope of ever leaving them.”  Guglielmo writes how Italians were largely accepted as white “by the widest variety of people and institutions—naturalization laws and courts, the US. census, race, science, anti-immigrant racialisms, newspapers, unions, employers, neighbors, realtors, politicians and political parties.” 

          This is not to say there wasn’t also anti-Italian sentiment going on. Guglielmo tells about how, in 1912, congressmen seriously debated whether or not Italians were “full-blooded Caucasians.”  One anthropologist in Chicago who was published by the local newspaper in 1910 wrote, “If you don’t like the brunette, if you prefer a pure white skin…and feel certain that the future welfare of the United States depends on the prevalence of this type, then you will be justified in favoring the exclusion of Italians.”  Being of Italian descent myself, I found this article very interesting, and I also felt this was pertinent to my paper on Marcus Garvey, as it points out the differences between the suffering of Italian immigrants as opposed to African Americans. 

          If I were to link this article to Castles migration categories, I would choose both highly skilled migrants, “people with qualifications as professionals, technicians or similar, who seek employment through international labor markets for scarce skills. Many countries welcome such migrants and have special “skilled and business migration” programs to encourage them to come.”  I’d also link this article to Family Members, as I know from my own family how one family member would migrate to America, get settled and then send word back (and money) back to Italy to send other members of the family.

          Being of Italian heritage myself, I was obviously drawn to this article. I was struck by the cartoon of an African American man trying to unlock a safe titled "EQUAL RIGHTS" while Uncle Sam whispered in the ears of a white immigrant "He's been trying to open that safe for a long time but doesn't know the combination. I'll give it to you." Although Italians had problems upon their arrival in America, they had nowhere near the problems African Americans had. Italians could gain citizenship more easily, and were welcomed into the "White" sections of restaurants, hospitals, beaches, and parks, whereas African Americans were delegated to the inferior "Colored" sections of such.

The "Prized Possession"

          Thomas Guglielmo, the author of this article writes that "When it came to "fare l'America" (making it in America) to Italians, their whiteness was their most prized possession."  However,  Guglielmo also brought up an interesting point where he says some Italians complained when their neighbors were friendly with African Americans, stating, "No decent Italian--rather than no decent white person--would act like that."  Guglielmo goes on to say the reason for this is, while Italians considered themselves white, they also considered themselves the best of the whites.  ("Italians looked down upon African Americans because they thought Italians--not whites-- were "the best.")


Possible Castles Theory of Migration: Family Members. Many countries, including the USA recognize in principle the right to family reunion for legal immigrants.

          I found it difficult to find a fit for a Theory of Migration for this article, because it primarily discussed the differences in the way Italians were treated as opposed to African American immigrants.  Guglielmo only briefly discusses "mass migration from Italy in the late nineteenth century, and continuing well into the twentieth century."  Guglielmo also states "As for politics, most Chicago Italians did not follow mayoral campaigns too closely, as nearly two-thirds of them were unnaturalized in 1920." Again, to me this points to immigrants coming to American en masse to be with their families.

Guglielmo, Thomas A.  (2004.) White On Arrival: Italians, Race, Color and Power

     in Chicago, 1890-1945.  Oxford University Press.




      Marcus Garvey was a fascinating man, and an intriguing topic to write about for this course. In reviewing Stephen Castles theories of migration, it was tricky to find one which perfectly fit “Garveyism” but the one I kept coming back to was

Return Migrants“People who return to their country of origin after a period in another country. Return migrants are often looked on favorably as they may bring with them capital skills, and experience useful for economic development. Many countries have special schemes to make use of this “development potential.” However some governments view returnees with suspicion since they may act as agents of cultural or political change.”

          Marcus Garvey’s dream was to have African Americans leave America, and return to Africa and create an African Empire. And while that dream never materialized, he did give black people in America something they never had before, especially in the early part of the 20th century: hope.

          From what I have read, and the images I’ve researched, Garvey was a larger than life character, a flamboyant man who loved to wear showy hats!  He was an inspirational speaker; as E. David Cronon described him in his book Black Moses, “Garvey’s gift of oratory was a combination of bombast and stirring heroics.”  Cronon wrote that Garvey “awakened fires of black nationalism that have yet to be extinguished.” His speeches made African Americans feel for the first time that having black skin wasn’t a badge of shame but a symbol of national greatness.  When Garvey gave a speech African Americans forgot for a little while the pain of discrimination and were inspired to unite and fight for equality.

          Another one of Garvey's accomplishments was the start of a black publication, a newspaper called Negro World, in 1918.  Within a few short months Negro World became one of the leading African American weeklies. The circulation numbers cannot be verified, they varied wildly with estimations ranging from 60,000 to 200,000.  In 1920, the paper listed a more modest guaranteed circulation of 50,000 :"reaching the mass of Negroes throughout the world."  The paper was priced at five cents in New York, seven cents elsewhere in the United States, and ten cents in foreign countries. 

          Sections of Negro World were printed in French and Spanish for West Indian and Central American readers who did not speak English.

          The logo for the newspaper showed the two words Negro and World separated by a "sphinxlike seal" bearing the words "One Aim. One God. One Destiny." Underneath these words was the phrase "A newspaper devoted solely to the interests of the Negro race."

          I liken Garveyism to Castles theory of return migrants because that was the Garvey dream—that African Americans would return to Africa and bring skills learned in America in order to achieve economic growth.  Garvey started the New York chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and the Black Star Shipping Line, a shipping line he hoped to transport goods and eventually people to Africa.

          If I had more time to study Mr. Garvey, I would love to find old films and actually view some of his speeches, because from the descriptions, I have read, he was extremely charismatic.  I would also love to interview people who knew him—friends, employees or perhaps even his children (he had a very large family.) I would like to know exactly why he failed—Garvey was not a well-educated man. Did he fail because he made foolish business choices, or was he too prideful to ask for help when he needed it?  Or were his plans not totally honest and admirable?  During the first year, Garvey’s Black Star Line stock sales brought in $600,000, making it successful. However, the next two years were horrendous, the ships broke down, the workers were incompetent, and Garvey and other officers were eventually accused of mail fraud. 

          But even with his failures and broken dreams, Marcus Garvey is absolutely a hero to African Americans.  If you look up “Marcus Garvey, inspirational quotes,” you will find many wonderful quotes such as the following: “God and Nature first made us what we are, and then out of our own created genius we make ourselves what we want to be. Follow always that great law. Let the sky and God be our limit and Eternity our measurement. ”

          While Mr. Garvey never brought African Americans back to Africa (in fact, most surprisingly, he never traveled to Africa himself), he infused black Americans with self-esteem and self-worth, qualities far more valuable than diamonds or gold.

           Cost of one issue of Negro World: Five cents.

           Profits made by the Black Star in its first year of operation: $50,000.

           Cost of making African Americans feel like they weren't second class citizens:






Castles, Stephen. 2002.  "Migration." Pp. 561-579 in A Companion to Racial and Ethnic Studies (Blackwell Companions in Cultural Studies), edited by David Theo Goldberg and John Solomos. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell.



Cronon, E. David. 1969. Black Moses: The Story of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement  Association.  Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press.

Guglielmo, Thomas A.  (2004.) White On Arrival: Italians, Race, Color and Power


     in Chicago, 1890-1945.  Oxford University Press.



 Hill, Robert A. Marcus Garvey, “The Negro Moses.” Africana Age African 


     and African Diasporan Transformations in the 20th Century. 2011. Schomburg  


     Center for Research in Black Culture.  4 May 20013.                    





Wacquant, Loic J.D. (1998.) Three Pernicious Premises in the Study of the


     American Ghetto.  International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.


     Volume 22, issue, 3 pages 507-510.




Marcus Garvey  Quotes


       Brainy Quote 3 April 2013.  

































DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.