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Marcus Garvey’s Legend, its Influence, Accomplishments, and Effects on the Rastafarian Movement and Reggae Musicians

Meredith Parmett

"A race without authority and power is a race without respect."

Marcus Mosiah Garvey



Marcus Mosiah Garvey was a man that lived a life with a mission. Although his journey may have seemed impossible, his never-ending strength and dedication caused many people’s dreams and wishes to become realities. Garvey is considered a prophet by his followers, because of the inspiration he brought to the black race. He took a group of people that thought they had no place in this world and united them together which gave them pride in their race. He also had a tremendous affect on the creation of Rastafarianism. Even though he could not find enough support for his movement to succeed in Jamaica, Garvey gave Rasta’s the guidance they needed to rise above their oppressors which led them to create a movement for the black race in Jamaica. When Marcus Mosiah Garvey passed away his words were not forgotten. His message is still alive in reggae music and his actions have greatly impacted the black race.


Marcus Garvey brought inspiration to many and spoke of many people’s dreams and desires. He led the largest black movement in all of history, although there were many obstacles he had to overcome to successfully create the change he imagined. Marcus Garvey was born in Jamaica, on August 17, 1887, in the little town of St. Anne’s Bay. He grew up in a family that had a very strong sense of closeness and unity, similar to most Jamaican families. He watched his father stand up for himself at all costs whenever he was struggling. This atmosphere encouraged Marcus to pursue his goals and not let anything stand in his way. This is how he found the courage to succeed in life, even if the color of his skin could hinder his success. Marcus expressed to his followers that the color of their skin signified a glorious symbol of national greatness. He brought hope to many people’s lives. (Cronon, pg.4-6)

When Marcus was fourteen he had to drop out of school and get a job to help support his family financially. He got a job in Kingston, Jamaica at a printing press with his godfather. This taught Marcus the printing trade and many journalistic techniques that helped him out later on in life. By the time Marcus was twenty he became a master printer and got the stimulation to start organizing public meetings in favor of his fellow workers. This started his life as an orator. He also developed the speaking skills he needed in order to uplift a group of people that felt they had no opportunities in society. Through these public meetings and encouragement from a well-educated Negro, Dr. Love, Marcus realized that he had the chance to improve the life of black workers. This is when he realized he had to devote his life to establishing a program to enlighten all black people of their opportunities in this world. (Cronon, pg.11-14)

Garvey, then went to Costa Rica where he anticipated making enough money to come back to Jamaica and start his organization. But he continued to travel and went to Limon, Panama, and London were he established a few newspapers and saw the conditions of black people in various places. In 1914, Garvey came home to Jamaica and was ready to start his program and liberate his race. Garvey was

determined that the black man would not continue to be kicked about by all the other races and nations of the world, and a new world of black men, not peons, serfs, dogs, and slaves, but a nation of sturdy men making their impress upon civilization and causing a new light to dawn upon the human race. (Cronon, 16)

With these motives Garvey entitled his organization the Universal Negro Improvement and Conservation Association and African Communities League. He wanted to bring the black race together and show the people how to have race pride and love. (Cronon, pg.14-16)

In Jamaica, Garvey started his movement but did not find the support he wished for from the black community. Many black people disliked him, because they did not want to classify themselves as Negro’s. Ironically in Jamaica his largest supporters were white, they wanted to better the life of the Negro’s in Jamaica. This did not discourage Garvey and he decided to see if could receive more support for his program in the United States. He wrote to the founder of the Tuskegee Institute and received an eager invitation to come to the United States to share their ideas. He went to the United States on March 23, 1916, hoping to seek help from Booker T. Washington, but by the time Garvey got to the United States Washington passed away. (Cronon, pg. 18-20)

When Garvey got to New York, he found many Negro Americans were eager to hear what he had to say, because he got there at a time when there were not many opportunities for black people. There was an enormous difference in the reaction of the Negro’s in Jamaica and the United States, but Garvey saw the conditions in both countries to be the primary reason. It was just at the end of World War I and many people in the United States did not have any way to improve their life. As well with the abolishment of slavery, there was an increase in mobility out of the South. (Cronon, pg. 21-22) Marcus was a powerful radical black leader that many found inspiring to follow. He established the Negro World, newspaper so he could express his ideas and philosophies; Garvey’s motto was "One God, One Aim, One Destiny." Garvey also set off to establish his international organization, which he knew, would rise. The U.N.I.A (Universal Negro Improvement Association.) was founded in 1917 and contained 2,000 members within three weeks. (Cronon, pg.43, 46-46)

The U.N.I.A. was established so Marcus could promote his famous slogan "Africa for the Africans," and encourage his back to Africa movement. Garvey’s organization was growing at such a large pace. He was even traveling around the United States to further branch out the association. The Negro’s World carried news that spread the activities of the U.N.I.A. to many people; this helped keep the organization together and efficient. The newspaper encouraged the subscribers and let them express their ideas on various issues, if they wanted to mail in an article it was accepted and appreciated. (Clarke pg.9)

Garvey also formed the Black Star Line Steamship Company to transport black people back to Africa. There was stock sold for this company to any black person that had the desire to travel back to Africa. This was Garvey’s way of putting his words in action. (Clarke, pg.95) Many people thought the idea of actually buying a boat to transport people back to Africa was a ridiculous idea, but Garvey did not let this stop him. He purchased his first ship, named the Yarmouth, which could hold 1,452 gross tons. It took the Yarmouth time to get the necessary funds to go on its first voyage, but in November 1919 the ship was ready for its first voyage. (Cronon, pg.53) Later the Black Star Line bought three more ships and with struggle these voyages continued to Africa. Most of Garvey’s voyages, including his first, had a few problems it had to overcome before sailing out to the sea. Garvey had problems both insuring and financing the ships. Also, his only support came from his followers and was looked down upon by the majority of the population.

On January 12, 1922, the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover arrested Garvey of mail fraud and stock irregularities related to the Black Star Line. J. Edgar Hoover was very eager to destroy all black radicals; he had strong intentions of terminating Marcus Garvey’s movement. At first, he was looking to charge Garvey with criminal activity, but could only accuse him of mail fraud. Hoover sent secret agents into Garvey’s gatherings to investigate his actions. Hoover went as far as trying to deny Garvey a visa when he was coming back to United States from Central America and the West Indies. Garvey was able to get a visa, but Hoover did succeed in ending Garvey’s career in the United States. When Garvey was arrested he tried to appeal his convictions, but they were never accepted. President Calvin Coolidge altered his sentence and Garvey was deported back to Jamaica in 1927. (duCille, 6-8) When Garvey returned home to Jamaica there were many people that were enthusiastic about his arrival. This gave Garvey the courage and inspiration to continue spreading his ideas and gathering people together.

Through all of Garvey’s battles he brought together a race that had no direction and gave them hope and opportunity. Even though, he was forced to leave the United States he accomplished the largest black movement in history. Garvey’s emphasis on African nationalism is shown through his militant old Jamaican missionary hymn:

Ethiopia, thou land of our fathers,

Thou land where the gods loved to be,

As storm cloud at night suddenly gathers

Our armies come rushing to thee.

We must in the fight be victorious

When swords are thrust outward to gleam;

For us will the vict’ry be glorious

When led by the red, black, and green.

Advance, advance to victory,

Let Africa be free;

Advance to meet the foe

With the might

Of the red, the black, and the green. (Cronon, 68)

Garvey passed away on June 10,1940, he was ill for a few

years, but stayed strong on the outside. (Clarke, 343)

Garvey never gave up hope on his movement and his life

impacted his followers when he was alive and his legend

lives on in his spirit.



Even though, Garvey could not find as much support in Jamaica as he expected, he was inspiration to many Rastafarians. Garvey was a major part of the rise of Rastafarianism and many Rasta’s look at Garvey as a prophet. In 1916, when Garvey was leaving Jamaica to go to the United States in his farewell address he told many Garveyites, "Look to Africa for the crowning of a black king, he shall be the Redeemer." (Barrett, 67) When Garvey left for the United States many of his followers still gathered together, but had no leader to follow. In 1930, Hallie Selassie was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia, prior to his crowning many Garveyites forgot the message Garvey told them when he left, but when Selassie was crowned it was remembered by many Rasta’s. The Rastafarians named Hallie Selassie their king with the inspiration of Garvey, reinforced by passages from the Bible. (Barrett, 67, 80-81)

Many Garveyites in Jamaica were the originators of the Rastafarian movement, Leonard P. Howell is known as the man that started the first branch of the Rastafarian movement and he was a Garveyite, as well. In the 1950’s there were ships transporting some Rasta’s back to Africa. This became part of the philosophy of Rastafarianism; "the doctrine of the God of Ethiopia and the inevitable ‘return’ to Africa was sustained by a steadily growing movement of people." (Cashmore, 5) For some Rasta’s, Africa is their desired destination, but others feel it is where their spiritual roots lie and it brings consciousness and hope. Garvey felt his movement was successful even if it was only in a spiritual sense, as long as people were encouraged by the ideas. (Cashmore, 8)

The Rastafarian movement has taken the idea of Ethiopianism and incorporated these beliefs and ideas into their everyday life styles. The Rasta’s accepted the idea of Ethiopia as being their savor with the influence of Marcus Garvey. His inspiring words has created an image of God to the Rasta’s:

If the white man has the idea of a white God, let him worship his God as he desires. If the yellow man’s God is of his race let him worship his God as he sees fit. We, as Negroes, have found a new ideal. Whilst our God has no colour, yet it is human to see everything through one’s own spectacles, and since the white people have seen their God through white spectacles, we have only now started out (late though it be) to see our God through our own spectacles. The God of Issac and the God of Jacob let him exist for the race that believe in the God of Issac and the God of Jacob. We Negroes believe in the God of Ethiopia, the everlasting God- God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, the one God of all ages. That is the God in whom we believe, but we shall worship him though the spectacles of Ethiopia. (Clarke, 382)

These words gave the Rastafarian’s hope and motivation to find their God in Ethiopia and have pride in their race. It encouraged the people to believe that they can be their own leaders without the white majority telling them who to worship and follow. This idea was one of the principle philosophies of Garveyism.

The Rastafarian religion allows its followers to choose their own paths to live their lives by. It does not have one strict set of commandments, but rather Rasta’s create their own ideals to follow. In the 1960’s, Rastafarian’s sent ten recommendations to the government in Jamaica and Garvey stimulated the first recommendation. It stated,

the government of Jamaica should send a mission to African countries to arrange for immigration of Jamaicans. Representatives of Ras Tafari brethren should be included in the mission. (Barrett, 100)

The government never established this mission, but some Rastafarian leaders went to Africa to get a sense of its culture. These recommendations helped the Rasta’s create their own set of commandments and most people feel this voyage to Africa is very important. It is significant because it gives the people hope that one day they will find Zion. This term Zion is used to represent the Rasta’s homeland and promise-land. (Barrett, 118)

Another belief that many Rasta’s follow is that "the white person is inferior to the black person." (Barrett, 113) This idea of black supremacy was expressed in many of Garvey’s writings and speeches. In the African Fundamental, Garvey begins by stating,

The time has come for the Negro to forget and cast behind his hero worship and adoration of other races, and to start out immediately, to create and emulate heroes of his own. (

For many black people the idea of black dominance is very hard to imagine because they have been oppressed for so many years. This concept is very important for many Rasta’s because it gives them a feeling of empowerment and dignity. This idea of white people being inferior can sound harsh to white people, but for a group of people that have been exploited for so long it is a way to give them the power to stand up to their oppressors.

Garvey felt that black people always had to be aware of white injustice. Garvey expressed these feelings in a poem entitled "Tragedy of White Injustice." The message Garvey was sending was for black people to have faith in their race and not trust white people. An excerpt from the poem is:

Always be on your guard against him with whatsoever he does or says. Never take chances with him. His school books in the elementary schools, in the high schools, in the colleges and universities are all fixed up to suit his own purposes,

to put him on top of other people. Don’t trust him. Beware! Beware!

( "Tragedy of White Injustice")

For Rastafarian’s, along with many other black people, the white man is looked at as the oppressor. Due to this historical trend it is hard for Rasta’s to befriend white people, but in today’s society Rasta’s are more accepting towards white people on an individual basis. In some situations, white people would have to express to the Rasta that they are not prejudice or racist towards the black race, before they will feel comfortable establishing a friendship. (Barrett, 115)

The colors of the Rastafarian movement are red, black, and green, each of these colors have there own unique meaning to Rastafarians. These colors also represented Marcus Garvey’s movement. The red represents the Church Triumphant, this is the church of the Rasta’s; it also is a symbol for the blood of all persecuted black people. Jamaica’s population is ninety-eight percent African descent, this is why black is a very significant color to all Rasta’s. It represents the color of the skin of Africans. The color green represents the beauty and vegetation in Ethiopia. The color yellow or gold is also significant in the lives of many Rastafarians, it represents the wealth of their homeland. Rasta’s characterize their movement and identify with these colors, some combined red, black, and green and others associate with red, yellow or gold, and green. Marcus Garvey influenced Ghana, Mozambique, Kenya, and the ANC of South Africa to use these colors as their official colors. This made Rastafarians feel they were more connected to their brothers and sisters in Africa, because these colors represent their unique identity. (

Marcus Garvey’s influence on the Rastafarian movement is portrayed in so many ways. Even though he himself was not a Rasta, he was born in Jamaica and showed Rasta’s they can succeed in uprising against their oppressors without any initial wealth or prestige. Garvey brought economic and cultural self-reliance into many people’s lives. He started a movement that ended up being the largest black movement in history. As well, he gave Rastafarians the stimulation to create their movement and identify with their race.


Reggae musicians feel that music is a way to spread consciousness to their listeners. The sounds and lyrics of reggae music have a very profound meaning to every individual listener. Music is a way for people to express their feelings, for black people the oppression they have been through has lead to this deep meaning behind reggae music. It is what opened their voices to the world and let other people hear their message. "The music of Rastafarians is not only an artistic creation in the Jamaican society, but an expression of deep-seated social rage." (Barrett, 197) It is also about remembering the past, this is why many reggae musicians speak of the prophet Marcus Garvey. They do not want his memory to fade away with history, even though he has passed away many years ago his wisdom is constantly being spread.

Burning Spear (also known as Winston Rodney) was born in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica the same town Marcus Garvey grew up in. He is known as one of the originators of roots reggae.

Throughout his illustrious career, Spear has spread love and peace through his music and has endeavored to educate and provoke free thought. His music is infused with a philosophy that combines roots, the idea that we are all one with each other and with nature; culture, the tie that binds us to the past, and history, the spiritual record of our quest for divine consciousness.


Burning Spear is an artist that is determined to empower his listeners and has three main themes in his music, which are the oppression of the black race, Marcus Garvey, and the repatriation of Africa. (Rough Guide, 86)

Marcus Garvey had a large affect on Burning Spears music, mind, and life. Burning Spear got the motivation from Garvey to have direction in his music. This is why Burning Spear knew that he did not want to only sing to his audience, but be a teacher to them. Burning Spear spoke with many elders in his town and knew he needed to spread Marcus Garvey’s word to as many people as he could. Many musicians felt they should not speak of Garvey because it was to philosophical, but once Spear opened the door by releasing an album in dedication to Garvey more artists started speaking of him in their songs. (Nazareth, pg. 1-2) Burning Spear expresses this feeling in his song "Old Marcus Garvey,"

No one remember old Marcus Garvey,

No one remember him, no one

they been talking about Paul Bogle,

They been talking about William Goddon

They been talking about Norman Washington Manley,

including Bustamante

Noone remember old Marcus Garvey

Noone remember old Marcus Garvey

Then Burning Spear goes on to say:

Children, children, children, children

Humble yourself and become one day somehow

You will remember him you will

The end of the song shows that it is important for the youth to keep in mind the struggles that Garvey had to go through and the accomplishments he made for the black race.

Spear also entitled one of his songs "Marcus Garvey." This song was written to show the dedication Garvey had to his people. The lyrics to this song started out by stating the fact that at one time Rasta’s were lacking the essentials to life, such as money and food. Then goes on to state:

Son of Satan, First prophesy,

Catch them, Garvey old

Catch them Garvey, catch them

Hold them Marcus, hold them

Marcus Garvey, Marcus

I feel these lines can be interpreted in two different ways. One way is that Marcus Garvey tried to "catch and hold" the white race and not let them take over the black race and suppress them any longer. Another way I think one can interpret these lyrics is Marcus was trying to "catch" the black race and "hold" them together and unit the race as one. The important aspect of this song is the thought it provokes, it forces the listener to think of Garvey and the actions he pursued to fully understand the meaning behind the lyrics.

After the release of this album, Burning Spear was now known as an African teacher and prophet. He is now determined to spread Garveyism, Spear states, "Youths are not taught Marcus Garvey, I feel dem never knew him, but I musically help people know Marcus." ( Spear feels the message of his music is so important to bring spiritual and cultural awareness. He wants to uplift his audience and give them knowledge. Spear says,

People should know Rasta, but they don’t take the time to gain full overstanding. Culture and style is totally different from our historical view, for many people do things knowing that whatsoever they do is not right or appropriate, then they try to break it down, saying that it’s part of the culture…I think it’s about time we take a deep look and see what’s going on in Rastafari, history and culture. (

This is why Spear refers to so many great leaders in his music and gains pride on his title as a teacher not just an artist. (

Burning Spear is not the only reggae artist that refers to Marcus Garvey in their music. There are many examples where reggae artists are referring to Marcus Garvey as a prophet. For example, Max Romeo, Culture, Macka B, and Mutabaruka are a few artists that have written songs on Marcus Garvey. Max Romeo’s song "War in A Babylon refers to Garvey as a prophecy along with Culture’s song "Two Sevens Clash." Culture’s song shows Garvey’s power, ability to influence a group of people, and expressed the feeling many Rasta’s have towards him, that he is a divine prophet. This shown in Culture’s lyrics:

Marcus Garvey was inside at

Spanish Town district prison

And when they were about to take him out

He prophecied and said:

As I have passed through this gate

No other prisoner shall enter and get through

And so it is until now

The gate has been locked, so what?

As well, in Macka B’s song "Garvey Story," he speaks of Marcus’s determination and suggests to Spike Lee to turn Garvey’s story into a movie. This shows how Macka B feels that people should be educated on Garvey’s accomplishments.

Mutabaruka also sings a songs dedicated to Garvey called "Garvey." After reading the lyrics to this song I felt they were extremely powerful and bold. Mutabaruka is known for his dub and dancehall music. His music brings awareness and show passion. (Barrow and Dalton, pg.196) The song "Garvey" starts with these lyrics:

Garvey, garvey rise agen

teck wi from dis evil den

Garvey, garvey rescue wi

from disyah ideology

marcus garvey risin from earth

like moses pick fron birth

com children say it loud

mek dem know wi still black an’ proud

I’m black and I’m proud

I feel these lyrics are powerful because it shows that Garvey gave the Rasta’s the ability to be proud of their race and identity. I also think it is interesting how Mutabaruka tells the children to "say it loud, I’m black and proud," this shows how he is trying to spread Marcus’s message to the youth of today. This is so important because the youth is what needs to have the pride for it to continue. Mutabaruka also says "Afrika for Afrikans," this is one of Marcus’s famous slogan and the basic philosophy behind his movement. Mutabaruka looks at the world with an Africentric point of view. This is due to the influence of Garveyism has had on his life. He congregated at the Kingston Technical School and spoke with Marcus Garvey Junior, Amy (Jaques) Garvey, Marcus Garvey’s son and wife, and fellow students to speak of books and many different aspects of the back to Africa movement. This encouraged Mutabaruka to write this song about Marcus Garvey. He believes in the lyrics of his music and is very proud to be black. (

Many reggae artists speak of the back to Africa movement throughout their songs, some specifically talk about Marcus Garvey and others only focus on Africa. Marcus Garvey had an enormous affect on many reggae musicians and showed many black people that they have the strength to express their feelings and spread consciousness to a wide range of listeners. Marcus Garvey is displayed as a prophet in the eyes of many reggae musicians. Although Marcus Garvey has passed away, his spirit will live on through the many reggae artists that are expressing the importance of his movement.


After reading this paper, one can clearly see the impression Marcus Mosiah Garvey made on the lives of so many people. Garvey’s voyage to the United States created one of the most empowering movements in history. He enlightened so many black people and revealed to them that they can have respect and dignity in their race. Marcus created the UNIA and had numerous goals he wanted it to achieve, in Garvey’s words he says,

We’ve got to teach the American Negro blackness, black ideals, black industry, black United States, and black religion. Blacks of the entire universe, linked up with one determination, that of liberating themselves and freeing the great country of Africa that is ours by right. (Meader and Wepman, pg.1)

These words gave many black people the ability to feel unified and equal. As you saw throughout this paper Garvey did not only affect black people in the United States, but he gave Rastafarians in Jamaica the reassurance to create their own movement, the Rastafarian movement. Garvey was regarded second to Hallie Selassie, the Rasta’s king of kings. Garvey’s influence on the Rastafarians is still so apparent, because if one listens to the lyrics in reggae music they will hear Garvey’s name or movement being acknowledged and spread. With the help of the Rastafarians Garvey’s name will never be forgotten and his legend will live on forever.




Barrett, Leonard, E., The Rastafarians., Massachusetts:

Beacon Press, 1998

Barrow, Steve and Peter Dalton, Reggae The Rough Guide.,

London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1998

Cashmore, E.E., The Rastafarians., London: Publishing Minority Rights Group, 1984

Clarke, John, H., Marcus Garvey and the Vision of Africa., New York: Random House, 1973

Cronon, Edmund, D., Black Moses., London: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1969

Internet: websites

Marcus Garvey: Life and Lesson, Editorial by Marcus Gravey: "African Fundamentalism",, 4/6/00

Marcus Garvey: Life and Lesson, Editorial by Marcus Gravey: "Tragedy of White Injustice,", 4/6/00

Rastafarianism,, 4/10/00

Rasta symbols,, 4/8/00

Mutabaruka interview, Carter Van Pelt, 1998,, 4/8/00

African Teacher, Michael Henningsen, August 25, 1997, wysiwyg://22/, 4/10/00

The Music Monitor: The African Teacher, Burning Spear, James Shields,, 4/10/00

Rhythm and News Magazine: Sizzling Conversation with Burning Spear, George Fletcher,, 4/10/00

Lexus Nexis:

DuCille, Michel, "Black Moses, Red Scare; The Clash of Marcus Garvey and J. Edgar Hoover," Horizon: pg.Ho1, The Washington Post: February 12, 1997

Nazareth, Errol, "Spear Carries Message Reggae Legend Inspired by the Ideals of Marcus Garvey," Entertainment: pg. 7, World Beats, Toronto Sun Publishing Corporation: August 15, 1997

Weiss, Hedy, "Black Star Line, Preparing to Sail," FTR;Critic’s Notebook: pg, 43, Chicago Sun Times, Inc., December 21, 1995