The Trials and Tribulations of Marcus Garvey

Marcus Garvey in front of the red black and green flag that he commissioned to represent the Pan African Movement.

Of all great figures in Black History, none are as important – or as forgotten – as Marcus Garvey.

Marcus Garvey advocated Pan-Africanism and Black Nationalism in a way that had never been done before. His advocacy and achievements make him one of the most important Pan-Africans in history.

Table of Contents


COINTELPRO Attempts To Discredit And Destroy Marcus Garvey

After less than a decade following Garvey’s creation of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.), membership had swelled to 6 million members worldwide. At the first International Convention of Negroes in August of 1920, 25,000 people packed Madison Square Garden to hear Marcus Garvey address them as the Provincial President of Africa.

Despite these massive achievements, three short years later, Marcus Garvey was placed under arrest.

The Trials and Tribulations of Marcus Garvey
White supremacists parading Marcus Garvey in an effort to discredit him.

While we have written about the life and successes of Marcus Garvey here and here, his trials and tribulations are as much a part of his story as his victories.

The sudden growth of the Universal Negro Improvement Association caught the attention of the United States government, who feared the rise of a Black messiah.

Black agents were recruited to infiltrate and sabotage the organization by J. Edgar Hoover – a man who would later create COINTELPRO to crush Black uprisings. Details of efforts to utterly destroy Garvey are documented in Negro With A Hat by author Colin Grant – a must read for all members of the Pan-African Alliance.

Negro with a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey
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Negro with a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey
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In short, Garvey was charged with defrauding investors of the Black Star Line – a group of ships designed to move people and raw material between the African nations of the world.


It was the first venture of its kind, and threatened to disrupt the balance of power in the white world.

Prosecution As A Weapon of White Supremacy

Marcus Garvey was no criminal. There was virtually no evidence that he failed to honor the trust of those who invested in him. But that did not stop the white so-called Justice system from prosecuting him.

From the very beginning, the trial of Marcus Garvey was a farce:

1. There was no evidence that the mailing of the letter for which Garvey was indicted was actually sent by Garvey or his organization. In fact, throughout the trial, the indicting letter was not even presented as evidence. Instead, prosecutors used an empty envelope with the Black Star Line seal on its outside.

2. The conviction in the case was based not on facts in evidence, but upon assumptions, which had absolutely no support in the evidence (see Nosowitz v. United States, 282 Fed. at page 578, opinioned by Manton, J.:

“Unless there is substantial evidence of facts which exclude every other hypothesis but that of guilt, it is the duty of the trial judge to instruct the jury to return a verdict for the accused, and where all the substantial evidence is as consistent with innocence as with guilt, it is the duty of this court to reverse a judgement against the plaintiff’s in error.”

3. The judgement of the jury was induced by prejudice, not by evidence against Mr. Marcus Garvey. During opening deliberations, the attorney begged the all-white jurors, “Gentlemen, are you going to let the tiger go?” – framing Garvey as guilty before the trial had even begun.

A bulletin from the Black Star Line
A bulletin from the Black Star Line


Despite the obvious farce, Marcus Garvey was convicted, and given the maximum punishment under the law. He was sentenced to 5 years incarceration in the Atlanta Penitentiary.

On July 29, 1923, he wrote from jail that “I fully calculated the cost of service to the race, and know that what is being done to me is only a part of the price I must pay for daring to arouse the consciousness of four hundred million Negroes to the hope of Empire.”

And in the following letter, written from deep inside the Atlanta Penitentiary, Marcus Garvey speaks to us from eternity;

“I am delighted to inform you that your humble servant is as happy in suffering for you and our cause as is possible under the circumstances of being viciously outraged by a group of plotters who have connived to do their worst to humiliate you through me, in the fight for real emancipation and African Redemption.

I do not want at this time to write anything that would make it difficult for you to meet the opposition of the enemy without my assistance. Suffice it to say that the history of the outrage shall form a splendid chapter in the history of Africa redeemed, when black men will no longer be under the heels of others, but have a civilization and country of their own.

The whole affair is a disgrace, and the whole Black world knows it. We shall not forget. Our day may be fifty, a hundred, or two hundred years ahead, but let us watch, work, and pray, for the civilization of injustice is bound to crumble and bring destruction down upon the heads of the unjust.

I want you, the Black peoples of the world, to know that W.E.B. Dubois and that vicious Negro-hating organization known as the Association for the Advancement of “Colored” People are the greatest enemies the Black people have in the world. I have so much to do in the few minutes at my disposal that I cannot write exhaustively on the subject, but be warned against these two enemies. Don’t allow them to fool you with fine sounding press releases, speeches and books; they are the vipers who have planned with others the extinction of the Black race.

My work is just begun, and when the history of my suffering is complete, then future generations of Negroes will have in their hands the guide by which they shall know the sins of the twentieth century. I, and I know you too believe in time, and we shall wait patiently for two hundred years, if need be, to face our enemies through our posterity.

You will cheer me much if you will now do even more for the organization than when I was among you. Hold up the hands of those who are carrying on. Help them to make good, so that the work may continue to spread from pole to pole.

All I have I have given to you. I have sacrificed my home and my loving wife for you. She is the bravest little woman I know. She has suffered and sacrificed with me for you; therefore, please do not desert her at this dismal hour, when she stands alone. I have left her penniless and helpless to face the world, because I gave you all, but her courage is great, and I know she will hold up for you and me.

After my enemies are satisfied, in life or death I shall come back to serve you even as I have served before. In life I shall be the same; in death I shall be a terror to the foes of African liberty. If death has power, then count on me to be the real Marcus Garvey that I would like to be! If I may come in an earthquake or a plague or a pestilence, or as God would have me, then be assured that I will not desert you and make your enemies triumph over you.

Would I not go to hell a million times for you? Would I not like Macbeth’s ghost, walk the earth forever for you? Would I not lose the whole world and eternity for you? Would I not cry forever before the footstool of the Lord Omnipotent for you? Would I not die a million deaths for you?

Then, why be sad? Cheer up, and be assured that if it takes a million years, the sins of our enemies shall visit the millionth generation of those that hinder and oppress us.

Remember that I have sworn by you and my God to serve to the end of all time, until the wreck of matter and the crash of worlds. The enemies think I am defeated. Did the Germans defeat the French in 1870? Did Napoleon really conquer Europe? If so, then I am defeated, but I tell you the world shall hear from my principles even two thousand years hence.

I am willing to wait on time for my satisfaction and the retribution of my enemies. Observe my enemies and their children and posterity, and one day you shall see retribution settling around them.

If I die in Atlanta, my work shall then only just begin, but I shall live, in the physical or the spiritual to see the day of Africa’s glory. When I am dead, wrap the mantle of the Red, the Black and the Green around me for in a new life I shall rise up with God’s grace and blessing to lead the millions up to the heights of triumph that you well know. Look for me in the whirlwind or the storm, look for me all around you for with God’s grace, I shall come and bring with me countless millions of Black slaves who have died in America and the West Indies and the millions in Africa to aid you in the fight for liberty, freedom, and life.

The civilization of today is gone drunk and crazy with its power and by such it seeks through injustice, fraud, and lies to crush the unfortunate.

But if I am apparently crushed by the system of influence and misdirected power, my cause shall rise again to plague the conscious of the corrupt. For this, I am glad to suffer and even die.

Again, I say cheer up, for better days are ahead. I shall write the history that will inspire the millions that are coming and leave the posterity of our enemies to reckon with the hosts for the deeds of their fathers.

With Gods dearest blessing, I leave you for a while.”

Deportation and Death Under Mysterious Circumstances

Garvey’s sentence was eventually commuted by President Calvin Coolidge under the conditions that Garvey immediately be deported back to Jamaica.

Marcus Garvey advocated tirelessly for the cause of Pan-Africanism in his home country of Jamaica, establishing companies and political parties while continuing to labor for the UNIA.

On 10 June 1940, Garvey died on a ship voyage to London after suffering two strokes. According to rumors, he died after reading a mistaken and negative obituary of himself in the Chicago Defender which stated, in part, that Garvey died “broke, alone and unpopular”.

Other rumors have it that Garvey was poisoned on the boat on which he was traveling and that was where and how he actually died.

School children in Jamaica observe a statue of Marcus Garvey
School children in Jamaica observe a statue of Marcus Garvey

Marcus Garvey may have died alone and far from his beloved Amy and loyal members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, but he died in victory. His work continues to inspire millions, and the UNIA exists to this day.

On November 15, 1964, the government of Jamaica declared Marcus Garvey the nations first national hero. His physical remains rest in a shrine in National Heroes Park.

And in his spirit, we sail on until the red, the black, and the green are perched upon the hilltops of Africa.

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