Perhaps the Times Have Not Yet Caught Up to Marcus Garvey, an Early Champion of Ethnic Entrepreneurship
"A race that is solely dependent upon another for its economic existence sooner or later dies." - Marcus Garvey, President, Black Star Lines (A Garvey 1992, p.48).
In his lifetime, Marcus Garvey (18871940) achieved accomplishments on many fronts. He created the largest, worldwide Black political organization, The United Negro Improvement Association. He created the first and, to this day, one of the largest Black-owned multinational businesses, the Black Star Lines. He founded and edited several newspapers in four countries. He wrote and spoke prolifically on topics from theology' to ethics to history.
But Garvey's life was also very controversial. He was convicted of mail fraud in connection with the sale of stock in his shipping company, for which he served three years in prison before being pardoned and deported to Jamaica. He was shot and wounded during an attempted assassination, accused of being a Communist, and investigated by J. Edgar Hoover (Stein 1986). The animus between Garvey and Black scholar W.E.B. DuBois reached such levels that DuBois and Garvey often resorted to name calling (Hill introduction to A. Garvey 1992).
One of Garvey's most important themes was the role of entrepreneurship in improving the economic position of Blacks. Now, nearly sixty years after his death, is an opportune time to revisit his thoughts, accomplishments, standards, and goals and reflect on their impact on the current state of minority enterprise.
The son of a literate stonemason from the north coast of the island of Jamaica, Garvey attended school to the age of 14, when he went to work as an apprentice in his godfather's printing business in Kingston (Stein 1986). By 18, he was a foreman. In 1907, a major earthquake and fire destroyed much of Kingston, leading to a depressed economy which eventually resulted in a printers' strike. Although he was part of management, Garvey joined the strikers as their leader. When the strike failed, he found himself without a job and blacklisted from the printing trade (Stein 1986).
Unable to find a job in the private sector, Garvey went to work at the government printing office. He also began editing a privately published periodical known as Garvey's Watchman, a reformist journal devoted to the enlightenment of Black Jamaican peasants, which soon folded. Garvey moved to Costa Rica where he obtained a job as a timekeeper on a banana plantation (Lewis 1988). The plight of the Black field workers on the plantation heightened Garvey's determination to improve the lot of Black workers everywhere, and he established another newspaper, Lou Nationale, but it, too, soon failed (Stein 1986).
Proceeding to Panama, Garvey witnessed the inferior status of Black workers on the Panama Canal. Once more he started a newspaper, La Prensa, but that, too, was short-lived. Moving on again, he systematically traveled throughout the major West Indian immigrant communities of Central and South America. In all of these places he found the situation to be similar - Black workers enduring abominable hardships in their effort to make a living (Stein 1986).
In 1912 he traveled to England and worked as a freelance writer. Later he found a writing position with the American Times and Orient Banner (Lewis 1988). This was a prestigious journal that concerned itself with the welfare of people of both African and Pan-Oriental origins. It was during this stay in England that Garvey first envisioned using the free enterprise system to create a new world for Blacks (Stein 1986).
In 1914 he returned to Jamaica and founded the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). The objectives of the UNIA were to promote racial pride, create colleges and universities for Blacks, and establish world-wide commercial ventures (Stein 1986). He traveled to New York in 1916 to set up a branch of the UNIA in Harlem. Until then, no group, including the National Urban League and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, had seriously attempted or succeeded in organizing the rank and file of African-American workers (Stein 1986).
When Garvey arrived in New York, he lived with a Jamaican family in Harlem and obtained employment as a printer. What money he could save he used for traveling and establishing contacts, visiting thirty-eight of the then forty-eight states to organize chapters of the UNIA, which he did with enormous success (Stein 1986). By 1925, the UNIA had about 725 chapters in the United States and another 257 throughout 41 other countries. Membership numbered in the millions (Cronon 1955).
Garvey recognized that if the UNIA was to grow, it would need a newspaper. In 1918 he founded The Negro World in New York City. In its 15 years of existence, The Negro World played a significant role in the development of the UNIA, as well as in the cultural renaissance of Harlem (Stein 1986). The circulation of the paper varied over the years, ebbing and flowing with the fortunes of the UNIA. At its peak it had a paid circulation of about 200,000, but its readership was probably close to half a million (Cronon 1955). Garvey also envisioned a worldwide chain of newspapers in every area where the UNIA had a division. A number of these papers did appear - for example, the Daily Negro Times in the United States and the Blackman in Jamaica. However, most of these newspapers were relatively short-lived and were closed as a result of insufficient funding and government opposition to the UNIA's promotion of Black nationalism and its stance against colonialism (Lewis 1988).
Although Garvey's intention was not to create disturbances between White and Black people, his thinking was viewed with considerable alarm, especially in the British West Indies. It was believed that Garvey's teachings on anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism - in which he made repeated references to the principles of the Russian Revolution - were promoted and driven by radical African-American elements in New York City (Lewis 1988). In 1919, Garvey was shot by an unemployed Black man from the South who subsequently admitted that he had been hired by an undisclosed special interest group to assassinate Garvey. The assailant soon committed suicide under questionable circumstances (Hill 1987).
Garvey's Business Pursuits
Marcus Garvey was in agreement with both Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois in believing that Black people had to develop their own business base if the race was to move ahead economically and socially. While not in sympathy with Garvey's overall philosophy of Pan-Africanism and Black Nationalism - in fact viewing Garvey at times as an enemy - DuBois concurred with Garvey that entrepreneurship, rather than small business, was the preferable way to build such a foundation (Stein 1986).
In 1919, Garvey founded the Negro Factories Corporation (NFC) with the purpose of building and operating various types of factories in the big industrial centers of the United States, Central America, the West Indies, and Africa. This initiative was viewed by many as feasible, and a effort was made both by Garvey's supporters and by other leading members of the Black community to bring it to fruition. Through the UNIA and Garvey's newspapers, African-Americans were called upon to support the building and operation of these factories and to buy their products (Lewis 1988).
The UNIA also sought out good business opportunities and then tried to match suitable Blacks to them. When necessary, the UNIA provided a loan of initial capital from a cooperative fund established through the sale of stock. Managerial and technical training and guidance were also offered. Among the businesses developed by the corporation was a millinery firm that designed and manufactured a variety of hats and caps. Other enterprises included a steam laundry that catered to the needs of working people and a doll factory which manufactured Black dolls. In the early 1920's, in the New York City area alone, over 1,000 people were employed in NFC firms (Lewis 1988). However, the NFC suffered the same fate as Garvey's other projects when much of its assets were drained off in an effort to save the failing Black Star Line (Stein 1986).
The Black Star Line (BSL) was Garvey's grandest business initiative. Garvey envisioned an international shipping line that would focus on serving tile triangle made up of Africa, America, and the West Indies both with freight and passenger service. He envisioned an enterprise owned by African-Americans and operated by them in their self-interest, as something that afforded them an opportunity both to make money and to improve their social standing. The company was incorporated in the state of Delaware in June 1919 by Garvey and four of his associates, each of whom purchased 40 shares of stock at $5 per share. The business commenced operations with a book capital of $1,000 "to do any and all things and to exercise any and all powers necessary or advisable to accomplish one or more purposes of the corporation which shall at any time appear to be conducive to, or for the benefit of, said corporation in connection therewith" (Stein 1986, p. 93) - an umbrella that could cover almost any business activity.
In September 1919, BSL announced the acquisition of its first ship, the Yarmouth, a 32- year-old freighter of questionable suitability and seaworthiness that BSL renamed the Frederick Douglass (Stein 1986). The company's second acquisition, in the summer of 1920, was the Shadyside, an old Hudson River excursion boat. Shortly thereafter a third vessel was added to the fleet, the steam yacht Hannauah, which was renamed the Antomia Macea. With these three ships, BSL began selling passenger and freight space for future sailings to the West Indies, as well as for excursion trips up the Hudson (Stein 1986).
But all was not well with the company. Early in 1920 rumors began that BSL was being mishandled and that dishonesty on the part of its management was rampant. The stories were not without some merit, for in spite of its glowing annual reports, BSL was never anywhere near being financially sound - in fact, it was always just one step ahead of its creditors (Stein 1986). That BSL never quite got off the ground was due not to a lack of entrepreneurial spirit on the part of Garvey, but rather to his inexperience in the business arena. For example, the viability of the venture itself was questionable. The shipping industry was overcrowded with ships that were built during World War I and were now finding commercial uses. Many existing, well-managed shipping firms were in the process of closing (Stein 1986). Also, while the $250,000 which Garvey subsequently raised for the venture was a great deal of money to him, it was only a fraction of what was really required to start a steamship line (Stein 1986).
In choosing his associates, Garvey was more interested in unquestioning personal loyalty than with business expertise or experience. For instance, BSL's vice president was a former cigar maker, its secretary was a former peddler, and a number of its officers were not completely honest. In addition, the ships, a source of great Black pride, were often used for promotional visits to cities so that Garvey's UNIA could sign up new members, regardless of what it meant to the schedule or perishable cargo (Stein 1986).
In 1922, Garvey and three of his BSL associates were arrested and indicted for fraud. Lacking seaworthy vessels for his bankrupt line and under siege for alleged mismanagement, Garvey suspended the activities of the firm (Stein 1986). He blamed the company's demise on a number of alleged contributing factors: Communist agents who paid others to attack the line's credibility; a campaign of harassment waged by White shipping interests; mischief by other Black groups; and the dishonesty of some of his employees (A. Garvey 1992). While maintaining his innocence, Garvey admitted that the assets of the firm were non-existent, the firm had lost more than $600,000, its accounts payable were over $200,000, and it never paid any dividends (Stein 1986).
After a long and rather turbulent trial at which Garvey acted as his own defense counsel for a time, the jury found him guilty on one count of mail fraud. He was fined $1,000 and ordered to serve five years in jail (Stein 1986). His supporters arranged for his release on bail pending an appeal of the verdict. While awaiting the outcome of his appeal, which took about two years, Garvey organized another maritime venture, patterned after the BSL, which he called the Black Cross Navigation and Trading Company. Its fate, however, followed that of the BSL. Garvey also continued planning a colonization program for Africa, which was to start with the movement of 20,000 to 30,000 families to Liberia during the first year (A. Garvey 1992). It never happened. In February 1925, Garvey's appeal was rejected by the United States Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court refused to review the appeal decision (Stein 1986).
Garvey was imprisoned in Atlanta. He consoled himself in jail by writing two collections of poems, The Tragedy of White Injustice and Selections From the Poetic Meditation of Marcus Garvey. He tried to hold the UNIA together, but groups competing for power in his absence fragmented the organization, particularly in the New York State districts. Responding to petitions by Garvey's followers, President Coolidge commuted his sentence in November 1927, but immediately upon his release, Garvey was seized by Federal agents, taken to New Orleans, and from there deported to Jamaica. A crowd of over 5,000 saw him off, singing the UNIA hymn, "God Bless Our President." Garvey was never allowed to set foot in the United States again (Stein 1986).
The Later Years
Following deportation from the U.S., Garvey returned to Jamaica where he immediately began a rigorous campaign to revitalize the Jamaican arm of the UNIA (Stein 1986). He claimed that his organization, with 3,000 branches throughout the world and a membership of over 11 million, was still alive and actively pursuing a strong business base and a free state for Blacks in Africa. At the 1929 Sixth International Convention of the UNIA in Kingston, Jamaica, Garvey again declared his support of capitalism and urged his followers to defend the free enterprise system against communism, which he believed was actively seeking its early demise.
The end of Garvey's peak period of influence, however, was rapidly approaching. When Garvey moved the UNIA headquarters back to Jamaica from New York, most of the American branches split from the parent group, taking their financial support with them. His weekly newspaper, The Negro World, had to suspend publication in 1933 because of declining readership. Garvey subsequently started a new publication, The Black Man, but things would not be as they once were. Published in England on an irregular basis, The Black Man mostly dealt with Garvey's attacks on certain Blacks, including DuBois, whom he blamed for his failure in the United States. In 1938, it ceased publication as well (Stein 1986).
With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Garvey saw his plan for a Black homeland in Africa slip further away. Earlier efforts to enlist the support of the League of Nations, and then the Congress of the United States, had already met with failure. In the late 1930's, Garvey began experiencing serious health problems. Two bouts with pneumonia seriously weakened his heart, and in January 1940, he suffered a severe stroke which left him partially paralyzed. He showed signs of recovery, but in May of the same year, when false reports of his death appeared in the press throughout the world, he again collapsed. He died on June 10, 1940, at the age of 52.
Garvey's death was largely ignored in England, where attention was fixed on the evacuation of British forces from the beaches of Dunkirk. In the United States, however, the press found time and space to pay tribute to Garvey - a colorful figure who had been an important part of the American scene from 1914 to 1921. While Garvey never set foot in Africa and was criticized for it by his fault finders, many African-Americans now acknowledge that his plan for a Black homeland had merit, but perhaps was ahead of its time and not presented well. His support of the free enterprise system and his recognition of the importance of developing a Black business base were also given credit by many (particularly DuBois) as instrumental in helping to protect capitalism from those in the United States who were actively seeking its destruction (Cronon 1955).
Garvey's last wish was to be buried in Jamaica, but the British government denied this request and his remains were interred in London. In 1964, however, two years after Jamaica gained its independence, Garvey's body was returned from England and re-interred with honors at the National Heroes' Park. A bronze bust of Garvey was subsequently erected in his memory. His likeness was also to adorn a Jamaican fifty cent coin, and his portrait would later appear on a U.S. commemorative stamp.
Marcus Garvey felt that Blacks should have a set of objectives for themselves and that the most effective and efficient way to do this was to become actively involved in business. One could be either an employer or an employee, but regardless of the choice, every self-respecting person should find a role, according to his or her own preference, ability, and general fitness.
While Garvey did not criticize working for someone else, he felt that being a proprietor or employer was better. The role of entrepreneur, as Garvey saw it, was best because it involved creating a new enterprise (Negro World 1919). based upon the extensive training and business initiation programs that Garvey began, it is clear that Garvey felt that lack of training, skills, and industriousness held Blacks back in the business world (Hill 1983). From his own experience starting out as a printer's apprentice (Cronon 1955), Garvey had learned the value of starting at the bottom and advancing through acquiring skills, and Garvey sought to give others the same values and opportunities (Hill 1983). Ultimately, Garvey believed that the dream of a better life for Blacks would never be realized unless Blacks became willing to initiate business start-ups - in particular, businesses other than the basic store, shop, or farm (Garvey 1992). In fact, without this, Garvey feared that Blacks would stagnate and eventually perish (Garvey 1992).
While his own adventures in commerce were ultimately failures, Garvey raised the standard of success for Blacks far above where it had ever been before - and rarely since. Garvey was an international entrepreneur in publishing, shipping, and manufacturing. His ventures relied upon the intertwining of racial pride and commerce, and, in the process, elevated both. During the 1920's his enterprises had over 35,000 Black investors controlling businesses with assets in excess of $1 million. However, his genius was as a conceptualizer, promoter, and motivator, not as an operator or financier.
Today we casually talk of issues such as globalization of media and commerce, the role of entrepreneurship in helping to assimilate and raise the standards of living of Blacks and other minorities, and the role that training and education must play in these processes. In the 1920's Marcus Garvey not only talked about them, but lived them.
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Hill, Robert A. (1987). Marcus Garvey: Life and Lessons. Irvine, Calif.: University of California Press.
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Stein, Judith (1986). The World of Marcus Garvey: Race and Class in Modern Society. Baton Rouge. La.: Louisiana State University Press.
Edward G. Rogoff Baruch College New York, New' York
John Trinkaus St. Johns University New York, New York
Alvin N. Puryear Baruch College New York, New York…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Perhaps the Times Have Not Yet Caught Up to Marcus Garvey, an Early Champion of Ethnic Entrepreneurship. Contributors: Not available. Journal title: Journal of Small Business Management. Volume: 36. Issue: 3 Publication date: July 1998. Page number: 66+. © 2002 Journal of Small Business Management. COPYRIGHT 1998 Gale Group.
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