Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind
NARRATOR: On the morning of August 3, 1920, 46 year-old Jacob Mills shined his boots, polished his sword, and headed to Harlem to take part in one of the biggest parades in New York's history.
CHARLES MILLS: As a young boy to see my father in the parade was one of the greatest things in the world. I would be right there to see him put on his tunic and I loved to see that sword that he carried. It really made me feel very proud of him.
NARRATOR: Mills was one of a hundred thousand black people marching under the red, black, and green flag of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. The world had had never seen anything like it. It was all the work of one man -- Marcus Garvey.
FRANCES WARNER: Every window that you looked at, people's heads were out, to see the Marcus Garvey parade. Most of them wanted to see Marcus Garvey and he was very well decorated, his hats, and the feathers, but he drove always in his automobile, sitting back.
NARRATOR: At the age of 34, Garvey claimed millions of followers worldwide. His controversial goal to create an independent black nation made him one of the most powerful people in America -- and one of the most hated. The federal government targeted him as a threat to national security. Rival black leaders denounced him as a lunatic, and a traitor to the race. But Garvey may have been his own worst enemy.
JOSEPH BAILEY: He wasn't one to take advice from others kindly.
JOSEPH BAILEY: He made his own decisions and he would rise or fall by the decisions that he made, because he was a supreme egotist.
NARRATOR: Volatile and secretive, yet charismatic and visionary, Marcus Garvey changed forever the way black Americans looked at themselves and the world.
ROBERT HILL: He started something that became bigger than Garvey himself. He, more than any other figure in the twentieth century, symbolizes the turning of the perception of Black people into something positive.
ROBERT HILL: Garvey's father was a mason, a professional mason, and among the things that he did was to, ah, create tombs for people in the St. Anne's Bay graveyard. He took Garvey with him to the grave yard one day and they were digging this grave and his father had Garvey go down inside the grave, but then he pulled the ladder up and left the child in the bottom of the grave.
ROBERT HILL: Garvey said that he cried out and his father wouldn't let him get back up out of the grave. He wanted to teach him a lesson.
NARRATOR: Alone in the grave, young Marcus Garvey learned that he could rely on no one but himself. It was a lesson he would carry for the rest of his life.
NARRATOR: Marcus Garvey was born in August of 1887, in St. Ann's Bay, a small town on the northern coast of Jamaica.
NARRATOR: His father, who had been born a slave, withdrew from the family for days at a time and insisted his wife and two children address him at all times as "Mister Garvey."
MARCUS GARVEY JR.: My grandfather was a very stubborn man who had to have his way, who was quite retiring too. He used to have a strange way about him. He used to have his own little apartment off the main house where they lived and he would be by himself there reading a lot. Now if you look at it the difference between,-- Marcus Garvey was like that himself too. He liked to be by himself.
RUPERT LEWIS, Historian: Marcus obviously inherited, ah, many of his characteristics. Marcus Garvey's father was repressed in many ways, a frustrated person, a person who could find no way out and seemed to have internalized much of the feeling that the world was against him.
NARRATOR:Garvey's mother raised crops, and, like many women of her time, cooked for a white family to support her own. But Sara Jane Richards wanted more for her only surviving son than a life of common labor in the banana fields.
WINSTON JAMES, Historian: Garvey's mother had a tremendous influence upon him and she had great hopes for him. She wanted, in fact, to call him Moses. And she thought that he was going to do great things. That source of love, that someone, his mother in particular, loved him, helped to create that extraordinary self-confidence that Garvey had.
NARRATOR:As a boy, Garvey imagined himself delivering speeches to adoring crowds. He spent hours reading, and even bet his friends they couldn't pick a single word from the dictionary that he didn't know.
ROBERT HILL:The young Garvey had ambition. He wanted to get out of St. Anne's Bay. Later he said he dreamt of becoming the "first gentleman in the world". And it seemed as if, he early on, developed this interest in a kind of dramatic, ahm, epic story of himself in which he would play a leading part.
NARRATOR:But Garvey's grand ambitions were tempered by reality. As children, blacks and whites mixed easily in his community. One of his closest friends was a white neighbor, Joyce Rerrie. But as they became teenagers, her father put an end to the friendship.
ROBERT HILL:At the age of 14, she was sent away to England and told never to speak to him because he was a "nigger". And he said that's the first time that he heard and became aware of this idea of being black and what it meant.
ROBERT HILL:He felt shut out. He felt that he was excluded and made to feel that he was not good enough, and the rest of his life was really an attempt to prove that he was just as good as anyone else in the world.
NARRATOR:Under the colonial education system, Garvey was forced to leave school at the age of 14. He became a printer's apprentice, and quickly earned the status of master printer. In the printshop, he learned the power of controlling the written word and published his first newspaper, 'Garvey's Watchman'.
NARRATOR: In 1910, 23 year-old Marcus Garvey set out on a journey through Central America. Supporting himself as a journalist and laborer, Garvey saw black workers harvesting plantations, loading ships, and building the Panama Canal. They were the power behind the economy, but in their isolation from each other, black people were powerless.
NARRATOR: In 1914, he came upon the book that would change his life.
RUPERT LEWIS: Marcus Garvey's reading of Booker T. Washington's, 'Up From Slavery', was an eye-opener to him and pointed the way to his conclusion, which remained with him throughout his life, that the situation facing black people was a global one.
VOICEOVER:"I was determined that the black man would not continue to be kicked about, as I had seen in Central America, and as I read of it in America. Where is the black man's government? Where is his King and his kingdom? Where is his President, his country, his men of big affairs? I could not find them, and then I declared, 'I will help to make them.' My brain was afire."
NARRATOR: As he sailed for home, Garvey's grand vision for himself and for the world clicked into place: he would unify black people scattered across the globe, and he would be their leader.
NARRATOR: Back in Kingston, he attended a debate and noticed an attractive 17- year old named Amy Ashwood. When Ashwood took to the stage and delivered a powerful political speech, Garvey knew he had found a kindred spirit.
NARRATOR: He approached her later that evening as they rode home on a trolley.
NARRATOR: "At last I have met the star of my destiny," Garvey exclaimed.
BARBARA BAIR, Historian: Her parents were very opposed to it, particularly her mother, who was trying to keep her away from Garvey, because Garvey didn't seem to have a solid income or be the type of person that she wanted her daughter dating. But Garvey was a -- a great romantic. And he announced to Ashwood that she was his Josephine.
ROBERT HILL: And she says if you are my Napoleon. And they make a pledge that they would remain together and forge what would become the Universal Negro Improvement Association and they launch it together in August of 1914.
NARRATOR: With the motto 'One God, One Aim, One Destiny', the Universal Negro Improvement Association stressed race pride and sought backers for an industrial training school modeled on Booker T. Washington's 'Tuskegee Institute'. Garvey and Ashwood attracted a small, loyal following. But there was trouble from the beginning: Garvey created enemies by attacking established leaders. He wouldn't tolerate the slightest dissent from UNIA members. And he was a disastrous money manager, using contributions to the school to pay for his own living expenses.
NARRATOR: When his few supporters clamored for an accounting, 29 year-old Garvey decided to leave town. He hired himself out on the crew of the S.S. Tallac, and in the spring of 1916, he left Amy Ashwood behind and set sail alone for New York City. His ideas had failed in Jamaica. But they would find new life in America.
ROBERT HILL: When Garvey comes to the United States, Harlem is a throbbing, bubbling, exciting place. These are fantastic buildings, apartments. The street life is abundant. This is a fast-moving and a very affluent world, and it's a -- it's a whole new world.
NARRATOR: Garvey quickly found lodging with a Jamaican family in Harlem and got a job as a printer.
TONY MARTIN, Historian: He was not a wealthy person, far from it. Living in a - in a - in a sort of hall, you know, little hall bedroom, the kind of bedroom that was very popular in Harlem in those days. So he was in pretty poor financial shape, but the idea that he had, this -- this -- this great desire to build a great movement, you know, sort of sustained him.
NARRATOR: A. Philip Randolph, editor of the influential 'Messenger' magazine, heard about the young agitator from Jamaica and arranged for Garvey to deliver his first formal lecture in the United States. Garvey printed his own handbills, referring to himself as the "Honorable" Marcus Garvey. He painstakingly rehearsed his speech, just as he had as a boy. But when Garvey rose to address the audience, his confidence shattered. He spoke with a tremor and shook like a leaf.
ROBERT HILL: It seems that Garvey was anxious, he was nervous, he was heckled. He at one point in his address lost his balance and fell off the stage, fell into the audience. He literally fell on his face. What he had hoped would be a - a great sort of coming out turned into this humiliation.
NARRATOR: Crushed by the failure of his American debut, Garvey wandered into the Tabernacle Church of Reverend Billy Sunday, a white evangelist who attracted massive crowds to revival meetings.
ROBERT HILL: Billy Sunday was the granddaddy, the man who really created the 20th century revival figure, revivalist preacher figure in the United States. Garvey quickly takes on Billy Sunday's speaking style. Very athletic, very, intense, moving a lot, and Garvey would refashion his oratory in keeping with the model of Billy Sunday.
NARRATOR: With renewed confidence in his power to move an audience, Garvey set out for a year-long tour of thirty-eight states. His mission was still to raise money for a vocational school in Jamaica. But along the way, Garvey got a first-hand look at the contradiction of race in America: the stunning potential of the most affluent black population in the world, alongside the degradation of Jim Crow and the horrors of lynching.
JOHN ROUSSEAU: When we'd walk along the plank walks -- they didn't have sidewalks here in New Orleans at that time -- but you would walk along the plank walk, but if a white person came along, no matter who it was, a white child, a white man, a white woman -- if they came along, you had to get off the plank walk and stand in the mud until they passed.
ESTELLE JAMES: You was oppressed and depressed and disgusted that you were born in the wrong race of people because of your color. Whatever was left, that's what you got. Only what was left. And we were at the lowest ebb at that time. The black people was.
NARRATOR: On July 2, 1917, just months after America's entry into World War I, the city of East St. Louis exploded in the worst racial rioting the country had ever seen. Thirty-nine whites and hundreds of African Americans were killed.
WINSTON JAMES, Historian: You have black troops going off to fight to make the world safe for democracy, in April -- and in July you have black people being murdered in the most wanton and barbaric manner in East St. Louis, you know, -- children being thrown back into flaming houses, people being boarded up in their houses before they're torched.
WINSTON JAMES: So even by American standards, East St. Louis was a horror.
NARRATOR: W.E.B. DuBois, leader of the NAACP and supporter of integration, led a Silent March in response to the massacre. But to Garvey, this was no time for silence. It was time for black people to get together and fight back.
NARRATOR: He spoke out at an emergency meeting in Harlem.
VOICEOVER: "The whole thing my friends is a bloody farce, that the police and soldiers did nothing to stem the murder thirst of the mob is conclusive proof of conspiracy on the part of the civil authorities to condone the acts of the white mob against Negroes. White people are taking advantage of black men today because black men all over the world are disunited."
ROBERT HILL: It is that speech that marks the turning point of Garvey away from Jamaica, away from a preoccupation with matters related to the West Indies and now he's not looking for support for what he is hoping to accomplish in the West Indies, but, rather, he is now sucked into the vortex of American race relations.
CLARENCE WALKER, Historian: Garvey, is deeply suspicious of the efforts of white liberals and of their black peers to bring about the integration of blacks in the United States. He, as a matter of fact, doesn't believe that it's possible.
CLARENCE WALKER He does not believe that white people can represent the best interest of black people.
NARRATOR: Garvey opened the first American division of the UNIA in September of 1917. Just as he had in Jamaica, Garvey distinguished himself by calling established black leaders weak and self-serving.
JOSEPH BAILEY: Even though I had a great deal of admiration for W.E.B. DuBois and A. Philip Randolph and -- and -- and other black leaders of the time, I thought that their approach to our problems was too doggoned tame! And that we -- we needed to -- to -- to have that attitude of Marcus Garvey, that stand up on your feet and be ready to defend your manhood at -- at at all times.
SISTER SAMAD: And all of a sudden this golden voice from the Caribbean came and stood on the corners in Harlem and began to talk about self-esteem, holding up your back bone, you know, no wish bones.
SISTER SAMAD: And Mr. Garvey gave them hope that there was a dream for black people.
NARRATOR: Garvey told black Americans that their history did not begin with slavery. Africa's glorious past was also theirs to claim, he said, and people who had once done great things could do them again.
CHARLES MILLS: Garvey's message was revolutionary because at that time it told black people that they had to unite, they had to come together as one to -- ah, and believe in -- in their roots, that they came from -- from something greater than they were told.
CHARLES MILLS: To begin with, Africa was called the "Dark Continent". And the pictures that, we got of Africa in those days were cannibals running around in the jungles, puttin' people in pots. Garvey changed all of that.
VOICEOVER: "I am the equal of any white man. I want you to feel the same way. We have come now to the turning point of the Negro where we have changed from the old cringing weakling and transformed into full grown men demanding our portion as men."
JOSEPH BAILEY: He left the impression, ah, that, ahm, the only way there could be a difference in -- in the way black people, people of African descent, could be treated would be for them to have a powerful nation of their own.
NARRATOR: Garvey toured the country again, this time initiating UNIA branches in big cities and small towns. Sunday meetings of the UNIA soon attracted thousands. A Garvey meeting was a day-long family affair; half political rally and half religious revival.
JOSEPH BAILEY: The first time I went to, ah, a Garvey meeting was a Sunday afternoon in November of 1900-and-ah-19. -- That was the first time I had heard the message of the UNIA.
JOHN ROUSSEAU: The day I met Marcus Garvey was one of the most exciting days of my life. It was filled with anticipation from the early earliest part of the day because I knew that I was going with my father to meet Marcus Garvey.
VIRGINIA COLLINS: And when Garvey came in the door, everybody stood up in one accord and said, "Speak, Garvey, speak!" And it was just like a hush on the room.
CLADIUS BARNES: He said that the pen is mightier than the sword but the tongue is mightier than them both put together.
NARRATOR: Before addressing the crowd, Garvey would inhale through a perfumed handkerchief to focus his concentration.
NARRATOR:The man who once shook like a leaf on-stage could now hold an audience spellbound.
VIRGINIA COLLINS: When he spoke, it was as if you were speaking yourself. It was not like somebody speaking to you, but like he was you, or you was he.and it just was a connected link and it was somethin' like fire, like lightnin', like something that went through everybody at the same time.
VOICEOVER: "Be as proud of your race today as our fathers were in the days of yore. We have a beautiful history. And we shall create another in the future that will astonish the world. I can advise no better step toward racial salvation than organization among us. We have been harassed, trampled upon, and made little of because of our unfortunate condition of disorganization. Our racial program of today is a united, emancipated and improved people".
TONY MARTIN: Garvey took black folk who were, ah, assaulted by a variety of very unfortunately negative images of themselves and made them believe in themselves, made them see physical beauty in themselves. Made them see the need to interpret and write their own history. In that sense, Garvey sold the Negro to himself.
NARRATOR: With 35 cents, a photograph, and a pledge to support Garvey's nation-building program, any person of African descent could join the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Garvey's genius was to transform cooks, maids, and workmen with the pride that comes with a title and a uniform.
NARRATOR: "Always think yourself a perfect being," he wrote, "and be satisfied with yourself."
SISTER SAMAD: You would almost see them -- metamorph into something else. You would see it. They'd suddenly get very tall because the smallest man in the uniform still looked like a giant. I can tell you that from experience. They were gorgeous. The black men were gorgeous.
NARRATOR: Jacob Samuel Mills, a master carpenter from St. Kitts, had come to Harlem in 1910. But barred from the all-white carpenters' union, he could only find work as a janitor.
FRANCES WARNER: My father joined the Garvey movement because he thought it was something for the advancement of black people.
FRANCES WARNER:And every Sunday afternoon when he was through with his work, he would put his uniform on. He felt very proud when he wore that uniform. He would wear it on the trolley car and -- let everybody look at it and talk, if they wanted to talk. But that was Captain Mills.
SISTER SAMAD: The effect of the uniform on everyone who saw it was electrifying, but especially on white people. (Laughs) I heard white women fainted. (Laughs) -- When we had the big parades going down Fifth Avenue, they would just fall out.
NARRATOR: The UNIA had something for everyone. For men, there was the African Legion. For young people, the Juvenile division. And in the Black Cross Nurses and the Universal Motor Corps, the Garvey movement offered black women a place of their own.
VIRGINIA COLLINS: We wore this uniform everywhere. -- That was a physical statement that these uniforms and plumage made to the rest of the world that we are Garveyites and proud of it!
JULIUS GARVEY: My father -- at one point said that the organization would have been able to develop farther -- and faster if he had more women in the organization, in comparison to some of the wimpy men that he had.
NARRATOR: With its elaborate rituals and official songs, Garvey's UNIA was a separate world. Members pledged allegiance to the red, black and green flag, which Garvey himself designed as a symbol of a black nation in the making.
VOICEOVER: "Show me the race or the nation without a flag, and I will show you a race of people without any pride. But that was said of us four years ago. They can't say it now."
SIMON CLARKE: (Singing) "Ethiopia, the land of our fathers, thou land where the gods love to be. -- As storm clouds suddenly gather, our armies come rushing to thee." And then the chorus went something like, that, (Singing), "Advance, advance to meet the foe. Let Africa be free." The women would sing that and the men would reply, (Singing) "Advance," women, "Advance to victory." Men, "Advance," "Advance to meet the foe," "Advance," and everybody, "With the might of the red, the black and the green," "Advance," "With the might of the red, the black and the green."
NARRATOR: In the summer of 1918, Garvey set out to create a separate economy of black owned businesses. First, he purchased a half-finished church building for use as UNIA headquarters, and christened it "Liberty Hall."
NARRATOR: Relying on the printing skills he'd learned as a boy, Garvey started the Negro World newspaper with a cover price of 5 cents. The paper carried essays, poetry, and articles on Black history and world events. On the front page of every issue was a long editorial penned by Garvey himself. He distributed the paper with the help of Amy Ashwood, who had made her way to New York a year earlier.
NARRATOR: Then, to attract the dollars that flowed through black hands, Garvey created the first of many investment funds.
RUPERT LEWIS: Garvey was aware that blacks had contributed to the war effort by purchasing over 220 million dollars worth of liberty bonds. And this contribution to the war effort indicated that there was some wealth within the black community in the United States. And his idea was that this black wealth should be converted into businesses that would benefit blacks and projects that would benefit black people.
ROBERT HILL: Garvey's idea of the UNIA was that it would teach success. It was going to be a vehicle to communicate and demonstrate that black people could be successful. This idea of success was now translated into a whole series of commercial ventures, laundries, restaurants, newspapers
NARRATOR: Garvey financed UNIA enterprises through the Negro Factories Corporation, which was capitalized with small contributions from his followers. At their peak, UNIA businesses employed as many as a thousand people in Harlem.
NARRATOR: But UNIA companies quickly began to flounder. Garvey hired managers with little or no experience. He shifted funds from one company to cover mounting losses in another. And he insisted that his followers play by his rules. When an early member of the Harlem branch challenged his leadership, Garvey physically assaulted him.
CLARENCE WALKER: Garvey was very authoritarian and very anti-democratic in the way he ran his organization, his primary concern was in loyalty, not in competence, because he does not attract around him people who are particularly competent.
CLARENCE WALKER: And they, therefore, would not tell him or try to stop him from using those monies to finance other endeavors in the UNIA.
NARRATOR: In October 1919, resentment against Garvey boiled over. A disgruntled investor named George Tyler pushed his way into UNIA headquarters, where Amy Ashwood was now working.
BARBARA BAIR: Amy Ashwood didn't really want to let him in. He seemed, ah, disturbed. Garvey came forward, said, "What do you want," whereupon George Tyler pulled out a gun and began shooting. Amy Ashwood threw her body between the shooter and Garvey to protect her lover, -- George Tyler said, "I don't want to shoot you," trying to aim around her. -- She tackled Tyler and they tumbled down the stairs to the first floor. As soon as the shots were fired, the people on the first floor had called the police. The police came, they apprehended Tyler and took him to jail in Harlem. And the news reports were that Garvey had been shot in the head and it -- it made a huge news splash.
ROBERT HILL: And that moment becomes "the" turning point, because Garvey survives three shots. The next day he had a big, ah, speaking engagement in Philadelphia and he goes to Philadelphia, in spite of the fact that he's been shot -- ah he's bandaged, but he goes and makes his speaking engagement and he now has this extraordinary sort of, ahm, quasi-religious, ah, significance. He survived. He's invincible.
NARRATOR: By the end of 1919, Garvey claimed over three-quarters of a million followers and 'The Negro World' was the most popular black newspaper in the United States. But his rising influence would soon make him a target of the federal government and a growing number of black critics who called the UNIA, 'A House of Cards'.
NARRATOR: At the end of World War I, the war powers descended on Versailles to make peace and re-divide colonial territories. From the seat of his self-styled empire in Harlem, Marcus Garvey argued that it was time to give Africa back to black people. Some said it was a ridiculous fantasy. But Garvey's slogan,"Africa for the Africans" reverberated around the world as his movement spread through the colonies. In Europe, Garvey began to be seen as a threat.
TED KORNWEIBEL, Historian: The United States had worked with the British government during World War I and they continued that after World War I with the focus on Garvey, because the British government was deathly afraid that the Garvey Movement was going to spread revolution. They feared the hundreds of thousands of the masses of blacks under his influence and, undoubtedly, Garvey did stir up nationalism.
VOICEOVER: "I say this plainly. And for everybody to hear. We are organizing to drive every paleface out of Africa. Do you know why? Because Africa is mine. Africa is the land of my fathers. We who make up this organization know no turning back. We have pledged ourselves even onto the last drop of our sacred blood that Africa must be free."
NARRATOR: Garvey's 'Negro World', now published in Spanish, French and English, carried news of rebellion around the world. In Africa and the Caribbean, colonial authorities banned the newspaper. But with over 500 divisions of the UNIA in twenty-two countries, Garvey's message could not be stopped.
WINSTON JAMES: 'The Negro World' was being smuggled into Kenya by seamen, black seamen -- and then it would be read aloud to groups of people around this reader, plus young children, young boys, in particular, who were charged with memorizing Garvey's editorial in 'The Negro World'. So it was read out and then these young boys would run off having memorized it, run off to the villages and spread Garvey's word, ahm, in that way.
NARRATOR:In the United States, black troops returned from World War I with high expectations for change. But they returned to a country that was not ready for equality; a country increasingly suspicious of radical political movements. In this unsettled climate, Garvey's appeal to disgruntled African Americans with military training sounded an alarm.
TED KORNWEIBEL: Attorney General Palmer decided that there needed to be a special division of the Justice Department. He called it the General Intelligence Division. And he picked a young Justice Department attorney, he was really unknown at that time, but, ah, must have been -- must have been known enough for his diligence -- and his name was J. Edgar Hoover.
TED KORNWEIBEL: Garvey really gets pinpointed.
TED KORNWEIBEL: Hoover and the Justice Department were clearly hooked on a fixation on Garvey which would before long become a vendetta.
NARRATOR:J. Edgar Hoover wrote to a colleague, "Garvey is a notorious negro agitator, affectionately referred to by his own race as the 'negro Moses.'"
NARRATOR:Hoover's agents were in the audience at Carnegie Hall when Garvey bragged that the UNIA would soon be strong enough to exact its own form of justice.
VOICEOVER: "When those crackers lynch a Negro below the Mason-Dixon line, since it is not safe to lynch a white man in any part of America, we shall press the button and lynch him in Africa."
NARRATOR:The agent reported that Garvey's address was met with "great applause and much excitement."
NARRATOR:J. Edgar Hoover had long relied on casual informants. But now, in his determination to go after Garvey, Hoover hired the first full-time black agent in the Bureau's history.
TED KORNWEIBEL: He was known by a code number. All his reports were signed, ah, "800". That was his code. And his job was to go into Harlem and to infiltrate the Garvey Movement to try and find evidence that could be used to build the legal case for ultimately getting rid of Garvey.
TED KORNWEIBEL: Garvey rejected America. They could no more agree to and accept a militant rejection of America by blacks than they could accept a militant demand for full inclusion by blacks.
NARRATOR:Just as the government campaign against him escalated, Marcus Garvey unveiled a new business enterprise. It was his most ambitious venture, but would prove to be the most fateful.
RUPERT LEWIS: The idea comes to Garvey that black people need a shipping line, and he bases his idea on the fact that the Cunard family has the White Star Line and the Irish have the Green Star Line, and he says, "Why shouldn't blacks have the Black Star Line?" So it is a vision of grandeur.
TONY MARTIN: Black people were routinely Jim Crowed on ocean-going liners. -- Black folk paying, say, for first class accommodations, often had to travel in third class accommodation. Black people on ships had to eat after the white people had finished eating. So all of these problems Garvey was trying to address through a shipping corporation.
NARRATOR: His ships would carry more than passengers. Garvey envisioned commercial trade among Black communities around the world, with produce, raw materials, and manufactured goods transported on UNIA vessels.
BARBARA BAIR: The Black Star Line was in some ways Garvey's Empire State Building. It was this monument to black commerce in the same way that the Empire State Building was this citadel of white capitalism. And it represented the ability of black people to seize the day and to have their own economy.
NARRATOR: Garvey offered Black Star Line stock for sale in 1919, promising his investors liberation and large profits as they slept.
SISTER SAMAD: My parents spent a small fortune (Laughs) in Garvey shares. They were five dollars apiece in those days, which was a lot of money. And my mother had to remind my father that there was food and things to be bought, because he was buying shares and Daddy had those on his dresser. And I remember reaching out to touch them and Daddy said, "Touch them and feel the power that the black man will someday know."
NARRATOR: Just months after his first stock offering, Garvey stunned the world with the purchase of the Black Star Line's first ship.
VOICEOVER: "Let our steamship sail the high seas, not one, not two, but hundreds of them. The stronger we become upon land and sea, the more will be the respect shown to us and the greater will be the glory."
NARRATOR: The S.S. Yarmouth, a 33 year-old wartime coal boat that Garvey planned to re-name the Frederick Douglass, would set sail with an all-black crew under the command of Joshua Cockburn, a black captain.
NARRATOR: One bright November morning in 1919, Garveyites assembled on the pier at 135th Street in Harlem to witness the launching of the Yarmouth.
NARRATOR: A spectator said, "We watched people jump up and down, throw up their hats and handkerchiefs and cheer while the Yarmouth backed from the wharf and slowly glided down the North River." The ship appeared to embark on a spectacular ocean voyage. But because Garvey had not finished paying for it, the Yarmouth went only as far as the 23rd street pier.
NARRATOR: But when the Yarmouth finally made its maiden voyage, it was cause for an international celebration. The President of Cuba threw a banquet in honor of the crew, and members of his cabinet purchased shares in the Black Star Line. In Costa Rica, workers descended on the docks to shower the Yarmouth with fruits and flowers.
SIMON CLARKE: It was announced that one of the ships of the Black Star Line would be coming to Panama and going through the canal. I was a very small boy at the time and my brother and I were given packed lunches, sandwiches and drinks, and were packed off to a place called Christ Church by the Sea, waiting to see this Garvey ship arrive. -- We got there at about nine-ten in the morning, midday no ship, three o'clock in the afternoon no ship, but we were still there waiting. -- Nine o'clock, no ship. At about nine-thirty-ten, my brother put me on his back and we were on the way home -- but the ship never actually came.
CLARENCE WALKER: There's no denying the fact that Garvey's Black Star Steamship Line was a wonderful symbol. It was a powerful symbol. -- But it was nothing more than that, I think, a symbol.
CLARENCE WALKER: The fact that people would come down to the docks waiting for these ships -- in some ways is metaphoric for the wishful thinking that was largely at the heart of the Garvey Movement.
NARRATOR: Garvey was betrayed by the few people he trusted to get the Black Star Line afloat. The man he asked to inspect the Yarmouth turned out to be an informant for J. Edgar Hoover. And his hand-picked Captain, Joshua Cockburn, convinced Garvey to pay six times what the ship was worth -- and then took a kickback from the purchase price. Yet Garvey quickly raised and spent two-hundred thousand dollars on two more ships.
JOSEPH BAILEY: And making a purchase of those liners without, ah, being led by experts, he was deceived about the condition of those -- of those ships and overpaid for -- for what their value should have been. It was a disaster for the movement and turned out to be a disaster for Mr. Garvey.
NARRATOR: At the end of 1919, Marcus Garvey married Amy Ashwood, the woman who just months earlier had thrown herself in the line of fire to save his life.
BARBARA BAIR: They had a very rocky relationship, a lot of off-again/on-again, a lot of quarreling. And finally they married in a spectacular Liberty Hall marriage on Christmas day.
NARRATOR: Their extravagant wedding was the talk of Harlem. Five different ministers performed the ceremony before three thousand guests.
NARRATOR: Just four months later, the couple separated. "Having a wife was an impediment to my work and peace of mind," Garvey would later say. "I can't pay her personal attention as the average husband. In fact I have no time to look after myself."
MARCUS GARVEY JR.: My father was committed totally to the struggle and that's why he -- he never seemed to -- he never seemed to relax. He never seemed to take a day off. He was always committed to the struggle. He was always appeared to be dressed ready to work, -- And he was working at home, he was working at the office. He kept tremendous hours. So it was a total commitment to the struggle and the cause.
NARRATOR: The UNIA was taking in thousands of dollars a day, but Garvey lived modestly on the 6th floor of a Harlem apartment building. He didn't drink or smoke, and preferred to eat the same food night after night. Garvey spent his few idle hours arranging and re-arranging a collection of Egyptian vases and African ornaments, making his home into an orderly private world.
NARRATOR: Unless it was about UNIA business, Garvey rarely spoke to even his closest associates.
MARCUS GARVEY JR.: I never saw him laugh. I never saw him laugh. At the office he was serious when we went to visit him there and at home. Well, he was very kind. My father was very kind. He was always bringing things for us children, but I nev-- I never saw him -- he just always looked serious.
NARRATOR: On August first, 1920, thousands of UNIA delegates from twenty-five countries assembled at Liberty Hall and Madison Square Garden. Garvey called it the International Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World. He hoped to move a step closer to his dream of a black nation in Africa -- with himself at the helm.
ROBERT HILL: The whole convention is this extraordinary public event of -- pomp and -- and ceremony and magnificence and grandiloquence. Garvey, he would now establish a stage, a world stage for his movement and effectively what he gave the black world was a government in exile, a government in waiting.
VOICEOVER: "We have met in this historic building tonight for the purpose of enlightening the world respecting the attitude of the 'New Negro'. If you believe that the Negro should have a place in the sun; if you believe that Africa should be one vast empire, controlled by the Negro, then arise, and sing the National Anthem of the Universal Negro Improvement Association."
NARRATOR: The month-long convention combined substance with overblown symbolism. Garvey installed officials with outlandish titles like "Supreme Potentate", "Leader of the American Negroes", and "Lady Commander of the Supreme Order of the Nile". After insisting that no African was qualified for the post, Garvey named himself "Provisional President of Africa". But behind closed doors, convention delegates produced a groundbreaking document.
RUPERT LEWIS: They developed a program which was based on assessment of what was the black experience in--up to 1920 and how do we go forward? -- which led to the development of the Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World. They were thinking that there needed to be a black declaration of rights.
CLARENCE WALKER: This was a important document that called upon the nations of Europe and America to respect the rights of black people throughout the world. This was the moment at which Garvey, I think, was, ah, both the most powerful in the sense of his articulation of ideas of justice along racial lines, and at the same time his most grandiose and meglomaniacal, because there was really nothing behind any of this.
NARRATOR:Garvey's reply to his critics was simple. "I am accused of creating Dukes, Barons, and knights," he said. "But who gave the white man a monopoly on creating social order?"
NARRATOR:Garvey's government in exile conducted its own foreign policy, appointing ambassadors and sending a telegram of support to the Irish Republican Army.
NARRATOR: He dispatched a team of engineers to Liberia to begin construction of a black homeland, and chartered a delegation to the League of Nations to argue for the transfer of African colonies to UNIA rule.
NARRATOR: When he finally took to the stage, it was Garvey's moment of greatest triumph.
ROBERT HILL: Twenty-five thousand people, black people, packed Madison Square Garden and Garvey delivers this magnificent speech in which he tells the Europeans to give Africa a wide berth because "We are coming home."
NARRATOR: The day after Garvey's speech, a massive UNIA parade stretched through Harlem.
FRANCIS WARNER: If you didn't live in Harlem, you tried to find someone that lived in a front apartment where you could get in the window and view everything, Everybody seemed to be out there to see the Garvey parade.
ESTELLE JAMES: To be a part of the Marcus Garvey movement it made me feel that I owned one half of the world, and I didn't own the other half because I didn't want it.
NARRATOR: One Irish woman observing the parade remarked, "and to think, the Negro will get his liberty before the Irish."
CHARLES MILLS: And of course we were looking for my father, who would be in the group of officers marching proudly down the avenue with his sword at his side. It was an exciting thing to see.
NARRATOR: Marcus Garvey now stood at the head of the largest black movement in history. He claimed millions of followers stretching around the world. But with the Black Star Line hemorrhaging money and his black critics and the US government on the attack, Garvey's fast-rising star would soon begin to fall.
NARRATOR: Not all African Americans were thrilled by the splendor of the Garvey movement. Many were embarrassed by the pompous spectacle of Garvey in cap and gown. A. Philip Randolph, who had introduced him to his first Harlem audience, said Garvey had "succeeded in making the Negro the laughing stock of the world."
CLARENCE WALKER: W.E.B. DuBois and A. Philip Randolph saw Garvey as a person who was engaged in a grand distraction. Garvey's emphasis on a program of African redemption, his pretensions to some kind of imperial posture as the provisional president of Africa, they thought of as either charlatantry or just pure buffoonery.
CLARENCE WALKER: Their complaints about him provide a legitimation for the government to move against Garvey, because you can always say, "You see, his own people don't even want him. And if they don't want him, then there must be something wrong."
NARRATOR:Encouraged by growing black opposition, the U.S. government stepped up surveillance of Garvey. Eight federal agencies were directed to report on his activities. And J. Edgar Hoover resolved to deal with Garvey once and for all.
WINSTON JAMES: They placed spies in the UNIA. They sabotage, ah, the Black Star Line. The engines sometimes of the ships were actually damaged by foreign matter being thrown into the fuel and so on. And there was every effort made to destroy the movement, however, that wasn't the only thing that actually destroyed Garvey. There were internal problems to the movement as well as these external forces.
NARRATOR: Garvey's own crews took the Black Star Line to the brink of disaster. One captain steered his vessel off course to visit his wife. Another had a nervous breakdown and tried to sink his own ship. Enraged at the chaos onboard one ship, Garvey got into a fistfight with the captain and fired half the crew. But when it came to mismanagement, he had only himself to blame.
CLARENCE WALKER: Garvey looked for people who would be personally loyal to him. I think this is the only way we can explain the mismanagement, incompetence of the Black Star Steamship Line. The first treasurer of that line was a railroad clerk who had no experience in bookkeeping. What was important here, I think, was not an intellectual competence, but a loyalty to this charismatic leader.
NARRATOR:As things spun out of control, Garvey confided in Herbert Bowlin, the owner of the Berry & Ross Doll Company. To Garvey, Bowlin was one of a few real friends. To J. Edgar Hoover, he was Agent P-138.
TED KORNWEIBEL: He got closer to Garvey than anyone else, ah, working for the government -- and, ah,-- Garvey was really isolated. Things weren't going well with the organization. The Black Star Line was losing money. And so, -- remarkably, he confesses to this informant, ah, that he'd tried suicide, that he was thinking of suicide again. -- It shows the loneliness Garvey must have had at the top. You know, he couldn't reveal those sorts of things to the key people around him.
NARRATOR: By 1921, the Black Star Line was on the verge of bankruptcy, but Garvey mailed brochures to his supporters advertising stock in yet another ship. It would prove to be a major blunder.
ROBERT HILL: In the brochure is a picture of a ship which purports to have been the SS Phyllis Wheatley. It was -- a ship that Garvey was negotiating for and did not own. And it seems that someone etched into the bow of the ship the words "The SS Phyllis Wheatley." In other words it was a misrepresentation. It gave the impression that Garvey and the Black Star Line owned the ship when in fact there was no such ship.
NARRATOR: In January 1922, Garvey and three UNIA officers were arrested for federal mail fraud. The man Hoover once called a "notorious Negro agitator" was finally in his grasp.
TED KORNWEIBEL: The mail fraud was the most convenient and ultimately the only, ah, means that they could find to prosecute him. Ah, prosecution was not the end. -- Deportation was the government's real aim.
NARRATOR: In July 1922, while he was out on bail, Garvey made a move that would lead his black critics to question his sanity. He held a meeting with Edward Young Clarke, the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
ROBERT HILL: Garvey felt that the Ku Klux Klan represented -- the invisible government of the United States. That's the real source of, ahm, power in America, Garvey believed. And Garvey felt that, as Provisional President of Africa, he was entitled to meet with the counterpart of white American power. And so Garvey didn't feel that he had done anything wrong. In fact, Garvey's thought that what he had done was a diplomatic stroke of genius.
CLARENCE WALKER: After he met with the Klan leaders and had them speak at his rallies, he was viewed as an enemy of black people. -- For a so called "responsible" black spokesman to be having anything to do with these people was viewed as a complete and utter betrayal. -- This was too much.
NARRATOR: In a letter to the Attorney General, eight of Garvey's black critics said the UNIA "was composed of the most primitive and ignorant element...Negro sharks and Negro fanatics." They called for Garvey's deportation. But Garvey fought back. When W.E.B DuBois called him the most dangerous enemy of the negro race, Garvey said DuBois was a "rabid Mulatto" who "needed a horsewhipping." A. Philip Randolph, who had once befriended Garvey, called the UNIA leader a "half-wit, low grade moron."
TED KORNWEIBEL: In the midst of that A. Philip Randolph received a package in the mail and thinking it was a bomb, he called the police. -- They opened it up and they found that it was the severed human hand of a white man, signed -- with a note signed by the KKK. Randolph believed that it was really the Garvey Movement that had sent it.
NARRATOR: Garvey, now frequently accompanied by eight bodyguards, denied involvement and said he was the target of violence. But then Reverend James Eason, once Garvey's hand-picked second-in-command and now expected to be a key prosecution witness, was shot and killed. Before he died, Eason identified his assailants as Garveyites.
NARRATOR: As Garvey's trial began on May 18, 1923, a police bomb squad stood on alert and UNIA members packed the courtroom.
NARRATOR: On the first day of the trial, Garvey fired his attorney and announced that he would defend himself.
ROBERT HILL: I think Garvey believed that his powers of rhetoric and oratory -- would ultimately sway the court in his favor. He would have ruled the court, in other words, by his superior oratorical gifts and I think Garvey came, in the end, to rue that decision because it was a disaster.
NARRATOR: Garvey paced up and down before the jury box as a parade of former UNIA officials took the stand to testify against him. Defiant, Garvey blamed subordinates and evaded responsibility for his errors.
ROBERT HILL: He also took a lot of time badgering witnesses, alienating, I think, in the process a lot of jurors, ah, by his courtroom manner. He seemed to be intimidating of witnesses, even his own witnesses. It was not a -- not a good performance by Garvey.
NARRATOR: In his closing statement, Garvey's voice carried clear through the corridors and out to the street. "I want no mercy, only justice -- justice-- justice. I would not betray my struggling race. If I did I should be thrown into the nethermost parts of hell."
NARRATOR: After a four week trial, his three co-defendants were acquitted. But Garvey was convicted and given the maximum sentence of five years in prison. Hoover's agents had the UNIA under surveillance for years in search of damaging evidence, but in the end, Garvey's conviction hung on using the mails to defraud one man, Benny Dancy, of twenty-five dollars.
ROBERT HILL: He took no advice. He did not heed advice. -- He felt that anything contrary to his view of things was an attempt to derail him or to deflect him from his goals. He had just an overweening confidence in his own ability in areas where he had no expertise, such as in the case of ships, in the case of trying a legal case, ahm, in his investment priorities. He -- he just would not take advice.
NARRATOR: In February 1925, after nearly two years of appeals, Marcus Garvey was escorted to the Atlanta federal penitentiary as prisoner number 1-9-3-5-9. His only personal assets were forty dollars and a few hundred shares of his own worthless stock.
NARRATOR:: UNIA members believed their leader had been railroaded. To dampen their frustration, Garvey wrote a song.
NARRATOR: Garvey's personal secretary, Amy Jacques, had become his second wife in 1922. While he was in prison, she and Garvey's followers struggled to keep the movement alive, and raised tens of thousands of dollars for Garvey's defense.
WINSTON JAMES: There's one group -- in rural Louisiana -- that gave an average five cents. They actually gave eight dollars, but when you actually counted the number of people involved, it actually amounted to something like five cents each. And it actually showed the level of loyalty that ordinary -- the little people had towards Garvey and the movement.
TONY MARTIN: People around the world began to send in petitions and letters and so on. There were literally millions, literally millions of signatures that were appended to petitions that were taken to various government agencies in Washington, D.C. In South Africa, people would have Marcus Garvey Sundays and pray for Garvey and so on.
NARRATOR: But the government had its own reasons for wanting to release Garvey.
BARBARA BAIR: Garvey had very weak lungs and he also suffered from heart disease. He suffered from bronchitis and a series of asthma attacks, was often put in the prison hospital. They feared that he could die or become severely ill and it would just add to the martyrdom aspect of the Garvey Movement and increase his following.
TONY MARTIN: And there was an election year coming up in the US and the Republican administration felt that black folk, who were largely Republicans in those days, might vote for the other party if Garvey was not released.
NARRATOR: On November 18, 1927, after serving two years and nine months, Garvey was pardoned by President Calvin Coolidge. But he was ordered immediately deported. He was put onboard the S. S. Saramacca, a ship owned by United Fruit, the same company on whose Costa Rican plantation he had worked as a young man. It was announced that Garvey would sail back to Jamaica from the port of New Orleans.
ESTELLE JAMES: It was a Monday morning in November, -- a cold, drizzly, damp November New Orleans morning. - It was more like Mardi Gras Day in New Orleans on that particular day. Went out to see Marcus Garvey on this ship. I imagine the conductors got tired of askin' for fares, -- so some people rode for nothing. And the fare was only seven cents. They was just packed on top of each other on the street car goin' out to the river front.
VIRGINIA COLLINS: And everybody went out with their children, everybody, just to get that glimpse of him as the ship would leave.
VIRGINIA COLLINS: And the people could stand on the levee and stand close to the river and, you know, they were for miles and miles, a lot of people.
ESTELLE JAMES: Mr. Garvey was not allowed to land. He had to stay on board ship. He did not put his foot on land. -- And he spoke to the people, biddin' them farewell and wishing them well and asking them to hold on, keep the fort.
ESTELLE JAMES: As the, ah, ship was moving out from the docks, the people on shore were singin' the President General's Hymn. (SINGING) One God our firm endeavor, one aim most glorious sent, one destiny forever, God bless our President.
VIRGINIA COLLINS: We saw him wavin. We saw him do that with a handkerchief or something.
VIRGINIA COLLINS: But the people in general they just was wavin, wavin, wavin, wavin, and cryin, and wavin, Cryin and wavin.
ESTELLE JAMES: And the waves appeared to have been in harmony with the song as --as the people were singing and the boat was moving out to sea.
VIRGINIA COLLINS: They felt they was losing their father. Somebody so close to em or losing themselves. What are we gonna do.
ESTELLE JAMES: And my mother said until the day she died, she would not forget the sight of Garvey wavin' that white handkerchief as far as she could see the boat.
NARRATOR: Back in Jamaica, Garvey received a hero's welcome. He and Amy Jacques Garvey settled in Kingston and had two sons.
NARRATOR: He tried his hand at elective office, real estate, an amusement park, a collection agency, and a newspaper. But when an American court took title to his personal assets and all UNIA property from New York to Kingston, Garvey was forced to declare bankruptcy.
ROBERT HILL: Garvey was now a person who had come down in the world. -- And Garvey would be followed by children on the street and they would heckle him. And Garvey felt very humiliated by this.
NARRATOR: Garvey relocated to London in 1935. For a time, he had regular speaking engagements and managed to publish a newspaper.
NARRATOR: A handful of UNIA members, including Jacob Mills, migrated to Liberia on their own.
NARRATOR: But without Garvey's strong hand, his hundreds of thousands of followers in the United States dwindled to a small band of the faithful.
VIRGINIA COLLINS: The men folk, if they had you name and everything and you were a member of the UNIA, you'd lose your job. So you had to meet in disguise. That was one of the reasons why the Garvey Movement was so thorough in being broke up. You couldn't say, "I'm a (Unintell.) UNIA member." Or -- "Marcus Garvey." You whispered it, (Whispers) "Marcus Garvey." You could not speak his name.
NARRATOR: Garvey was alone in London. The asthma and heart disease that had plagued him in prison began to worsen.
ROBERT HILL: Garvey had a stroke in January of 1940, and he becomes incapacitated. George Padmore, who was a columnist for The Chicago Defender, had heard a rumor that Garvey had died and instead of confirming this, he published a premature obituary.
NARRATOR: The obituary described Garvey as a man whose followers had deserted him; a man who died "broke, alone and unpopular".
ROBERT HILL: When Garvey reads it, he lets out a loud moan and he collapses. He suffers a second stroke and next morning he dies.
NARRATOR: The date was June 10, 1940. Marcus Garvey died a forgotten man. But his vision of Africa would influence future generations of what he called ,"the beloved and scattered millions of the Negro race." When Garvey's passionate ideas about black pride and independence finally took hold, he would be revered by many as a prophet and a saint.
VOICEOVER: "In death I shall be a terror to the foes of Negro liberty. Look for me in the whirlwind or the song of the storm; look for me all around you."
NARRATOR: In his fifty-three years, Marcus Garvey never set foot in Africa.
CLAUDIUS BARNES: I dreamed a dream that he came and I saw him. And he said to me, "Barnes, do not be worried for everything is working according to plan. I am not dead. I am only sleeping."
SISTER SAMAD: The organization left a legacy of "I am," simply, "I am", with no apology. "I am." We had never had that up to that time. We belonged to churches where we sang, but Garvey made you stand tall and quiet, looking into the future. And that's a great legacy.