"When Europe was inhabited by a race of cannibals, a race of savages, naked men, heathens and pagans, Africa was peopled by a race of cultured black men who were masters in art, science and literature," proclaimed Marcus Mosiah Garvey (1887–1940), a Jamaican-born black nationalist who moved to New York City in 1916 to become the leader of an international back-to-Africa movement that continues even today to inspire people of African descent. Garvey's message appealed enormously to working-class blacks who felt disenfranchised by the liberal white establishment and black middle-class leaders.
By 1919, thousands of African-Americans had embraced Garvey's seductive call for black unity, while some 3 million people had joined his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), an organization that glorified all things black. Alas, most Negro leaders would come to denounce Garvey as a "buffoon". W.E.B. Du Bois and other leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), branded Garvey a "lunatic", complaining that Garvey's re-colonization schemes cramped the cause of Pan-African movements. But thousands more hailed Garvey as the true leader of the Negro race, often comparing him to Jesus Christ or Moses.
Garveyism had less appeal among "house Negroes" of the black educated classes. This stratum was generally more attracted to the work of the NAACP and to the work of activists such as W.E.B. Du Bois. In a blistering counter-attack against the NAACP and other elements of the elitist black middle-class intelligentsia, Garvey accused his enemies of conspiring to "mix the races". Garvey trumpeted, "The NAACP wants us all to become white by amalgamation, but they are not honest enough to come out with the truth. To be a Negro is no disgrace, but an honor, and we of the UNIA do not want to become white. We are proud and honorable. We love our race and respect and adore our mothers. We Negroes should be proud of our ancestry. God and Jesus Christ were black. Let us return to Motherland Africa and establish a nation strong enough to lend protection to the members of our race scattered all over the world."
Calling himself the "black Messiah", Garvey exalted everything black. Garvey insisted that black stood for strength and beauty, not inferiority, and he asserted that Africans had a noble past. In his newspaper, Negro World, Garvey blasted white Americans and white Europeans, calling them liars, thieves and hypocrites. He called on the world's blacks–especially those of dark hues–to join forces in creating a political empowerment that would enable African people to reclaim their homelands from European powers. Garvey took pleasure in bedecking himself in ornate, regal uniforms, complete with plumed hat, brass buttons and saber, and commissioning quasi-paramilitary groups with exotic names. Wherever Garvey went, thousands followed, many mesmerized by his hypnotic oratory and the colorful parades, flags and uniforms (i.e. pomp and pageantry).
While preaching that blacks should be proud of their race, Garvey told them to separate themselves cleanly from corrupt white society. "I am the equal of any white man," Garvey declared, urging that blacks avoid using hair straighteners, skin lighteners or any other products that made them look white or otherwise distorted their natural looks and heritage. Du Bois called Garvey the most dangerous enemy of the Negro race.
In May 1923, Garvey and three associates went on trial for mail fraud in connection with the sale of Black Star Line stock. In spite of an impassioned defense, Garvey was found guilty and sentenced to 5 years in prison. A federal appeals court upheld the conviction, and on February 8, 1925, Garvey began serving his 5-year term at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. But in November 1927, President Calvin Coolidge commuted Garvey's sentence but promptly deported him to Jamaica. After 1927, Garvey slipped into obscurity and died in England in 1940.
Epilogue: Garvey blamed Jewish jurors and a Jewish federal judge, Julian Mack, for his conviction: In 1928, Garvey told a journalist, "When they wanted to get me they had a Jewish judge try me, and a Jewish prosecutor. I would have been freed but two Jews on the jury held out against me ten hours and succeeded in convicting me, whereupon the Jewish judge gave me the maximum penalty." The Obama Administration declined to pardon Garvey in 2011. Rastafarians consider Garvey to be a religious prophet. Malcolm X's parents were members of UNIA. Besides Garvey, another enigmatic person E.R. Floyd wrote about was Erich von Däniken of Chariots of the Gods? fame.