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This Day in History – June 21, 1923

Marcus Garvey is sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted of mail fraud

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On this day in 1923, Marcus Garvey was sentenced to five years in prison.

Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr., a prominent social activist, was born in August 1887 in Jamaica. The youngest of 11 children, he grew up with parents who encouraged him to pursue an education. A leader for the Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism movements, Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities league.

In 1903, he traveled to Kingston, Jamaica where he started to become involved in union activities. Seven years later, he worked as a newspaper writer and editor, traveling through Central America.

He would later travel to London to attend Birkbeck College (University of London). While there, he worked for the African Times and Orient Review.  

In 1912, he returned to Jamaica and founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.). His goal was to “establish a country and absolute government of their own.” He spent the next few years promoting the concept of social, economic, and political freedom for African Americans. In 1918, he began publishing the prominent Negro World.

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Garvey also started the Negros Factories Association, which was a series of companies that manufactured large commodities in Africa and the Western hemisphere.

In 1920, U.N.I.A. had 4 million members and held its first International Convention in New York City at Madison Square Garden. Garvey spoke in front of a crowd of 25,000 people about black pride. While most people found his words to be inspiring, some did not. Some established black leaders made negative comments regarding Garvey’s speech. W.E.B. Du Bois called Garvey “the most dangerous enemy of the Negro race in America.”

In 1922, Garvey was charged with mail fraud. In June of the following year, he was convicted and sentenced to prison for five years. He appealed his conviction, but lost. In 1927 he was released and deported to Jamaica where he continued his activist work.

In 1935, he moved to London, but never commanded the same influence as he had years prior.

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