Marcus Garvey – Pan-Africanist leader

To commemorate the College’s bicentenary in 2023, we’re showcasing 200 ‘Birkbeck Effects’ which capture the incredible stories of our vibrant and diverse community, highlighting their achievements and impact on the world. 

pic of Marcus Garvey

Publisher and orator Marcus Garvey seated at his desk, August 5, 1924. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

Marcus Garvey, born in Jamaica, was a political activist and proponent of Black nationalism, forming the Universal Negro Improvement and Conservation Association and African Communities League (UNIA). He has remained a hugely influential figure in the postcolonial movement across Africa and the African diaspora. 

In 1912, Garvey arrived in England and spent the next two years attending classes in law and philosophy at Birkbeck. He would occasionally give speeches at Hyde Park’s “Speakers’ Corner” and published articles in the African Times and Orient Review 

He founded the UNIA shortly after his return to Jamaica in 1914, where he became a figurehead for pan-Africanism and black nationalism. He served as city councillor in Kingston and established the People’s Political Party, but had his seat revoked when he was imprisoned for libel against the judiciary.  

Disheartened by his treatment, he returned to England after his release and never went back to Jamaica until he was posthumously repatriated to Kingston 24 years after his death. Jamaica posthumously conferred on him the Order of the National Hero.  


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