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Marcus Garvey: Look For Me in the Whirlwind

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People & Events: The "Garvey Must Go" Campaign

When Marcus Garvey first arrived in the United States in 1916, he quickly found his way to many of New York's most prominent black radical activists and intellectuals. And, at least briefly, Garvey enjoyed their support.

But by 1920, A. Philip Randolph and other black leaders, some of whom had supported Garvey after his arrival in the United States, came to believe that Garvey's program for black advancement was unsound, and that Garvey himself was a charlatan. Though they admired his skills as a propagandist, these prominent black critics derided Garvey's proposed solutions for the problems of African Americans. They believed that his plans for black progress, including the Black Star Line and the establishment of a pan-African empire, were unrealistic and ill-advised; they considered the Universal Negro Improvement Association's grandiose titles and military regalia to be preposterous; and they thought Garvey, with his assumption of a regal posture under the title "Provisional President of Africa," to be little more than a self-aggrandizing buffoon. A. Philip Randolph, who had introduced Garvey to his first American audience on a Harlem street corner, said Garvey had "succeeded in making the Negro the laughingstock of the world."

Federal investigations into the finances of the Black Star Line, along with a blistering analysis of the shipping line by W.E.B. Du Bois in the NAACP's Crisis magazine, gave fuel to Garvey's black critics. Randolph personally critiqued the economic feasibility of the Black Star Line in The Messenger , an influential magazine he co-edited with Chandler Owen, and accused Garvey of squandering the hard-earned money of his hard-working, poor supporters.

Black opposition to Garvey coalesced into what came to be known as the "Garvey Must Go" Campaign. Supporters of the campaign, known collectively as the Friends of Negro Freedom, intended to unmask Garvey as a fraud before his black supporters. They also appealed to the federal government to step up investigations of irregularities in the Black Star Line, and to look into alleged acts of violence on the part of Garvey's inner circle.

The "Garvey Must Go" Campaign gained momentum after Garvey held a secret meeting with Edward Young Clarke, the leader of the Ku Klux Klan, in June 1922. Immediately afterward, Randolph and Owen's Messenger magazine published an article entitled "Marcus Garvey! The Black Imperial Wizard Becomes Messenger Boy of the White Klu Klux Kleagle." Black leaders were further infuriated when they learned that Garvey, at a speaking engagement in New Orleans, remarked that because black people had not built the railroad system, they should not insist on riding in the same cars with white patrons.

The Messenger vowed to begin a vigorous editorial campaign against Garvey, and promised to "[fire] the opening gun in a campaign to drive Garvey and Garveyism in all its sinister viciousness from the American soil." The campaign from this point on was characterized by vitriolic personal attacks on both sides, and by escalating threats of violence. "Garvey Must Go" meetings were violently dispersed by Garvey's followers. A. Philip Randolph received the severed hand of a white man in the mail. It was accompanied by a note signed by the K.K.K., but Randolph believed the hand had been sent by the U.N.I.A.

On January 15, 1923, a group of eight prominent African Americans petitioned Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty asking the U.S. government to continue its prosecution of Garvey on charges of mail fraud, and to investigate acts of violence attributed to Garvey's followers -- among them, the assassination in early January 1923 in New Orleans of J. W. H. Eason, Garvey's former deputy, who had been expelled from the movement at the August 1922 Convention on charges of personal misconduct. The letter of petition ended by urging the Attorney General to "use his full influence completely to disband and extirpate this vicious movement," and imploring him to "vigorously and speedily push the government's case against Marcus Garvey for using the mails to defraud."

Garvey would eventually be convicted of mail fraud charges in 1923. He was jailed in the Atlanta federal penitentiary in February 1925, where he would serve almost three years of a five-year sentence. And in 1927, Garvey would be deported from the United States, never to return.

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