Marcus Garvey is best remembered as being a pivotal figure in the struggle for racial equality the world throughout. He founded the UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association) and championed the 'back to Africa' movement of the 1920s. His legacy makes him an inspirational figure for many civil rights leaders and politicians today, and in his lifetime was hailed as a prophet and redeemer by black people worldwide.
The youngest of 11 children, Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica in 1887. His father was a skilled mason and was widely read, holding a large private library. Garvey inherited this keen interest in books and made full use of his father's resources, reading often and endlessly.
At the age of 14 he left school and worked in a print-shop, quickly becoming acquainted with the abysmal social conditions of the working classes. In 1908 he participated in Jamaica's first Printers' Union strike which came as a result of a major earthquake in Kingston a year earlier. Around this time he also published a small newspaper, called “The Watchman“.
Seeking funding to finance his future projects, Marcus Garvey left Jamaica to work as a timekeeper in Costa Rica. It was while working in Central America that Marcus Garvey experienced the harsh realities of racial discrimination, amassing evidence that black people were victims of prejudice on a worldwide scale. Black workers had no banks which resulted in many of them being robbed of their savings, they had no pensions and were not compensated if they were injured on the job.
Garvey encouraged the workers to form unions to negotiate for better terms and started newspapers in Coasta Rica and Panama complaining about poor conditions. His activities were soon brought to the attention of the Costa Rican government and he was promptly expelled from the country. After this he toured other countries in the region and saw that the problems in Panama and Costa Rica were not unique.