The Harlem Renaissance

and Marcus Garvey




- Introduction
- Garvey's Influence
- The Declaration of Rights Convention
- Works Cited



After World War I, the black men who served in the armed forces returned to their neighborhoods as heroes. They inspired fellow African Americans who thought that white society could never again treat the blacks as inferior. However, the racial atmosphere had become more savage with an increase in lynchings and riots. These riots involved the whites attacking blacks and the blacks retaliating. The NAACP urged the blacks to retaliate and defend themselves (Brinkley 799). Poets used the riots as subject matter for their writings and black leaders began to attract attention from many Americans. The poets, artists, musicians, and leaders explored the cultural and regional origins of blacks. This exploration of culture, especially in Harlem, created a movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. One of the leaders of this exploration of black culture was Marcus Garvey, a leader who encouraged black nationalism.


Marcus Garvey was born in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica on August 17, 1887. He was a gifted speaker and student, but at age 14, he was forced out of school because of financial difficulties. Garvey went to work as a printer's apprentice, a position that proved to be invaluable to his career in journalism (Davis 1311). While in Jamaica, Garvey read and admired Booker T. Washington's philosophy of self-improvement for Africans. Therefore, he established the Jamaica Improvement Association ("Marcus" 1). He also believed that white discrimination against blacks was a worldwide problem, and he formed the Universal Negro Improvement Association. The Association centered on unifying the blacks, enhancing black racial pride, and developing Africa for the blacks (Davis 1311). Support for the organization grew in the United States, and Garvey established a branch in Harlem in 1916. The UNIA tried to unite all the black people into one body, and its motto addressed that goal, "One God! One Aim! One Destiny!". A weekly newspaper, Negro World, was founded in 1918 and attracted many Americans to the UNIA ("Marcus" 1). Garvey then tried to mobilize the blacks for the redemption of Africa and Africans.


Marcus Garvey created the "Back to Africa" movement because he wanted to unite all the blacks for the spiritual, historical, and physical redemption of Africa. He recognized the fact that a mass exodus of blacks to Africa was impossible, but he believed that black leaders were obligated to return to their homeland of Africa. They could then assist in the black development and liberation from whites (Davis 1311). Since this movement to Africa was unfeasible, Garvey declared that blacks should try to create and maintain a community in the United States and make it a nation-within-a-nation. Therefore, in 1921, Garvey established a government-in-exile for Africa, and declared himself president (Davis 1312). This government included a black cabinet, black army known as the Universal African Legion, and a corps of nurses known as the Universal Black Cross Nurses. He even created an African Orthodox Church with a black God and black Christ (Davis 1312). Garvey succeeded in creating black businesses, restaurants, and grocery stores, but his organizations began to decline when he was indicted for mail fraud concerning the Black Star Line, a shipping company he founded. He was convicted and incarcerated for two years before he was deported as an undesirable alien in 1927 (Levine 135). He moved to London in 1935 and tried to return to the US, but he was denied authorization. In 1940, he suffered a stroke leaving him partially paralyzed, and he died on June 10, 1940, nine weeks before his 53rd birthday. His legacy continued on after his death through the black nationalism he showed to millions of African Americans.


Marcus Garvey held a convention in New York in 1920 to establish Africa. At the convention, Garvey was named the Provisional President of Africa. The document created at this convention was the Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World. This declaration stated the rights that the blacks demanded, and it also stated the blacks' complaints with white America. The founders and president of Africa used many of the same complaints used by the founders of the United States. These principles were found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. Both groups of founders were trying to gain rights and essentially freedom, whether for Britain or from white superiority. The Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World used many of the same principles found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.


When he wrote the Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World , Marcus Garvey utilized principles originally found in the Declaration of Independence. The African-Americans in the 1920's were fighting for the same rights and freedoms as America was in 1776. While Americans in 1776 wanted to form a new country, Marcus Garvey wanted to create a nation-within-a-nation in the United States. The founders of America and Garvey both complained about taxes because of lack of consent. In the Declaration of Independence, America's founders complained that King George and Britain "imposed taxes on us without our consent" (A2). They also complained about a lack of representation because Britain suspended their legislature. Once the United States became a country and adopted its own laws, however, the blacks were not given equal rights. Therefore, Garvey and his fellow African-Americans complained about a lack of representation in the Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World. Garvey complained that the blacks were "denied all voice in the making and administration of the law and are taxed without representation by the state governments" (1). He also declared taxation without representation unfair and said that blacks should not be excluded because of color (2). Another step toward equality for blacks was taken when Garvey used the three rights guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The first right declared by Garvey in his Declaration of Rights stated that all men were equal and "entitled to the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" (2). By declaring this, Garvey attempted to gain equality for blacks just like the founders tried to gain equality for the colonists. Marcus Garvey modeled the Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World after the Declaration of Independence, and he applied many of the founders' principles to his declaration.


Marcus Garvey also used beliefs from the Amendments to the Constitution of the United States in his Declaration of Rights. The First Amendment to the Constitution states, "Congress must not interfere with freedom of religion, speech or press, assembly, and petition" (A15). However, the Bill of Rights did not give rights to the blacks, so Garvey fought for those rights in his declaration. He believed these rights were critical, so he made three statements concerning the First Amendment in his declaration. Garvey declared that blacks believed in freedom of the press, demanded free speech, and wanted the freedom of religious worship (3). He hoped to gain for the blacks the freedoms written for all Americans in the Constitution. Garvey used the Fifth Amendment in his Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World, as well. The Fifth Amendment guarantees an individual the right to life, liberty, and property (A15). Blacks were denied these rights, even after the Fourteenth Amendment gave blacks civil rights. Therefore, Garvey declared, "all men are created equal and entitled to the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" (2). These rights were embodied in both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. Garvey used the founders' beliefs to try to gain equality and rights for the African-Americans through his Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World.


Marcus Garvey used principles from the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in his Declaration of Rights. He hoped to create a nation-within-a-nation where blacks could have equal rights with their fellow white Americans. The rights fought for in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence were the same rights Marcus Garvey fought for in the 1920's with his Declaration of Rights. Marcus Garvey applied the principles originally found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to his Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World.

If you've got any questions, just e-mail Donna.


Works Cited



Brinkley, Alan. American History: A Survey. Boston: McGraw-Hill College, 1999. 799-800.


“Constitution of the United States of America.” The American Pageant. By Thomas A. Bailey
and David M. Kennedy. Lexington: DC Heath and Company, 1994. A15-A21.


Davis, Robert R. “Garvey, Marcus.” Dictionary of World Biography. Ed. Frank N. Magill.
Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1999. 1311-1314.


“Declaration of Independence.” The American Pageant. By Thomas A. Bailey and David M.
Kennedy. Lexington: DC Heath and Company, 1994. A1-A3.


“Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World.”
HyperLink. 13 January 2003.


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