The Ridge Historical Society
February - Black History Month –#4
By Carol Flynn
Our fourth person of distinction with a school on the Ridge named for him to be profiled for Black History Month is Marcus Garvey.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr. (1887-1940) was a political activist, journalist, and businessman born on the Caribbean island of Jamaica. He lived for over a decade in the United States. Although during his lifetime his viewpoints were considered controversial, with time his encouragement of pride and self-worth for people of African descent influenced Black leaders and movements. Some have called him the “Father of African Nationalism.”
Garvey’s entire history is too involved to cover in a Facebook post. There are many sources of information about him online that readers are encouraged to investigate.
From an early age on, Garvey’s experiences with social and economic hierarchies based on color led him to become an advocate for improving the status of people of African origin. His belief was that the initiative had to come from within the African community itself.
Garvey believed strongly in the equality and separation of the races, and in racial purity. Although he established a loyal following, his separatist views were at direct odds with most Black leaders of the day, including W. E. B. DuBois and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), who were working for integration into American society.
After his death in London in 1940, his status as an advocate grew. In 1964, his remains were returned to Jamaica and buried with a ceremony worthy of a national hero.
African American and world leaders have acknowledged they were influenced by Garvey. Martin Luther King, Jr., visited his tomb in 1965 and said: "Marcus Garvey was the first man of color to lead and develop a mass movement. He was the first man on a mass scale and level to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny, and make the Negro feel he was somebody."
In 1971, a new Chicago public school at 10309 S. Morgan Street in Washington Heights was being built and the residents of the community the school would serve, primarily African Americans, had been asked to submit potential names. They submitted several, including Marcus Garvey. All of the names were rejected. This happened twice, and then they decided to rally for Garvey’s name.
The School Board maintained that Garvey was not appropriate because he was a separatist and had been in jail, and this would not be a good example for children. The community leaders’ response was that they had the right to pick their own heroes. Garvey was the first real global activist for Black pride, solidarity, and power, and therefore a worthy model. Naming a school for a person did not mean agreement with all his beliefs.
The School Board finally voted narrowly in favor of the name. In 1974, it was announced that the new would be named for Marcus Garvey.