MASONIC VISIONS: Marcus Mosiah Garvey & The Musical Prophets of Rasta

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“…The purposes of the COINTELPRO program was to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of the Black nationalists”. They wanted to prevent the rise of a Black “Messiah

Marcus Mosiah Garvey & the Musical Prophets of Rasta

Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jnr was born on 17 August 1887 in St Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. His parents were Malcus Mosiah Garvey Snr, a stone mason and Sarah Jane Richards, a domestic worker. The Garvey’s had 11 children, nine of whom died in early childhood. Only Marcus Garvey and his eldest sister Indiana lived to adulthood.

Marcus Mosiah Garvey’s first wife was Amy Ashwood Garvey (1897-1969).They married in New York in 1919 but divorced in 1922. Amy Ashwood was a very active Pan-Africanist, social worker and activist for women’s rights.

Marcus Mosiah Garvey’s second wife was Amy Jacques Garvey (1895-1973).They married in New York in 1922 after his divorce. She was his personal secretary. Amy Jacques played key organisational roles in the UNIA and was instrumental in teaching people about Marcus Garvey after he died. She and Garvey had 2 sons Marcus Garvey Jnr and Julius Winston Garvey

Garvey came to England in 1912. Marcus Garvey worked at the offices of the African Times and Orient Review journal under the leadership of Duse Mohammed Ali, the famous Black nationalist and journalist. The African Times and Orient Review was the first political journal produced by and for Black people ever published in Britain. It was produced during 1912-1913 and 1917-1918 on a monthly basis and was printed in Fleet Street in London.

Marcus Garvey returned to Jamaica from England in July 1914. With the help of an associate Enos J. Sloly and about four others, he created the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League and launched it on 1st August 1914 which is Emancipation Day in British-ruled Caribbean.

The first UNIA division was formed in New York in May 1917. Within a month, the organisation had 2 million members all over the United States. By 1920, the U.N.I.A. had 1,100 chapters in 40 countries around the world such as UK, Cuba, Panama, Costa Rica, Ghana. By 1926, the membership of the U.N.I.A. had grown to over 11 million members. Marcus Garvey built the largest Black organization in history.

In 1918, nine years after the failure of his first newspaper, The Watchman, Garvey and the UNIA created the Negro World. It quickly grew from being a weekly into a worldwide phenomenon with a peak circulation of 200, 000. It featured reports from UNIA chapter, poetry, literary excerpts, a women’s page and commentary on global events significant to Black people. It had sections in Spanish and French. Colonial authorities feared the Negro World and it was banned in many countries such as Belize, Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica and several African countries.

Garvey and other Black activists were partly inspired by the Irish movement for independence from English rule and thus named the UNIA headquarters Liberty Hall after Liberty Hall in Dublin, Ireland which was the symbolic seat of the Irish Revolution. Located at 114 West 138th Street in New York City, the New York City Liberty Hall had a seating capacity of six thousand. It was dedicated on July 27, 1919. Garvey held nightly meetings at Liberty Hall that drew up to six thousand people at a time.

For the entire month of August 1920, Marcus Garvey’s U.N.I.A.-ACL organization held its first international convention in New York City. Most events were held at the New York Liberty Hall. It’s biggest events were held at New York City’s world-famous Madison Square Garden. An estimated 25,000 Black people attended the convention from all around the world. Delegations from 25 African countries were in attendances as well.

The convention adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World which was one of the earliest and most complete document advocating human rights and detailing the abuses against Black people worldwide. The document made demands such as:a. The freedom of Africa for the Negro people of the world. The condemnation of the term ‘nigger’ and stipulation that ‘Negro’ be spelled with a capital N. No taxation without representation. Equal treatment before the law. The condemnation of segregation and lynching.

Marcus Garvey launched the UNIA’s first major commercial venture, the Black Star Line Steamship Corporation in New York in 1919. The goals of the corporation were to establish an efficient mode of transportation, communication and trade among Black people worldwide and to enhance the stature, self-image and pride of these communities. The public invested in the corporation by purchasing stock shares at five dollars each.

The corporation purchased its first ship the SS Yarmouth in September 1919. It was later unofficially renamed the SS Frederick Douglass after the African American abolitionist. The Yarmouth proceeded to sail for three years between the U.S. and the West Indies as the first Black Star Line ship with an all-black crew and a black captain.

In 1920, Garvey established the Negro Factories Corporation and offered stock for African Americans to buy. He raised one million dollars for the project. He wanted to produce everything that a nation needed so that African Americans could completely rely on their own efforts. It generated income and provided jobs by its numerous enterprises, including a chain of grocery stores and restaurants, steam laundry, tailor shop, dress making shop, millinery store (clothing, fashion, hats, accessories, etc.), publishing house and doll factory.

In New York City alone, Garvey owned several buildings, owned a fleet of trucks and had over 1,000 Black people working in his businesses. Marcus Garvey’s U.N.I.A. also operated the Phyllis Wheatley Hotel (3-13 West 136th Street, New York, NY).

Garvey’s ultimate dream was for the independence of all African Countries and the creation of a United States of Africa. The UNIA embarked on a plan to repatriate some Blacks from the United States and other parts of the African Diaspora back to Africa. Liberia, a country established in 1822 by the American Colonisation Society was the intended geographical base of the UNIA’s African colonisation venture.

Garvey had enemies, including J. Edgar Hoover, and, ironically, W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois was an integrationist who did not support a separate Black state and repatriation. Du Bois was also opposed to Garvey’s association with the Ku Klux Klan, his criticism of “mulatto” leadership, and his belief in Black racial purity. DuBois along with other NAACP members organised the ‘Garvey Must Go’ campaign and collude with the US government to have him deported.

The FBI established a special counter-intelligence program called COINTELPRO, to neutralize political dissidents. Between the years 1956 and 1971, the FBI used the COINTELPRO program to investigate “radical” national political groups for intelligence that would lead to involvement of foreign enemies with these groups. According to FBI documents, one of the purposes of the COINTELPRO program was to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of the Black nationalists”. They wanted to prevent the rise of a Black “messiah”

In 1919, Hoover hired the FBI’s first Black agent in order to infiltrate the UNIA. The agent James Wormley Jones was referred to as code number 800. One of Garvey close confidantes Herbert Boulin was a spy for the FBI known as agent P-138.

In 1923, when his steamship company went bankrupt, Garvey was convicted of mail fraud by using the United States mail to fraudulently collect money for investment in a ship that was never acquired. He went to jail for two years. His sentence was commuted by President Coolidge before Garvey was deported to Jamaica.

Garvey arrived in Kingston Jamaica on 10 December 1927. During this period, Garvey became a father when Amy Jacques Garvey gave birth to two sons.

In 1928, Garvey created the People’s Political Party (PPP) which was Jamaica first modern political party and the first to defend the interests of the Black majority. The party’s manifesto called for official representation in the British Parliament, a minimum wage, land reform, a Jamaican university, judicial reform, a government-run electrical system, public high schools and libraries and a National Opera House.

In an effort to rebuild the international influence of the UNIA, Marcus Garvey moved to London in March 1935. In London, Garvey continued to speak extensively, appearing frequently at Speaker’s Corner Hyde Park.

Garvey had a stroke in January 1940 which left him partially paralyzed. In May 1940, George Padmore wrote an article stating that Garvey had died which upset Garvey and he suffered a second fatal stroke or heart attack.

Garvey died on 10 June 1940 in London at age 53 without having set foot in Africa.

Marcus Garvey has inspired every major black movement of the 20th century, both in Africa and the Americas. Followers of Garvey’s ideology include Hon Elijah Muhammad , Minister Louis Farrakhan, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Also leaders of African Independent states such as Presidents Nnamdi Azikiwe, Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Nelson Mandela, Patrice Lumumba and Julius Nyerere.

For many reggae musicians, their work is about more than music, it is a tool for teaching the masses. Peter Tosh at a concert in California told the audience the reason why he was there.”Don’t think I come here for entertainment. I and I come to flash lightening, earthquake, and thunder in these places of destruction and unrighteousness.”2 Tosh and many musicians like him are taking reggae to a higher level, one where the musicians are prophets of Garvey and Rasta. Much of the teachings of reggae are based on a Rastafarian view, as this is the religion of many of the conscious reggae musicians that preach the Garvey message.Rastafarianism owes a lot to Marcus Garvey, as he is credited as the founder. The religion was born on the words”Look to Africa for the crowning of a Black king.”3 They waited and in 1930, the prophecy was fulfilled when, Ras Tafari Mekonnen was crowned emperor of Ethiopia and took the name Haile Selassie. Working from the bible and their own interpretations of it, the Rastafarians found evidence to support their claim and a religion was born. Marcus Garvey is considered part of the Rastafari Trinity, and”is second only to Haile Selassie,”4 the Rastafari God. Whether singing directly about Marcus Mosiah Garvey, or about Rastafarianism, reggae musicians are helping to spread the teachings of this black prophet and revolutionary to millions of music listeners all over the world.

The Rastafarians sing the praises of Garvey often. One of the reasons for this is that much of their religion is directly descended from Garvey’s movement, adopting many of his beliefs as well as symbols.”The colors unique to the (Rastafari) movement are red, black, and green- the original colors of the Garvey movement.”28 We see these same colors appearing over and over again in reggae, the reasons for which are expressed in a song,”Rally Round”, by Steel Pulse, a British reggae band.”Rally round the flag,
Rally round the red, gold, black and green.
Marcus say, ‘Red for the blood that flowed like a river.’
Marcus say, ‘Green for the land, Africa.’
Marcus say, ‘Yellow for the gold that they stole.’
Marcus say, ‘Black for the people they looted from.'”29

Many reggae artists draw from Marcus Garvey’s teachings and his story for their songs. The song 400 Years by the Rastafari Elders is an example of a song in which the story of Garvey is told:

“400 years in a babylon, 400 years.
I and I never yet seize the fire,
till babylon walls come down.

Hail Marcus Mosiah Garvey,
who led the Black world into reality
Oh, what a Marcus Mosiah Garvey,
Jah, Jah give the power of authority.

This young man start to work as he just leave school.
A printer he become, and he started to rule.
He knows Jah, Jah axe, him chop the big tree,
by teaching us our roots and our nationality.

Marcus never weary, Garvey never fear.
He trod it in the prison, and he trod it in the jail.
The prophet take the rough road to the mountain top.
Unite the poor and needy and protect the handicapped.30

This song is a great tribute to Garvey, focusing on his roll as a Black leader and teacher, who helped the black people of the world unite and have pride in their roots and nationality. The idea of being proud of your race was one that Garvey pushed very strongly, and his influence in this respect can be seen in Black pride movements as well as in numerous reggae songs. Peter Tosh sings many songs about Black pride including songs like”Arise Black Man”,”African”and”Black Dignity”. In these songs he encourages Blacks to be proud of their heritage and”lift up thine heads, oh ye, Black dignity, and be lifted up ye, everloving Black dignity. Recognize thine dignity, thine integrity, thine equality.”31 Buju Banton sings of this pride,”African with African pride/ Fighting to attain our rights/…/ Self help with a inner motivation/ Teach all to be self sufficient/ Don’t want to depend on no-one/ For attainment of my bread/ Oh these words, Oh my calling.”32 This song also draws from Garvey’s idea of creating an independent African state that would be self sufficient and independent of the white nations of the world.

The development of an independent African state went hand in hand with the”Back to Africa”movement and the failed Black Star Line. Ras Marcus speaks of this, drawing directly from Garvey’s teachings,”‘Africa for the Africans, those at home and those abroad.’ When this is done we will burn all guns, all evil weapons and bring back the earth to a peaceful place.”33 The”Back to Africa”movement and the Black Star Line have found fertile ground in reggae lyrics for various musicians.”A bright shining star, yeah, Africa/ Catch starliner right now, Africa,”34 sings Steel Pulse in praise of the Black Star, and further goes on to call up the memories of when the Black race was a great one.”Remember when we used to dress like Kings,/ conqueror of land, conqueror of seas.”35 Garvey often dressed in”flamboyant regalia, which sometimes included military-style uniforms with ostrich plumed hats.”36 He did this to create a feeling of pride in the Black race among those that saw him. It is important to remember that”Ethiopia is the cradle of civilization, Ethiopia is the incubator of the earth where life has first started to exist.”37 The idea of going back to Africa is further stated by Steel Pulse,”Repatriate, Repatriate./ I and I’s patience has long time gone./ Ethiopia stretch forth her hands,/ Closer to God, we Africans.”38 Through reggae we can see that Africa is often romanticized by musicians. But, who is an African? Peter Tosh includes all Blacks as Africans,”Say don’t care where you come from, as long as your a Black man, you’re an African./ No mind your nationality, you have got the identity of an African./ No mind denomination, that is only segregation, you’re an African.”39 The recognition that Blacks are Africans goes hand in hand with the idea of Black unity and the”Back to Africa”movement that is expressed in many reggae lyrics.

Burning Spear, born Winston Rodney, is possibly one of the most well known musicians to sing about Garvey’s philosophy. His music”emphasizes Jamaica’s historical links to Africa, the self-determination teachings of black nationalist Marcus Garvey, and black consciousness themes.”40 The theme of black unity is a reoccurring one in Spear’s music. In his song,”One People”, he sings to blacks whose ancestors were taken from Africa by slave traders.”West Indians, Black Americans. We know where we’re coming from original.”41 Other musicians have put out the call to blacks to come together and remember their roots are in Africa. Though they have been divided they will not be defeated so long as they”Unite, all the islands Unite,/ and fight the wicked dem out a sight.”42 Garvey knew that much of white civilization was build upon the blood and sweat of African slaves. To this point, Capleton asks listeners to remember”who sow the greens and who plant the corn, who cut the hedges and who cut the land?”43 He is calling on people to recall remember what they have done. Garvey sought to bring blacks up from the position where they were forced to do this manual labor. He felt education was the key to escalating the position of the black.

Educating the black people was always one of Garvey’s strongest messages.”You must never stop learning. The world’s greatest men and women were people who educated themselves… and you have the opportunity of doing the same thing… read and study.”44 Burning Spear uses Garvey as an example for others to follow when he sings,”Mister Garvey is so cool,/ Mister Garvey is so smooth,/ That’s why he go to school./ He is the first one through black history, who ever control so much people,/ hundreds, thousands, millions, he cause an eruption.”45 The importance of education is also a message that Steel Pulse uses,”Keep your cool and go to school,/ let me tell you something education rule.”46 In order for the black people to raise themselves up they must educate themselves. Garvey rejected the educational systems that were controlled by whites, in favor of a segregated system with black control. Though the idea of segregated schooling does not surface much in reggae, the fact that established educational systems give an unbiased view of history is mentioned often.”Brain washed education is what we obtain.”47 In saying this Capleton is bringing light to the issue of education and it is a call to strive for something better.”Knowledge is power… intelligence rules the world and ignorance carries the burden.”48 Marcus asks people to push themselves to join the ranks of the intelligent and become rulers.”Marcus Garvey did say, people, black people, you can’t wait until your backs against the wall before you start to inquire, who’s fault?”49 He is telling blacks to question their situation now before it is to late.

Marcus Mosiah Garvey’s influence on people around the world is quite evident. He has managed to create a pride among blacks for their homeland Africa, from which they were torn away from during slavery. Calling on times when Africa was considered a great and civilized nation, Garvey succeeded in setting history straight. He taught blacks that they are not decedents of an uncivilized people as the white man would like them to believe, but rather from noble blood lines that are even superior to those of the whites. His influence on the Rastafarian religion has led to his works being expressed in reggae, the music of the Rastafarians. Reggae has proven to be a powerful teaching tool and through this music”Marcus Garvey words come to pass.”50


1. Barrett, Leonard E.. The Rastafarians. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press, 1997.
2. Barrow, Steve, and Peter Dalton. Reggae: The Rough Guide. New York: Penguin Books USA, 1997.
3. Chang, Kevin O’brien, and Wayne Chen. Reggae Routes: The Story of Jamaican Music. Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 1998.
4. Chevannes, Barry. Rastafari: Roots and Ideology. New, York: Syracuse UP, 1994.


5. Cohassey, John.”Marcus Garvey.”Contemporary Black Biography, Gale Research Inc., 1991: Vol. 1.
6. duCille, Michel.”Black Moses, Red Scare; The Clash of Marcus Garvey and J. Edgar Hoover.”The Washington Post, February 12, 1997: H 01.
7. Finke, Nikki.”The Roots and the Practices of New Cult.”Los Angeles Times, March 15, 1987: pg. 1.
8. Messer, Sarah.”Burning Spear.”Contemporary Musicians, Gale Research Inc., 1995: Vol. 15.
9. Turner, Richard Brent.”From Elijah Poole to Elijah Muhammed, Chief Minister of Islam.”American Visions Media Inc., October 20, 1997: No. 5, Vol. 12; pg. 20.

Web Sites:

10. Marcus Garvey, The Marcus Garvey and UNIA Papers Project, UCLA, 1995, ( htm) and (


11. Bob Marley and the Wailers, Exodus, Island Records Inc., 1977.
12. Buju Banton, Inna Heights, Germain Records, 1997.
13. Burning Spear, Burning Spear Live, Island Record Inc., 1977.
14. Burning Spear, Chantdown Babylon: The Island Anthology, Island Records Inc., 1996.
15. Burning Spear, Social Living, Island Records Inc., 1994.
16. Capleton, Prophecy, Rush Associated Labels Recordings, 1995.
17. Peter Tosh, Honorary Citizen, JAD Record Inc., 1971 (disc 1), Pauline Morris, 1997 (disc 2), Sony Music Est. Inc., 1977 (disc 3).
18. Rastafari Elders, Rastafari Elders, RAS Records Inc., 1990.
19. Steel Pulse, Steel Pulse Rastanthology, Wise Man Doctrine, 1996.
20. Steel Pulse, Vex, MCA, 1994.


1 Burning Spear, The Ghost (Marcus Garvey), Burning Spear Live, Island Records Inc., 1977.
2 Peter Tosh, Glass House (spoken), Honorary Citizen (disc 2), Pauline Morris, 1997.
3 Nikki Finke, Los Angeles Times, March 15, 1987.”The Roots and the Practices of New Cult”(pg. 1). [Lexis-Nexis]
4 Leonard E. Barrett, Sr., Beacon Press, 1997. The Rastafarians. (pg. 67)
5Michel duCille, Washington Post, February 12, 1997.”Black Moses, Red Scare; The Clash of Marcus Garvey and J. Edgar Hoover”(pg. H 01). [Lexis Nexis]
6 duCille, H 01.
7 duCille, H 01.
8 Contemporary Black Biography, Gale Research Inc., 1991.”Marcus Garvey”(vol. 1). [Lexis-Nexis]
9 duCille, H 01.
10 duCille, H 01.
11 Contemporary Black Biography. [Lexis-Nexis]
12 Barrett, 66.
13 duCille, H 01.
14 Contemporary Black Biography. [Lexis-Nexis]
15 duCille, H 01.
16 duCille, H 01.
17 duCille, H 01.
18 Barrett, 66.
19 Contemporary Black Biography. [Lexis-Nexis]
20 Marcus Garvey, The Marcus Garvey and UNIA Papers Project, UCLA, 1995.
21 duCille, H 01.
22 duCille, H 01.
23 Contemporary Black Biography. [Lexis-Nexis]
24 Contemporary Black Biography. [Lexis-Nexis]
25 duCille, H 01.
26 Contemporary Black Biography. [Lexis-Nexis]
27 duCille, H 01.
28 Barrett, 143.
29 Steel Pulse, Rally Round, Rastanthology, Wise Man Doctrine, 1996.
30 Rastafari Elders, 400 Years, Rastafari Elders, RAS Records Inc., 1990.
31 Peter Tosh, Black Dignity, Honorary Citizen (disc 1), JAD Record Inc., 1971.
32 Buju Banton, African Pride, Inna Heights, Germain Records, 1997.
33 Rastafari Elders, Ras Marcus, Rastafari Elders, RAS Records Inc., 1990.
34 Steel Pulse, Rally Round, Rastanthology, Wise Man Doctrine, 1996.
35 Steel Pulse, Rally Round, Rastanthology, Wise Man Doctrine, 1996.
36 duCille, H 01.
37 Rastafari Elders, Ras Tawny, Rastafari Elders, RAS Records Inc., 1990.
38 Steel Pulse, Rally Round, Rastanthology, Wise Man Doctrine, 1996.
39 Peter Tosh, African, Honorary Citizen (disc 3), Sony Music Est. Inc., 1997.
40 Sarah Messer, Contemporary Musicians, Burning Spear, November 7, 1995. volume 15.
41 Burning Spear, One People, Chantdown Babylon: The Island Anthology, Island Records, 1996.
42 Steel Pulse, Islands Unite, Vex, MCA, 1994.
43 Capleton, Big Time, Prophecy, Rush Associated Labels Recordings, 1995.
44 Marcus Garvey, Marcus Garvey and UNIA Papers Project, UCLA, 1995.
45 Burning Spear, Mister Garvey, Social Living, Island Records Inc., 1994.
46 Steel Pulse, Endangered Species, Vex, MCA, 1994.
47 Capleton, Don’t Dis the Trinity, Prophecy, Rush Associated Labels Recordings, 1995.
48 Marcus Garvey, Marcus Garvey and UNIA Papers Project, UCLA, 1995.
49 Burning Spear, Marcus Children Suffer, Chantdown Babylon: The Island Anthology, Island Records, 1996.
50 Burning Spear, The Ghost, Burning Spear Live, Island Records Inc., 1997.

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