Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association
August 17 is Marcus Garvey Day in Jamaica. This day has been celebrated in many parts of the world, including Canada. In Toronto, Marcus Garvey is not as widely celebrated or even known, yet he has been profoundly influential worldwide. Who was he and what did he accomplish?
Marcus Garvey was born on August 17, 1887 in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. As a supporter of the Pan-African Movement, Garvey advocated for a strengthened unity between all people of African descent whether they lived in Africa or part of the African diaspora. His work led him to establish the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), an organization focused on improving the lives of Black people worldwide through solidarity and empowerment. At its peak in the 1920s, the UNIA had divisions in over 40 countries, including Canada.
Marcus Garvey designed the Black Liberation flag, also known as the UNIA flag, Pan-African or Afro-American flag. It vibrantly showcases three bands of colour: red, black and green. The red represents the blood that unites all people of African descent and the lives that were lost to enslavement and human trafficking. The black represents the skin of Black people all over the world, and the green represents the fertility of the African continent.
Today, his son Dr. Julius Garvey, a surgeon and medical professor, continues to promote Black unity and pride through his lectures. On August 4, 2023, Dr. Garvey raised the Black Liberation flag at Mel Lastman Square. Afterwards, he shared his thoughts about Black unity, activism and empowerment at an Emancipation Month celebration held at North York Central Library. With almost 200 people in attendance, he captivated the audience with his words and encouraged Black youth to be proud of who they are and where they come from. The event was also live-streamed through the City of Toronto's Emancipation Month webpage.